Exeter City v Lincoln City Thursday 17th May 2018, 19:45 Live on Sky Sports
A St James' Park swansong for Tisdale?
This will be the last game at St James' Park for Steve Perryman in his role as Exeter's director of football. Will any pre-match adulation give the Grecians the spur they need to push through from this very tight semi-final to reach Wembley for a second season running?
Similarly, this season could be a swansong for Paul Tisdale, who hasn't clarified his future. English football's longest-serving manager, now Arsene Wenger has finished at Arsenal, is out of contract in October. The comparisons to the Frenchman are startling. Some think Exeter would want to keep him because of his success (getting them back into the Football League and challenging for promotion), but other fans think fresh ideas are needed.
What about the man himself? Does he need a new challenge? MK Dons have been mentioned. The players won't want to miss out on promotion again, as they did when losing to Blackpool in last year's playoff final.
Lincoln defence beset by injuries
Tisdale expected opponents Lincoln to be "purposeful and effective". While neither of the Imps' front pair have scored in double figures this season, Michael Bostwick is an engine room in midfield that the Exeter boss knows has to be contained.
The problem for Danny Cowley's successful cup side is a few injuries, hitting the defence hardest. Sam Habergham remains a doubt, which forced a reshuffle including Scott Wharton from left-back to centre-back and Neal Eardley from the right to left. Will Sean Long be thrown in to give the side an attacking defender?
Cowley says the pressure will be on Exeter and expects the Imps to be written off. I wouldn't say that at all. I think this will be a tight affair. I do expect the home team to progress, although I'm not sure it will go to penalties. In the Qualifying Method market, both sides are 4.60 to win in extra time, and both are 7.40 to do so on penalties. It could be worth keeping an eye on as the game goes on.
Hosts seem long for victory
Given that Exeter have a strong home form, with 15 wins and a +15 goal difference, and Lincoln's away goals record is +1, the odds pushing 2.90 on the home win in the match odds market look generous. The away win is a touch shorter at 2.82. Layers therefore make the teams even, with the draw on the shorter side of average, 3.30. Oddly, however, in the to qualify market there is a marked difference between Exeter's 1.94 price and Lincoln's that heads towards 2.10.
Exeter used Jordan Tillson to try to contain Matt Rhead on Saturday, but various other talents lie in wait in the form of Lee Holmes, Jack Sparkes and Matt Jay.
Centre-back Troy Brown's return boosts the hosts, although Jordan Storey has done well in his place.
Tisdale will need to be a little more adventurous than the 4-5-1 employed for the first leg, with Jayden Stockley isolated at times up front. Safety first was OK for the first leg. Maybe another Troy - Archibald Henville - can take care of the Imps main attacking threats.
While Exeter are more capable of winning at home than away, Lincoln have progressed through the National League and now into the League Two playoffs by being consistent. But their away form is average (8 wins, 7 draws, 8 defeats). They have a winning mentality and a strong squad which knows that, if it does not perform, cup run money can be spent on replacements.
However, the visitors' best finisher Matt Green hasn't found the net since early April, perhaps because of an enforced shift to 4-3-3. Lincoln have struggled, generally, to find goals recently. And I continue to insist that Christy Pym, Exeter's goalkeeper, will continue to be Lincoln's biggest roadblock. Many times over the past couple of seasons, reports have sung his praises.
At the other end, Stockley needs to find that moment of magic, whether or not he truly flourishes in the formation that Exeter put out on the day, to prove that he has class above League Two. The better the striker, the more they make opportunities happen for themselves with their off-ball movement.
Stockley to score first, as consistency prevails.
How will Exeter break down stubborn visitors? Jordan Moore-Taylor, a key player for the hosts, in defence is hardly likely to feature in the goals but just might (he has two) while Pierce Sweeney at 12.50 alongside him on eight and Jake Taylor at 12.50 has eight from midfield.
I'm still convinced that Stockley's 19 goals make him the most likely first scorerand he is unsurprisingly favourite at 4.90. His chances will rise in a freer formation than the restrictive one in the first leg. Opta say he has scored 12 in the calendar year to date and only Colchester's Mo Eisa (14) and Coventry's Marc McNulty (15) have scored more in 2018.
From Lincoln's perspective, the 6.80 priced Rhead (8 goals), who arguably came closest to scoring in the first leg, out does Green (13 goals, priced 5.90) as their best chance of a scoring first. Mind you, Elliott Whitehouse scoring the winner in the Football League Trophy final shows that irregular scorers such as Tom Pett could easily prove just as handy. Those two can be taken at 17.50 or 12.50, the latter being the same bet as another possible, Lee Frecklington.
Urgency for goals should result in over 2.5
The overwhelming temptation when two low-scoring draws take place in the first legs of playoffs is to think that the two home teams are now favourites - and that there must be goals as both teams see the urgency of getting a victory.
Tisdale believes the game will come down to "the second half of the second leg". And of course, that is true (unless it goes to extra time), but maybe what he means is: - anything can happen in the last 15 minutes of a football match. Few would have thought Tottenham would come back from 3-1 down to win 5-4 against Leicester on Sunday in that Wembley thriller.
Hopefully a goal in the first half will spice up this sell out match. I am convinced both teams will bare their teeth and find a way to score, with Exeter winning, so it only has to be 2-1 to achieve the value of over 2.5 goalsat 2.50.
Opta remind us that Exeter drew their away leg last season on the way to Wembley, winning the second leg 3-2. However, they did draw that first leg 3-3!
Darren England is a Championship referee regularly but has taken charge of some League Two games this season. He'll need to adjust his expectations of players at that level. He's not red card happy, but did issue six and eight yellows in his final two Championships games. There are likely to be more than the one yellow that was issued in the first leg as the intensity grows, so 30-40 points might be likely.
Back Exeter to beat Lincoln @ 2.90 (90 minutes)
Back Jayden Stockley to be first goalscorer @ 4.90