Betting trends in the English league two promotion play-offs

Betting trends in the English League Two promotion play-offs

In the English Football League (EFL), the three divisions below the English Premier League, a promotion play-off is used after the regular season. In League Two, three teams are promoted automatically. This means that teams finishing four, five, six and seven enter the play-off.

In this article we will look at the statistics from the previous 10 years of play-offs and look at any notable trends in these high-profile important matches. The aim is to see if there’s any profitable trends when betting.

We will also check if there’s any link between finishing position in the league table and the outcome of the playoffs.

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

We have looked at the last ten years of promotion play-offs; from the 2008/2009 season up to the 2017/2018 season. The two semifinals are always played like this:

  • Semifinal 1 – between the top and bottom team in the playoff zone. The lowest placed team plays at home first.
  • Semifinal 2 – between the two “middle” teams in the playoff zone. The lowest placed team plays at home first.

Note that the number of matches of course is very small and all trends and advice need to be treated with caution.

Semifinal 1, leg 1 statistics

Let’s look at the statistics ten years back for the first leg of Semifinal 1 (#7 vs #4):

Last 10 seasonsNumber of gamesPercentageMathematical odds
Home wins550%2.00
Draws110%10.00
Away wins440%2.50
Over 2,5 goals440%2.50
Under 2,5 goals660%1.67
Both teams to score (BTTS) YES330%3.33
Both teams to score (BTTS) NO770%1.43
Home win half time220%5.00
Draw half time550%2.00
Away win half time330%3.33

What can we learn from these numbers?

  • The lowest rated team in the promotion zone (the one who placed 7th) has won 50% of these semifinals
  • Half of the matches are drawn at half-time, but this is not enough to signal any betting value. Interestingly enough all of these half-time draws were 0-0
  • Both teams scored in only three of the ten matches, indicating a possible betting opportunity
  • Over/under 2,5 matches were fairly equal with a 40%/60% split
  • In total, there are no outstanding trends here. However, home teams are perhaps under-rated (providing possible value in the home team) and the “BTTS YES” bet is perhaps over-rated (providing possible value in betting “BTTS NO”)

Semifinal 1, leg 2 statistics

The statistics from ten years back for the second leg of Semifinal 1 (#4 vs #7):

Remember that this second leg will be affected by what happened in the first leg. Also keep in mind that the presumed best team has home ground advantage in this game.

Last 10 seasonsNumber of gamesPercentageMathematical odds
Home wins440%2.50
Draws440%2.50
Away wins220%5.00
Over 2,5 goals770%1.43
Under 2,5 goals330%3.33
Both teams to score (BTTS) YES770%1.43
Both teams to score (BTTS) NO330%3.33
Home win half time440%2.50
Draw half time440%2.50
Away win half time220%5.00

What can we learn from these numbers?

  • There is often a lot more goals in the second leg. Over 2,5 goals and both teams scored in 70% of matches.
  • Four draws from ten matches is profitable by itself when betting.
  • It’s interesting that the presumed best team (based on league position) only won 40% of these matches. And even more interesting: The presumed best team (the one placed 4th) only advanced to the play-off final in three of these ten semifinals!
  • All the games that went “Over 2,5 goals” in the first leg also went “Over 2,5 goals” in the second leg.

So that was the first semifinal done with. As mentioned above, the team placed 4th was beaten by the team placed 7th in seven out of ten semifinals. There was obviously little advantage from having the better league position, and obviously little disadvantage from playing at home first.

Let’s look at the second semifinal!

Semifinal 2, leg 1 statistics

The team placed 6th in the league table plays at home vs the team placed 5th in this first semifinal:

Last 10 seasonsNumber of gamesPercentageMathematical odds
Home wins440%2.50
Draws550%2.00
Away wins110%10.00
Over 2,5 goals220%5.00
Under 2,5 goals880%1.25
Both teams to score (BTTS) YES740%2.50
Both teams to score (BTTS) NO360%1.67
Home win half time440%2.50
Draw half time440%2.50
Away win half time220%5.00

What can be learned from this?

  • It’s interesting to note that this semifinal looks more cautious and more evenly matched than Semifinal 1.
  • Fifty percent of these games have ended with a draw, which is about two more than would be expected. This could be a betting opportunity.
  • Only two out of ten matches have ended with more than 2,5 goals. This could also be a betting opportunity.
  • It can be added that the last four years of this exact fixture have all been draws (2x 1-1, 1x 2-2 and even one 3-3)
  • The away team is struggling bad in this fixture with only one win from ten matches (in 2009/10). This means that, again, the lowest ranked team is the dominant one.

Semifinal 2, leg 2 statistics

Now let’s look at the second leg of this semifinal. It’s league position 5 vs league position 6:

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

Last 10 seasonsNumber of gamesPercentageMathematical odds
Home wins440%2.50
Draws220%5.00
Away wins440%2.50
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 time330%3.33
Draw half time550%2.00
Away win half time220%5.00

What does this tell us?

  • As could be expected there are more goals in the second leg, as teams are getting more desperate. However the distribution is 50/50 over/under 2,5 goals
  • There does not appear to be any obvious betting opportunities in these numbers
  • Only one out of these semifinals were tied after two legs, resulting in extra time (which would have gone on to penalties if the game was still drawn)
  • Teams ranked #5 in the league table won five of the semifinals, as did teams ranked #6.

Let’s move on to the final!

The final is played on neutral ground, usually Wembley stadium. It’s a huge occasion for the teams involved, their biggest game of the season. The rewards for winning are great, while it can be tough to deal with a defeat after a season of 46 league games and two semifinals.

Here are the stats for the 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 wins330%3.33
Draws110%10.00
Away wins660%1.67
Over 2,5 goals440%2.50
Under 2,5 goals660%1.67
Both teams to score (BTTS) YES330%3.33
Both teams to score (BTTS) NO770%1.43
Home win half time110%10.00
Draw half time770%1.43
Away win half time220%5.00

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

  • It’s easy to think that the draw percentage of any final is higher than in a “normal” match. This has not been the case for the last ten League Two promotion finals, with only one draw in ten
  • The finals have been fairly low-scoring with 40% going over 2,5 goals and seeing both teams score in only 30%.
  • The real evidence of this being a nervous final is perhaps in the half time stats – teams being cautions in the first half has led to 70% draws after 45 minutes, most of them with the score 0-0. Here’s a betting opportunity
  • Again – the lowest ranked team based on the league table (the away team in the stats above) performs best; winning 60% of these finals after full time. A seventh win was added in the one drawn final, which was decided on penalties

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

Apparently not much in League Two. As mentioned above, the lowest placed team performs better in both semifinals and in the final. Here’s a list of the teams performance based on their league position:

  • 4th placed team: Eliminated in 7 out of 10 semifinals. Achieved promotion once in ten seasons.
  • 5th placed team: Eliminated in 5 out of 10 semifinals. Achieved promotion twice in ten seasons.
  • 6th placed team: Eliminated in 5 out of 10 semifinals. Achieved promotion twice in ten seasons.
  • 7th placed team: Eliminated in 3 out of 10 semifinals. Achieved promotion five times (!) from ten seasons.

Apparently in League Two it’s an advantage going into the promotion play-offs as the underdog.

Hopefully this was useful!

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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.