Npower Leagues One and Two Play-Off Semi Final 1st legs Round-Up: May 2012

 

 

By Adam Higgins
Chief Football Editor 

 

 

Stevenage's Lawrie Wilson (pictured left) slides in on Sheffield United's Ryan Flynn after the ball had gone in the first leg of their play-off semi in League One 

On Friday night, Stevenage and Sheffield United played out a goalless draw in their League One play-off semi-final first leg at Broadhall Way.

Craig Reid struck the United woodwork, while Boro goalkeeper Chris Day had to tip over a header from his own midfielder Michael Bostwick. John Ashton failed to scramble in a Stevenage corner, while Kevin McDonald's deflected shot almost deceived Day. But neither side could find a goal ahead of Monday's second leg at Bramall Lane.  The game brought together two clubs possessing contrasting recent histories, with Stevenage looking for their third promotion in as many seasons and United - a Premier League outfit as recently as 2007 - seeking an instant return to the Championship. Boro, who had been restricted to long-range efforts throughout the first half, came within inches of taking the lead when Steve Simonsen finger-tipped Reid's 25-yard dipping shot against the bar. It came minutes before the break but seemed to draw United out of their shells for the closing stages of the first period. A back-pedalling Day was forced to touch team-mate Bostwick's wayward header over the bar and Stephen Quinn dragged a grass-cutter wide of the post. Continuing in that vain after the break, the visitors' Lee Williamson, who had a penalty claim dismissed following a challenge from Luke Freeman, drove straight at Day when cutting into the area. But Stevenage, who showed they have the mettle for play-off showdowns last season when they were promoted from League Two, were able to rally, causing problems with Freeman's desire to run at defenders and, most notably, when Ashton should have done better when attempting to convert from four yards out. The Blades, who have never tasted play-off success, almost stole something when McDonald's deflected effort spun its way into the arms of the wrong-footed Day. And, despite an open and frantic final 10 minutes, Stevenage held out to record their 21st clean sheet of the campaign.

Click here to watch match highlights: Stevenage 0-0 Sheffield United

 

 

Scotland Under 21 international Jordan Rhodes (pictured in red) glanced in a free header in the first period as Huddersfield edged the first leg

 

On Saturday, Huddersfield Town took a huge step towards the League One play-off final with a deserved 2-0 semi-final first leg victory at MK Dons.

Jordan Rhodes struck midway through the first half, guiding his header beyond Dons goalkeeper David Martin. Dean Lewington missed a superb chance to level from four yards out before Lee Novak squandered an opportunity to double the Terriers' lead. But Jack Hunt's well-taken finish gave the away side a two-goal cushion from the match at the Stadium MK. The play-offs have been unkind to both sides in past campaigns- Karl Robinson's Dons have failed to go beyond the semi-finals in three attempts, while the Terriers have fallen short at the post-season stage in the last two campaigns.

Only one point separated the clubs during the regular season - Huddersfield coming out on top in fourth place - but Rhodes showed why he had netted more than double the number of goals than the Dons' highest scorer Dean Bowditch. Rhodes's header from Calum Woods's cross, shortly after substitute Kallum Higginbotham should have beat Martin, was guided perfectly into the far corner and took his tally to 39 for the season. MK should have been level immediately after the break when Shaun Williams's free-kick fell to the feet of Lewington, but his point-blank strike cannoned off goalkeeper Ian Bennett. The 40-year-old custodian once again defied his years, pulling off a double save from Bowditch and Daniel Powell. The home side's profligacy almost cost them dear when Rhodes's flick-on released Lee Novak, but he dragged wide when hitting the target seemed like a simple task. Eventually MK Dons, who were short of ideas all afternoon, were made to pay and it was courtesy of a moment of the highest quality. A quick interchange between Hunt and Higginbotham down the right-hand side saw the former charge into the area and he dispatched a shot that wrong-footed David Martin on its way into the net. There was still time for Bennett to pull off a sharp save from a Jabo Ibehre header deep into injury time. But Huddersfield, organised superbly by the determined Damien Johnson in midfield, rode out the final ten minutes with little concern and will head back to West Yorkshire as clear favourites to progress to Wembley.  

