Betting on the English League One promotion play-off

Betting on the English League One promotion play-off

The League One is one of the three English Football League (EFL) divisions and also the third highest level of English football. 46 league games decide which two teams are automatically promoted to the Championship, but there’s another chance for teams placed #3 to #6 through the promotion play-offs.

These play-off games are interesting fixtures in every way, including from a betting perspective. This article looks at insight gained from the last ten years of promotion play-offs in League One. In total 40 semifinal fixtures and ten promotion finals.

We’re looking for significant trends and betting opportunities. We’ll also check if there’s a link between league table position and success in the promotion playoffs. Hang on!

The playoff format

The four teams finishing directly behind the automatic promotion places enter a promotion semi-final. Semifinals are played over two legs, giving each side a home game and an away game. The winners from each semifinal meet in the promotion final, a single match played at a neutral venue.

The winner of the final is, obviously, promoted.

About these statistics

These numbers cover every season from (and including) 2008/2009 and up to (and including) 2017/18. When naming the semifinals “Semifinal 1” and “Semifinal 2”, we are defining them as:

  • Semifinal 1: Played between the top and bottom team in the playoff zone (#3 vs #6). The lowest placed team always plays at home in the first leg.
  • Semifinal 2: Team placed #4 and #5. Again, the lowest placed teams plays their home game first.

Just a small note: Even though these are ten years worth of statistics, the number of games is still fairly low and all insights and advice needs to be used by caution. You take the full responsibility for all your own bets, and never bet money you can’t afford to lose.

Semifinal 1, leg 1 statistics

Statistics from the first leg of semifinal 1 (#6 at home versus #3):

Last 10 seasonsNumber of gamesPercentageMathematical odds
Home wins110%10.00
Draws770%1.43
Away wins220%5.00
Over 2,5 goals110%10.00
Under 2,5 goals990%1.11
Both teams to score (BTTS) YES440%2.50
Both teams to score (BTTS) NO660%1.67
Home win half time220%5.00
Draw half time660%1.67
Away win half time220%5.00

What can we learn from these numbers?

  • The number of draws is astonishing with a 70% draw ratio. The usual draw percentage in League One league games is about 25-28%. With odds around 3.00-3.25 offered for the draw, this would have been a very profitable bet the last ten years. Of course, historical results does not guarantee future results. However, a draw bet is very tempting!
  • The “underish” nature of these games is also obvious, with only one in ten having three or more goals. With nine of these semifinals ending with two or less goals, here’s another betting opportunity.
  • Of these ten matches, three ended 0-0 and four ended 1-1.
  • The half time draw would have won in 60% of matches, providing a small profit.
  • Note that the home team (who placed last of the four teams entering the playoffs) only won one of these ten fixtures.

Semifinal 1, leg 2 statistics

The second leg of Semifinal 1 (#3 vs #6):

Keep in mind that leg 2 is affected by the result in leg 1. Also remember that the presumed best team of the four (finishing highest in the league table) has home advantage in this match.

Last 10 seasonsNumber of gamesPercentageMathematical odds
Home wins550%2.00
Draws330%3.33
Away wins220%5.00
Over 2,5 goals660%1.67
Under 2,5 goals440%2.50
Both teams to score (BTTS) YES550%2.00
Both teams to score (BTTS) NO550%2.00
Home win half time440%2.50
Draw half time550%2.00
Away win half time110%10.00

What can we learn from these numbers?

  • There’s more action , more goals and less draws in these games than in the first leg. This is normal for play-off games as teams tend to play more cautious in the first leg.
  • The home team won 50% of these matches and there were three draws.
  • Over/under 2,5 goals and BTTS YES/NO games are fairly evenly distributed.
  • Overall, the supposedly best team (placed #3 in the league table) won the semifinal seven times out of ten.

With Semifinal 1 sorted, let’s have a look at the other semifinal!

