Football League Expert & Columnist
Bayo of plenty
Peter Beagrie says Adebayo Akinfenwa could play a big role for Northampton in the League Two play-offs.
Last Updated: 02/05/13 10:12am
Bradford, Burton, Northampton and Cheltenham failed to secure automatic promotion to League One - but their seasons live on.
The fourth-tier foursome now face the nerve-jangling experience of the play-offs, which kick off on Thursday at 7.30pm on Sky Sports 1 HD.
Bradford welcome Burton to Valley Parade, while Cheltenham trek to Sixfields to take on Northampton, with each side looking to strike early in their quest to make the final.
So, how will the clashes unfold and which men will play instrumental roles? Sky Sports' Football League expert Peter Beagrie takes a look...
Burton v Bradford
First Leg: 7.30pm, Thu, Sky Sports 1 HD
Second Leg: 11.55am, Sun, Sky Sports 2 HD
Gary Rowett (pictured) has done brilliantly with Burton in his first season as full-time manager and Albion chairman Ben Robinson has openly admitted that the club may struggle to keep hold of him - though, of course, their hopes will be boosted if they can propel themselves into League One.
Burton are incredibly adept at scoring goals, amassing 71 in their 46 league games, with Jacques Maghoma netting 15, Billy Kee notching 13, and Calvin Zola accumulating 11 - but they have threats from all over the pitch, as proved by the fact Albion have had 18 different scorers in all competitions this term.
Rowett's men are not as well equipped at keeping them out, though, and will have to cope with the frustration of not getting automatic promotion - they finished two points behind third-placed Port Vale - when they meet Bradford.
We thought City's play-off hopes may have been scuppered by their fairytale run to the Capital One Cup final, but they won five and drew three of their last nine League Two games to secure a place in the top seven.
The Bantams are the form team in the play-offs and will be buoyed by the fact big James Hanson, who scored the goal in Bradford's 1-0 league win over Burton a few weeks back, is scoring again, and Nahki Wells has rediscovered his goal-scoring touch, too.
The youngster has had little niggles all season but has still been able to net 18 league goals, while my old club are driven on by captain Gary Jones, who was selected in the PFA Team of the Year for League Two.
However, they will have to be on their mettle because Burton ask a lot of different questions and will be in good spirits, having followed up a 7-1 mauling at the hands of Port Vale by winning three of their last four matches.
There is more pressure on Bradford to win, as they have a bigger budget and a greater number of supporters, but the fact they have already been to Wembley this season may spur them on to get there again.
Cheltenham v Northampton
First Leg: 7.30pm, Thu, Sky Sports 1 HD (via red button)
Second Leg: 6.30pm, Sun, Sky Sports 1 HD
Cheltenham are very strong and resilient and have done excellently to bounce back from the agony of losing the League Two play-off final to Crewe last year and earn a spot in the end-of-season drama for the second consecutive campaign.
They are full of spirit, led excellently by their skipper Steve Elliott - who has been an ever-present this year, and defensively stout, as their total of 19 clean sheets, the most in League Two, will testify.
The Robins don't have an out-and-out goalscorer - Shaun Harrad (pictured) is their top marksman with eight league goals, closely followed by Marlon Pack with seven - but they have plenty of players who chip in, and great width and pace with Kaid Mohamed and Jermaine McGlashan.
Mohamed and McGlashan would have been disappointed that they didn't stamp their authority on the big playing surface at Wembley last term and will be desperate to fire their side to the home of football again.
They will be the chief threats to Aidy Boothroyd's Northampton, who are physical, muscular and regularly find game-changing goals in the last 10 minutes, but have the second-worst away record in League Two this season, garnering just four wins.
However, Boothroyd has rested some of his key players recently so you would think they would be fresh and ready to go, and they do have lots of experience with Clarke Carlisle, Chris Hackett, Roy O'Donovan, Clive Platt and Kelvin Langmead.
But the star man for the Cobblers could be Adebayo Akinfenwa; the burly frontman has gone 12 games without a goal but has 17 in total this term and was outstanding at Barnet on the final day of the regular season when he entered the fray as a substitute.
The 30-year-old is as physical as they come, yet he is a tremendous finisher as well and the Cheltenham defenders will not like playing against him - but I would expect this tie to be very cagey and decided by the finest of margins.