Lincoln v Exeter: Lay the Imps in a low-scoring League Two playoff first leg

Lincoln City manager Danny Cowley
Danny Cowley should witness a tight affair in the League Two playoffs first leg when Lincoln host Exeter
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A bit of cup pedigree might give Danny Cowley's side a bit of an edge in the League Two playoffs first leg, but Ian Lamont isn't quite convinced and thinks the Grecians' keeper might have something to say about that...

"Five of Lincoln’s most recent nine matches have finished with one goal between two sides, or none. I’m going for a tense game - and a low scoring one, especially with Exeter wary of their away form not being top notch."

Lincoln City v Exeter City
Saturday 12th May, 15:00
Live on Sky Sports

Cup kings Lincoln have a head start

Lincoln have recent cup pedigree - and the playoffs are effectively a mini cup competition. Not only did they reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup as a non-league side last season (as well as securing promotion), and have an extended run in the FA Trophy (non-league's biggest cup competition), they went on to win the Football League Trophy this season.

They also haven't been defeated at Sincil Bank in 13 league games, where they have suffered three defeats all season.

Danny Cowley has more than once been touted as a manager for higher levels. He and his brother Nicky have built something special for Imps fans.

Losing finalists could be nervous

The chances of promotion hardly bear well for Exeter in some senses: they were losing finalists last year against Blackpool and will be all the more anxious for the experience. Opta emphasise that the team finishing fourth in the regular season, as the Grecians did, has only won promotion once in the past nine seasons (Fleetwood, 2013-14).

The good news is that Jordan Moore-Taylor, who thought his season over after a knee injury, returned for the 1-0 win over Colchester last weekend which secured fourth place, as did fellow injury victims Ryan Harley and Craig Woodman. Whether they all feature in this game is another matter, with Paul Tisdale warning they are not fully match fit.

While Robbie Simpson scored on Saturday, it has to be a bit of a worry that the West Country side rely so heavily on one goalscorer, Jayden Stockley, who - on the plus side - has scored seven goals in his last eight games, emphasise Opta, and netted 19 this season.

Odds on the Imps are cramped - raise a glass to Pym

Anyone wondering why Lincoln are odds-on at [1.9] in the match odds market and Exeter are a big price [5.1] for this match should consider Lincoln's recent cup speciality and their tremendous home record. By comparison, Exeter's away form has not been as good as it was last season, with 10 defeats incurred. They are the only team in the top 10 in the division to suffer away defeats in double figures.

However, does that mean they stand as little chance as the layers are giving them? (The draw is [3.75]) It is true that others seem to lag behind in the support of top scorer Stockley, Pierce Sweeney and Jake Taylor being next best on eight apiece.

However, one Opta stat is quite astonishing, given that Exeter managed to finish on 80 points and in fourth place. Exeter have faced more shots than any other League Two side, 591, this season. Lincoln have faced the fewest - 154. That spread is massive and gives huge credit to goalkeeper Christy Pym, who saved a penalty against Colchester last weekend.

He's taken 13 clean sheets this season, although just one in their past nine games, when five Exeter matches finished with over 3.5 goals.

Before I looked at the odds, I had a sneaking suspicion that Lincoln might edge this one, but I didn't make them such heavy favourites. So, while I'm tempted to go for the biggy and plumb for Exeter to win at large odds, I'm going to lay the home side.

Statistics point to a low scoring affair

Part of the reason for the possibility that Lincoln might not win is my other thought about this match - that it will be low scoring. I appear to agree with the layers this time, as the odds for under 2.5 goals are [1.8].

This time last year, I was confident that all four sides in the playoffs would produce goal feasts - and so it proved. Not this time.

The Imps were joint-seventh top scorers at home in the League Two season, notching 38, level with 12th placed finishers Cambridge and below 16th placed Stevenage (42). They had a pretty tight defence. Doubtless we'll come to their away record (+1 goal difference) in the second leg.

Five of Lincoln's most recent nine matches have finished with one goal between two sides, or none. Possibly they do save their best for better teams, beating Exeter 3-2 and Coventry 4-2. But this is different now.

I'm going for a tense game - and a low scoring one, especially with Exeter wanting to batten down the hatches and not give too much away, wary of their away form not being top notch.

Stock rising

Given I expect a cagey first match, I'm going to take the chance on Jayden Stockley being the first goalscorer at [6.0]. I just think he has that little bit of class to finish an opening. One way or another, he won't be in League Two next season.

Ref Watch

Ben Toner issues on average three yellow cards a game (104 matches in total) and a red card every seven games (five in 36). He has officiated several games in League One, as well as League Two. Try 30-40 points if you are inclined to bet on the bookings market, in-play for a bit of fun.

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