The prize of League One football awaits either Burton Albion or Fleetwood Town at Wembley Stadium on Monday afternoon, as the League Two play-offs reach what’s set to be a thrilling climax.
Both sides scraped through their respective semi-final ties to earn their shots at promotion, and they’ll be looking to take leaves from the books of Queens Park Rangers and Rotherham United, who recorded priceless victories to secure promotion at the English national stadium on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
The stage is set for the Brewers and the Cod Army, with destiny just 90 minutes, 120 minutes or penalty kicks away.
Venue: Wembley Stadium
Date: Monday, May 26
Time: 3:00 p.m. BST/10:00 a.m. ET
3rd-Tier Football for the First Time
Whether it’s Burton or Fleetwood that climb the famous Wembley steps to hold the League Two play-off trophy aloft, there’ll be first timer in English football’s third tier next season.
Fleetwood have enjoyed an astonishing rise to prominence over recent years. Having played in the Conference North just four seasons ago, they are chasing their sixth promotion in 10 years.
The Cod Army were liquidated back in 1996. Club president Jim Betmead resurrected Fleetwood in 1997, and they’ve enjoyed an unstoppable surge up the divisions since.
Looking back at the club’s darker days, Betmead said that the very thought of Fleetwood playing in the Football League back then was nothing short of crazy, per The Independent:
“When I re-formed the football club, if I’d said we were going to go into the Football League, they’d have carted me away in a straitjacket.”
However, that’s the reality that Betmead and his beloved club have earned, but they face a tough task in reaching League One against a Burton side looking to expel the ghosts of last season’s play-offs.
The Brewers were defeated by eventual champions Bradford City in last year’s semi-finals, but even back then, manager Gary Rowett claims that he knew they’d be back in the promotion hunt 12 months later, as he told BBC Sport:
After Bradford last year I said I believed this team could get promoted next year. It wasn't hot air, I wasn't trying to spin it for the players or the fans—it's genuinely what I believed. We worked all summer and all season for that, so we are certainly not going to take the game lightly. It's only a great occasion if you win—that is the message I will get across to the players.
With League One football within touching distance for Burton, Rowett and his players will need to dig deep and show the football world why they’ve earned a reputation as grinders.
Let’s not forget, this is the side that once held a star-studded Manchester United to a 0-0 draw back in 2006, and they showed similar resilience when they went down to 10 men in the play-off semi-final first leg against Southend United this year.
With their 1-0 victory in the home leg proving the crucial scoreline on the Brewers’ road to Wembley, it may well be that Burton will turn to their heart and passion to be the driving force behind promotion.
Key Stats and Prediction
Per WhoScored.com, Burton have won 50 per cent of their matches against Fleetwood in all competitions, with two victories coming this season.
The Brewers won 3-2 at Highbury Stadium in the third week of the League Two season and also triumphed over the Cod Army in the second round of the FA Cup.
However, Burton won just one of their last five matches heading into the play-offs and have endured a worrying recent spell away from home.
Gary Rowett’s side’s last victory away from the Pirelli Stadium came back in early March—a run that has seen the Brewers fail to take maximum points on the road on seven occasions.
Contrastingly, Fleetwood won their last three matches away from home.
Though the Cod Army came fourth this season, the club finishing in that spot in League Two has been promoted just once since 2005.
Burton top scorer Billy Kee has scored two goals in his last three games against Fleetwood.
Prediction: Burton Albion 2-1 Fleetwood Town