Mansfield and Swindon, the two lowest-ranked teams heading into the League Two playoffs, are in the box seat for a Wembley final showdown after edging home wins in the first legs of their semis.
(This article was originally published on 17.05.2022)
Nigel Clough's Mansfield beat Northampton 2-1 at Field Mill on Saturday and are 4/11 to make it to Wembley and 7/4 to get promoted.
Swindon, meanwhile, were also 2-1 winners in their encounter with Port Vale and are 4/9 to qualify and 7/4 to go up behind Forest Green, Exeter and last-day heroes Bristol Rovers.
Mansfield are in the box seat after taking a 2-1 lead over Northampton in a game of two halves on Saturday.
Clough's men were excellent in the first period and were disappointed not to add to the strikes from Rhys Oates and Jordan Bowery. And they were made to pay in the second half when Ali Koiki pulled a goal back for Northampton.
It was a creditable end to the game from Jon Brady's visitors, who must have been smarting all week over the manner of their last-day denial of third place on goals scored by Bristol Rovers, and they certainly looked edgy for 45 minutes.
Northampton are 11/8 to win at Sixfields where they can welcome back first-choice keeper Liam Roberts from suspension. And they'll be optimistic they can beat Mansfield by a two-goal margin, just as they did when they met in the regular season in October, the Cobblers running out 2-0 winners.
Remember, away goals do not count in the playoffs, so if Northampton are one goal ahead at 90 minutes, it's extra-time with the prospect of penalties to determine the winner.
Mansfield, seeking to end a nine-year stay in the bottom division, are a 21/10 shot, the draw 11/5 and the word from the Stags' camp is they have no intention of sitting back to defend the lead and try to weather the aerial bombardment that will come their way.
That's fine, and they have enjoyed a stunning second half of the season so will be confident, yet you can't help but notice that their away record in League Two isn’t the best, certainly among the better sides.
Mansfield have won only seven of 23 on the road this term – only Tranmere of the top 12 teams have won fewer games than that.
Admittedly, they don't have to win – a draw will do them – but their only away win in their last five trips was 4-0 at relegated Scunthorpe. And Northampton have kept clean sheets in three of their last four home matches.
The second semi is in Burslem where Port Vale need to overturn a 2-1 deficit against Swindon. Darrell Clarke's men are 23/20 to win the return fixture, with the Robins at 12/5 and the draw 12/5.
As with the other tie, the home side went two goals up but were pegged back in the second period, in this case Harry McKirdy bagging a brace for Swindon before James Wilson pounced in the 83rd minute to offer the Valiants real hope.
For Vale this is all new stuff – they haven't played in a playoff campaign since 1992-93 and they went into the post-season square-offs in the least impressive form of the four, having lost three of their final four matches.
It was an untimely slip which cost them a shot at automatic promotion and now they need to suppress a Swindon team who are on a five-game winning roll – and simply love playing on the road.
No team won more road trips over the course of the campaign than Ben Garner's lads – 13 in all, including at Vale in January – and they were also the most prolific scorers on their travels. Indeed, they have been the most prolific scorers throughout the season with 77 goals in total.
Top of their charts is ex-Vale frontman McKirdy, who has spearheaded his side's quest for an immediate return to League One with 23 goals in all competition and is 11/2 to open the scoring at Vale Park.
It was a dramatic last day of the regular League Two season and punters who think there is more drama to come over the next couple of days, it's 5/1 that each of these ties goes to penalties.