By William Hill
Last Updated: 7th January 2020
The conclusive chapter of the 2017/18 League Two season is finally upon us. On Monday, 28th May, Coventry City will take on Exeter City in the League Two play-off final to see who will earn promotion to League One from the Wembley Stadium pitch.
To be granted passage to the play-off final, both teams needed to step up in the second leg of their first round ties. Coventry City scraped a 1-1 draw with Notts County by virtue of an 87th-minute penalty slotted away by Marc McNulty. Exeter City, on the other hand, landed a 0-0 draw against Lincoln City – who had defeated Coventry 4-2 just a few weeks before.
Both teams went all-out in the second leg to clinch a win. On the enemy’s turf, Coventry went 1-0 up in six minutes. Then came a well-timed strike from McNulty with less than ten minutes left of the first half. Notts County tried to battle back and scored just before the break, but the Sky Blues battled to extend their lead. Coventry eventually won the game 4-1.
Exeter were able to control the game at St James Park, scoring three unanswered goals before Lincoln City tried to throw everything at them late in the game. The Imps managed to get one back, but ultimately, Exeter came out on top 3-1.
Coventry and Exeter didn’t exactly end the season in sparkling form. Both the Sky Blues and The Grecians finished with a loss, win, and a draw, which was followed up by a draw and a win. With both teams battering their opponents in their last games, they should both be confident coming into the League Two Play-off Final. Coventry City are the favourites at 4/6 to Exeter City’s 6/5 League Two betting odds.
League Two play-off final preview
If you’re more of a top division fan, the League Two play-off final could bring a huge amount of entertainment just from the style of play. Both Coventry City and Exeter City have been seen to favour the 4-4-2 formation, which tends to lead to exciting games and plenty of goals.
Quite remarkably, the 2017/18 season marked only the second and third time that Coventry and Exeter had ever met in a professional match-up.
The first game this season saw Coventry host Exeter at the Ricoh Arena in late September. It was a closely contested affair until the breakthrough goal near the hour mark, which came via an own goal from Exeter centre-back Troy Brown. Exeter’s double substitution at 70 minutes didn’t get them the equaliser, and midfielder Devon Kelly-Evans put Coventry 2-0 up at the death. Left-mid Jodi Jones was credited with both assists, but the Maltese-Englishman will miss the final due to injury.
In the middle of January, Coventry were tasked with going to St James Park to potentially move into an automatic promotion place. But, almost immediately, Coventry had their work cut out for them, with left winger Ryan Harley slotting home just seven minutes in. Exeter City would maintain their lead and claim all three points, keeping both Coventry strikers – Marc McNulty and Maxime Biamou – at bay.
The only other time that the two teams had met was back in 2014 when Exeter came to the Ricoh Arena for a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie. Coventry walked away with a comprehensive 3-1 win but, at the time, the Sky Blues were a League One team, whereas The Grecians were still in League Two.
Can Exeter overcome the odds?
Despite Coventry City getting relegated from League One last season and Exeter losing in the League Two play-off final in 2017, the bookies are backing Coventry to achieve promotion. Unless the game goes to penalties, the Sky Blues are expected to edge this one and are at 5/4 to win in 90 minutes, 9/1 to win in extra time, and then both teams are 10/1 to win on penalties. However, only one of the last nine League Two play-off finalshase made it to penalties – which Southend won in 2015.
As much as this is a huge occasion that’s completely separate from the League Two season in the minds of many, sometimes the results of the season can pop up again. For Coventry to repeat their 2-0 scoreline from earlier in the season, the League Two betting odds come in at 10/1. For Exeter to pull off another 1-0 win, they’re at 15/2.
Coventry’s +17 goal difference was good for fifth best in League Two this season because when they win, they tend to do it in style. Of their 23 wins in League Two and the play-offs, 11 came by a two or more goal differential. So, in 47.8 percent of Coventry wins this season, a -1 handicap would have come in. One of these wins came against Exeter City. To do the same again on the Wembley pitch, Coventry -1 is at 17/5, while Exeter are at 4/7 with a +1 handicap.
Both teams play with two strikers, and the final has had a tendency to produce multiple goals in recent times. Since 2010, two or more goals have been scored in 90 minutes on five occasions. The current lead strikers of Coventry and Exeter combine for a total of 62 goals in all competitions, so you’d think that there’d be some goals in this game. In the League Two betting, total match goals to go over 2.5 is at 6/5, with under at 8/13.
Who will influence the game?
Coventry boast Scottish sniper Marc McNulty, who has scored 28 goals this season. Exeter’s scoring charts are led by Englishman Jayden Stockley, who joined from Aberdeen in the summer and has clocked 23 goals this season. Both are potent strikers and will be the focus of the opposition’s top centre-back. McNulty is red-hot right now, with seven goals in his last six games – two of which came in each leg of the play-off semi-finals. Stockley has also been finding the back of the net of late, with six goals in his last seven games.
Both Coventry and Exeter boast competent scorers elsewhere on the field, but it could boil down to a battle between McNulty and Stockley. The Coventry frontman is at 7/2 to score first and 5/4 to score anytime, with Exeter’s top scorer standing at 8/5 to score anytime and 9/2 to score last in the League Two play-off final betting.
As is always the case in football matches, the goalkeepers will have a major influence on the game. With potent goalscorers on each side, Coventry’s Lee Burge and Exeter’s Christy Pym are expected to have busy outings.
Of the two, however, it’s Burge who has been the most impressive this season and could even keep a clean sheet at Wembley. Through 40 League Two games this season, Pym has only conceded 38 goals, keeping 14 clean sheets. Furthermore, he’s only conceded more than one goal on just nine occasions in the league in 2017/18. Coventry are at 12/5 to win to nil, and Exeter are at 19/5 to do the same.
The pick of the bets
Exeter City experienced the heartbreak of final defeat only a year ago and, unfortunately, they look to be headed for a similar experience in 2018.
With strong defending and two goal-savvy strikers, Coventry City could run away with this one. Mark McNulty and Maxime Biamou could both tally goals at Wembley, but it’s hard to see Exeter going 90 minutes without scoring as well. So, the tip shall be Maxime Biamou to score, Coventry to win, and both teams to score at 8/1.