Click here to watch match highlights: MK Dons 0-2 Huddersfield

 

 

Crewe's Adam Dugdale dives in at the backpost to score the game's only game to give his side the slenderest of leads to travel to Roots Hall with

 

While later in the day, Adam Dugdale scored the only goal of the game to give Crewe the advantage over Southend after the first leg of the League Two play-off semi-final.

Centre-half Dugdale headed home Ashley Westwood's free-kick early in the second half to ruin the Shrimpers' run of five successive clean sheets. A fine save by visiting keeper Cameron Belford denied AJ Leitch-Smith another. But Southend had chances, Steve Phillips saving from Michael Timlin, before Bilel Mohsni headed just over. Crewe, now unbeaten in 17 games, were worthy winners over Southend, who arrived at Gresty Road in impressive form having won four of their last five matches.

And the Alex once again did it without captain David Artell, who, having missed three games with hamstring trouble, was forced out because of a broken bone in his foot sufffered in training on Thursday. Crewe showed first on a sun-kissed evening in Cheshire, with Matt Tootle almost getting on the end of a Byron Moore cross, while teenage top scorer Nick Powell was crowded out in the box after some clever footwork. Southend struggled to test Phillips in the first half but Ryan Hall had a shot blocked soon after the restart as they began with greater intent. But it was Crewe who grabbed the lead when Westwood launched a free-kick into the visitors' box and Dugdale looped a header over Belford. The visiting keeper then superbly pushed Leitch-Smith's effort over the bar before his side finally found their feet in the final 20 minutes. Phillips had to parry well when Mohsni cushioned a header into the path of Timlin, before Mohsni, who scored three of his 13 league goals this season in Southend's league double over the Alex, headed over at the far post. There was still time for Hall to drive wide from 20 yards but Crewe held on to ensure they take a lead to Roots Hall on Wednesday night.

Click here to watch match highlights: Crewe 1-0 Southend

 

 

McGlashan (pictured above), who has been in good form of late, was pivotal in the clash as Cheltenham take a commanding lead into the second leg

On Sunday, goals from Jermaine McGlashan and Ben Burgess gave Cheltenham a 2-0 advantage in the first leg of the League Two play-off semi-final against Torquay United.

McGlashan's cross-shot rolled past goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik and went in off the post to open the scoring. The winger then provided the Robins' second after the break as he drifted the ball to Burgess who nodded home. Torquay had chances, but Ryan Jarvis headed his effort onto the crossbar and Ian Morris' strike went wide. Both teams were on course for an automatic promotion place over the winter months- Cheltenham were top in January and Torquay were sitting second until mid-April- but both fell short at the end of the regular season.

The Gulls went into the first leg lacking form, having failed to win in their last five games, and they came up against a confident Cheltenham outfit who went some way to proving they are worthy promotion contenders. Torquay failed to seize their early opportunities in a hectic first half, as Rene Howe flashed his shot over the bar and Jarvis' knock towards goal was tipped away by goalkeeper Scott Brown. The visitors lost their spark when Howe was forced off through injury after twenty minutes but Cheltenham found their stride, with Burgess and Jimmy Spencer both causing problems up front. But it was tricky winger McGlashan who broke the deadlock after he fed a low ball into the area which trickled slowly past Olejnik and eventually crossed the line off the far post.  The Robins continued to control the game after the break, Steve Elliott lashing his strike just wide after a trademark blistering run from Kaid Mohamed. Their pressure paid off when Luke Summerfield linked up with McGlashan, who drifted the ball in towards Notts County man Burgess, who hit home with a powerful header for his third goal in four games. Martin Ling's Gulls went agonisingly close to pulling one back moments later but Jarvis' header pinged off the crossbar after Eunan O'Kane's ball in. As the game petered out, Torquay substitute Taiwo Atieno headed down Kevin Nicholson's ball to force Brown into action, but they failed to find the breakthrough.

Click here to watch match highlights: Cheltenham 2-0 Torquay

 

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