League One play-offs: Swindon coach Cooper piles pressure on Blades
In each of their last five meetings, the home team has won matches between Swindon Town and Sheffield United.
Odds of 5/4 say this pattern will continue and give the Blades, 13/5 promotion chances via the play-offs with Coral, a lead to take to the West Country in their semi-final showdown.
Ahead of their visit to Bramall Lane, Robins coach Mark Cooper claims there is a weight of expectation surrounding the Steel City side. “The pressure on them,” he told local radio. “Because it’s such a big club they’re expected to get promotion, whereas we’re not. They’ve shown before they can deal with that, but let’s hope they don’t.
“The only pressure on us is from within, which is the pressure we put on ourselves to put on a good performance and show everybody what we’re all about,” Cooper continued. “We’ve done it with the right intentions, to make sure everyone is refreshed and ready to go.”
If the odds are any indicator, then Cooper is right. Swindon are 11/4 promotion chances and 11/5 to win in Sheffield, though curiously short at even-money to reach Wembley. That may have something to do with their vastly superior play-off performances.
Opposite number Nigel Clough (pictured above) knows the history books do not make good reading for the Blades. They have failed to gain promotion via this method on seven previous occasions. Compare that with the Robins’ three successes in as many attempts and that alone is enough to put punters off.
Form doesn’t make much better reading either. Sheffield United are winless in a month, recording four score draws in five since back-to-back Yorkshire derby victories over Barnsley and Doncaster. Thankfully, away goals don’t count in the play-offs, and thus the Blades are odds-on at 4/5 to reach the final.
Punters may need to take a scattergun approach to backing Clough’s frontline. Jamie Murphy (pictured below) was the sharpest Blades marksman throughout the regular season with 11 league goals, two of which came in the home win over this opposition.
Murphy holds anytime odds of 6/4, and is a long 8/1 shot for a brace or better again. Fellow Scottish forward Marc McNulty was on target last time out at the Lane, and is the same price as his compatriot to net once more, and an 11/2 chance to strike first.
Blades penalty-taker Jose Baxter has been deployed in a deeper role in recent weeks, but is still a 7/4 anytime shout, having previously scored against the Robins. Hearts loanee Jason Holt is an eye-catching midfielder with a nice engine, and is a tasty 10/3 in that market.
Swindon are actually in similar form, with three score draws of their own in four, and have their own awesome attacking trio. Top scorer Andy Williams got 22 in the regular season, double the Blades’ best Murphy. He’s also a 6/4 anytime chance, while Michael Smith is the same price.
Jonathan Obika (pictured above) is longer at 15/8, but the best bet here looks to be taking a punt on one of classy Robins midfield pair Ben Gladwin (9/4), in-form after six in four, or Massimo Luongo (4/1), an Asian Cup winner and final scorer for Australia.
Backing a draw at 9/4 is also a worthy investment with both teams likely to approach this first leg in cagey fashion. A 1-1 result rewards punters at 5/1 and would set up the return leg in Swindon nicely.