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09/05/2008 No.45
Kevin Pullein
Friday May 09, 2008
The Football League play-offs provide great drama and excitement but not a great number of goals. It is one of the most important things anyone needs to know if they are betting on games in this season's competitions, the first of which starts tonight.

In the 21 seasons from 1986-87, when play-offs were introduced, to 2006-07, the average number of goals scored in ordinary Football League games was 2.6. In the play-offs it was much lower. The average number of goals scored in semi-final first legs was 2.2 and the average number of goals scored in semi-final second legs was 2.4.

In most knockout competitions second legs are higher-scoring than first legs but Football League play-off semi-final second legs produced significantly fewer goals than ordinary Football League games. The average number of goals in one-legged play-off finals was also 2.4.

In those same 21 seasons 52% of all conventional Football League games finished with fewer than 2.5 goals, the most popular goals betting line. Sixty-three per cent of all play-off semi-final first legs finished with fewer than 2.5 goals. In other words average true odds about fewer than 2.5 goals being scored in normal Football League games would have been 10-11 but in play-off semi-final first legs they would have been as short as 4-7. The proportion of play-off semi-final second legs and one-legged finals that finished with fewer than 2.5 goals was 55%.

Inevitably play-off ties are tense contests between teams of broadly similar ability who know that results could be decided by one flash of skill, one small mistake. And the prize for the eventual winners is extremely valuable: promotion. If anything, these are occasions to be betting against goals.

Because the atmosphere is so charged, tempers can fray and card counts can be higher than usual. With 10 points awarded for each yellow card and 25 for each red, average bookings index make-ups in ordinary League games were 33. In play-off semi-finals they were 42. Curiously, however, in play-off finals they were only a perfectly normal 33, perhaps because players were awed by the grandeur of the occasion.
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