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Rupert Wyman 28th Apr 2009 - 14:01

Gulls to fly back into the Football League

The Blue Square Premier regular season only just finished on Sunday but there is no rest for the four teams in the play-offs with the semi-final first legs taking place on Thursday and Friday.

Cambridge United start the play-offs as 2/1 favourites to return to the Football League for the first time since their relegation in 2005. The U's blew their chance to finish top on the final day of the season as they could only draw 0-0 at home to Altrincham while table-toppers Burton Albion lost away at Torquay.

In the final weeks of the season Cambridge impressively closed the gap between themselves and the leaders Burton and knew that a win for them coupled with a loss for Burton on the final day would take it to goal difference and as it turned out Gary Brabin's side needed to win by four goals.

The big question hanging over United is whether they can get over the final day disappointment of not at least giving themselves a chance of finishing in top spot. Although Cambridge are used to heartache having lost to Exeter in the play-off final last year. However, much of the side has changed including the management team and with a strikeforce of Scott Rendell and Chris Holroyd Cambridge should have the firepower to compete despite them misfiring on the final day.

Cambridge face Stevenage Borough in the semi-finals and The Boro are third favourites at 5/2 to win the play-offs. Stevenage finished fifth in the table, due in no more small part to Steve Morison who netted 22 league goals. Graham Westley's side sneaked into the play-offs on the final day despite losing 2-1 to Mansfield. But in the end it didn't matter as their nearest rivals Kidderminster fell to a 1-0 defeat at home to Kettering.

Torquay are the second favs at 9/4 and they look the value pick of the four. The Gulls beat champions Burton twice in recent weeks and would have reached the play-off final last year instead of Devon rivals Exeter if it wasn't for a crazy last few minutes in their semi-final second leg.

The Gulls started this season off in poor form winning just two of their first seven matches but manager Paul Buckle soon turned it around and had Torquay flying up the table towards where they expected to be. They have lost just one of their last 16 matches to end the season in fourth.

Torquay's semi-final opponents are Histon and the small Cambridgeshire side are the 4/1 outsiders of the four teams. Histon have continued their meteoric rise this season. Last year, in their first season in the Blue Square Premier Histon finished in seventh just outside the play-offs but for much of this season were Burton's nearest challengers for the title.

The part-timers eventually finished in third place just behind their more illustrious neighbours Cambridge. Histon's season included an FA Cup run which included knocking out former giants Leeds United in the second round. But Torquay could well have too much for Histon as The Stutes were thumped 4-1 in December by Torquay at Plainmoor. And in any case promotion could be a bad thing for the village side with all the added costs of professional football.

The final looks like being contested between Torquay and Cambridge but the U's will probably again miss out like they did last year. The forecast of Torquay/Cambridge is a 9/2 shot.

Exeter's great season in their first campaign back in League 2 should be an inspiration to all four play-off teams of what can be achieved if they reach the promised land of the Football League.

William Hill will be offering a wide range of pre-match betting for every Blue Square Premier play-off match as well as in-play markets via our betlive service to accompany you watching the end-of-season drama live on Setanta Sports 1.

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