Semifinal 2, leg 1 statistics

The team placed #5 in the league welcomes the team placed #4 for the first leg of semifinal 2:

Last 10 seasonsNumber of gamesPercentageMathematical odds
Home wins550%2.00
Draws220%5.00
Away wins330%3.33
Over 2,5 goals550%2.00
Under 2,5 goals550%2.00
Both teams to score (BTTS) YES660%1.67
Both teams to score (BTTS) NO440%2.50
Home win half time110%10.00
Draw half time550%2.00
Away win half time440%2.50

What can be learned from this?

  • Apart from the home team winning 50% of these matches there are not any significant trends in the first leg of Semifinal 2.
  • It is interesting how different this semifinal is from semifinal 1. However, it could all be a coincidence as the number of matches measured is low.
  • It could be noted that in only one game did the home team lead at half time, despite winning half of the matches at full time.

Semifinal 2, leg 2 statistics

Now let’s look at the second leg of this semifinal. It’s league position 4 vs league position 5:

(Again, remember that the second leg is shaped by what happened in the first leg.)

Last 10 seasonsNumber of gamesPercentageMathematical odds
Home wins550%2.00
Draws440%2.50
Away wins110%10.00
Over 2,5 goals440%2.50
Under 2,5 goals660%1.67
Both teams to score (BTTS) YES660%1.67
Both teams to score (BTTS) NO440%2.50
Home win half time660%1.67
Draw half time440%2.50
Away win half time0 0%n/a

What does this tell us?

  • As in the first leg, the home team wins 50% of these matches.
  • The away team did not lead a single game at half time, while the home team often takes control early with a half time lead in 60% of matches.
  • As for goals and BTTS, no strong trends.
  • The top ranked team (the one placed #4 in the league) won 70% of these semifinals

Statistics for the play-off final

The final is a single match played at a neutral stadium. England’s “Home of Football” Wembley Stadium is usually used for these finals, creating a huge event for both teams and their supporters.

Here are the statistics for the League One final (and note that the highest ranked team in the league table is decided to be the home team!)

Last 10 seasonsNumber of gamesPercentageMathematical odds
Home wins220%5.00
Draws330%3.33
Away wins550%2.00
Over 2,5 goals660%1.67
Under 2,5 goals440%2.50
Both teams to score (BTTS) YES550%2.00
Both teams to score (BTTS) NO550%2.00
Home win half time440%2.50
Draw half time330%3.33
Away win half time330%3.33

What can be learned from the statistics from the last ten finals?

  • Finishing highest in the league table obviously helps little going into this final, as the highest ranked team only won two out of ten finals after the ordinary 90 minutes.
  • The lowest ranked team also won all the three games that were drawn after 90 minutes, once in extra time and twice after penalties.
  • The finals have not been particularly low-scoring and cautious, as one might think they would. Six of them had three or more goals.
  • Only three finals were drawn at half time, signalling an intent to attack early from at least one of the teams involved
  • As can be learned from the above, the lowest ranked team based on the league table won eight out of ten finals!

What does the league table tell us about team strength going into the playoffs?

The league table worked as expected in the semifinals, as the highest ranked team advanced to the final in 70% of the semifinals. However, in the final the lowest ranked team won eight out of ten times. Here’s a list of how the teams performed based on their league position:

  • 3rd placed team: Eliminated in 3 out of 10 semifinals. Achieved promotion twice in ten seasons.
  • 4th placed team: Eliminated in 3 out of 10 semifinals. Achieved promotion five times (!) in ten seasons.
  • 5th placed team: Eliminated in 7 out of 10 semifinals. Never achieved promotion.
  • 6th placed team: Eliminated in 7 out of 10 semifinals. Achieved promotion all three times they made the final.

Enjoy following the League One promotion play-offs and good luck with any bets!

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Lars Dybwad

Content and Social Media Manager

Lars Dybwad has a passion for sports betting and worked for five years as the “betting expert” in Dagbladet, Norway’s second largest newspaper. Dybwad is not a native English speaker and hopes you find his command of the English language charming rather than annoying.