The Championship play-offs kick-off on Sunday night as Swansea welcome Brentford to the Liberty Stadium. Mark O'Haire previews the semi-final first leg...
"A chunky 68% of play-off semi-final first legs across the three divisions have seen Under 2.5 Goals land since the start of 2000/01, whilst 40% of matches have produced no more than a solitary strike."
Swansea v Brentford
Sunday July 26, 18:30
Swansea complete mission impossible
Swansea stormed into the play-offs by the finest of margins as they beat Reading 4-1 to overtake Nottingham Forest on goal difference on a dramatic final night of the regular Championship season. To secure a top-six spot, the Swans needed to win and hope that either Cardiff would lose at home to rock-bottom Hull or that Forest would be beaten by Stoke, with a five-goal turnaround in Swansea's favour.
Mission improbable was on in the first-half at the Madejski Stadium as Liverpool loanee Rhian Brewster struck with a 30-yard thunderbolt, moments before Forest fell behind. Despite a red card for Reading's Yakou Meite, the hosts equalised with a penalty, but Steve Cooper's side turned on the style in the second-half with Liam Cullen and a Wayne Routledge double completing the unthinkable.
Post-match, Cooper said: "It was going to take something extraordinary to happen, and it did. We kept going and, if you look at the four goals we scored, it's our way of playing. We didn't panic, we didn't lump the ball into the box - we waited for our moment and scored four excellent goals. Then it was a bit of a blur late on, if I'm honest."
Brentford's automatic promotion challenge fails
Brentford failed to take advantage of West Brom's slip-up in the race for automatic promotion as the Bees suffered a shock 2-1 home reverse to Barnsley on Wednesday night. Back-to-back defeats to conclude the Championship campaign consign the Bees to the play-off places as they bid to reach the top-flight for the first time in 73 years.
After falling behind just before the break, Josh Dasilva's curling effort with 17 minutes left gave Brentford hope of a place in the top two. However, Thomas Frank's team were nowhere near their best and eventually paid for their poor performance as the relegation-threatened visitors pinched a stoppage-time winner at Griffin Park to decide matters.
Speaking post-match, Frank said: "Football is 80% suffering and 10% joy. When you have that opportunity to go direct to the Premier League, that is the emotional part of it. We can't sit down and cry too long because that will never help anything. We need to go again and pick ourselves up. We will have a sleep and then be ready to fight again."
Bees still the team to beat
Swansea came into 2019/20 boasting an excellent W8-D1-L0 head-to-head record against Brentford but the Bees have enjoyed the upper-hand in this season's meetings. Thomas Frank's team were 3-0 victors at the Liberty Stadium in October before doing the double over the Swans with another high-class 3-1 success in the reverse clash on Boxing Day.
Swansea [3.40] top and tailed their campaign excellently, earning W9-D2-L1 in August and July. However, the Swans have been inconsistent throughout the majority of the season, posting W9-D14-L11 from their remaining outings. What's more, Steve Cooper's side have bagged just three wins against the top-half (W4-D9-L9), collecting just 26% of their final points tally against the league's elite.
Brentford [2.28] are the league's leading scorers but struggled to create chances and find top gear when the promotion pressure really mattered. Even so, the Bees have W21-D6-L8 since October's international break, garnering a barely believable +42 goal difference in that 35-game sequence. The Bees also boast a W6-D3-L1 record against fellow top-six sides.
Oppose goals at the Liberty
Swansea scored twice or more in only two tussles from 14 when hosting fixtures against clubs in 15th and above and that led to a series of low-scoring showdowns with 9/14 (64%) of that same sample rewarding Under 2.5 Goals punters [1.80]. Indeed, the Swans notched just twice in seven showdown against top-eight rivals, an obvious concern for goals backers.
Brentford adopt a slightly more pragmatic approach when playing away from Griffin Park under Thomas Frank and that's reflecting in the raw numbers. Seven of the Bees' 11 trips to top-half teams returned Under 2.5 Goals profit and punters have been in clover by blindly supporting Under 2.5 Goals in EFL play-off semi-final first legs this decade.
A chunky 68% of play-off semi-final first legs across the three divisions have seen Under 2.5 Goals land since the start of 2000/01, while 40% of matches have produced no more than a solitary strike. The average goals per-game across these fixtures is only 2.08 and another tight encounter is expected at the Liberty Stadium.
For more insight on the playoffs from Mark and the rest of the Football...Only Bettor panel, check out this week's podcast
Mark's 2019/20 Profit/Loss
Staked: 175.00 pts
Returned: 194.40 pts
P/L: +19.40 pts
Back Under 2.5 Goals at 1.80 in Swansea v Brentford