Image: Jbmg40 / Wikimedia Commons
Image: Jbmg40 / Wikimedia Commons

League Two Play-Offs: Colchester and Cheltenham take first steps towards Wembley

The lowest rung of the English professional football ladder was the trail-blazer for the rest of the EFL as the League Two Play-Offs began behind-closed-doors. Colchester United and Cheltenham Town were the teams to put one foot towards Wembley before the second legs on Monday.

The day began with something of a whimper as Colchester came away with 1-0 victory, courtesy of a Cohen Bramall free-kick, in what would have been a truly dire game for the casual observer. The game did seem to drag a little at times, as the two teams felt their way back into the rigours of competitive football, having had only around two weeks to prepare after a break of some 100 days.

The opening exchanges of the tie were clearly an attempt by each team to ‘feel out’ the opposition, something that, at this level, usually encompasses a period of possession by one team, before a poor pass or long ball, usually out of play, gives the ball straight back to the opposition.

The lack of atmosphere obviously was not helping matters

This impasse, however, never really ended, as real chances or even shots at goal were few and far between, with the best chance of the first half another Bramall free-kick, this time down the centre of the goal, which was easily tipped over by Lewis Ward in the Exeter goal.

The lack of atmosphere obviously was not helping matters, as the absence of the usually vocal Colchester support meant that the urgency that is usually a feature of play-off games was virtually non-existent.

In the end, it was Colchester who produced the few moments of quality, which meant that they just about edged this incredibly even game. As the last ten minutes approached, Bramall, the Colchester left-back, stepped up on the right-hand side of box and whipped a perfect free-kick in at the near post, underlining why he should probably be playing at a higher level.

The tie, therefore, is set up perfectly for what should hopefully be a more entertaining second-leg in Exeter.

Both teams went into the tie in true League Two blood and thunder fashion

Almost as soon as the game in Colchester finished, the second of the two Play-Off ties kicked off, with Northampton facing off against Cheltenham, and this proved to be the far more entertaining game.

Despite the absence of the fans, both teams went into the tie in true League Two blood and thunder fashion, with Northampton’s Alan McCormack thundering into a few trademark challenges.

After a quarter of an hour, it looked like the game was turning in the direction of a Northampton win, as they were awarded a penalty after Ryan Broom’s wild air kick caught Michael Harriman. Ryan Watson’s penalty was saved by Owen Evans, however, to keep the score at 0-0, and from that point, Cheltenham started to turn the screw.

The second half largely followed a similar pattern to the Colchester match

On 27 minutes, Charlie Raglan headed home, and, although Northampton had a few chances, they were constantly repelled by Cheltenham, with Owens particularly on good form, saving from James Olayinka, while Vadaine Oliver fluffed his lines from close range.

Half-time, however, allowed each side a bit of time to calm down, meaning the second half largely followed a similar pattern to the Colchester match, although Cheltenham were able to double their lead as the final whistle approached, Conor Thomas, turning home after Steve Arnold had parried the ball back out into the danger area.

This tie, therefore, looks far settled, and its looks, based off this first leg performance, that it will be Cheltenham will be heading to Wembley. It is League Two, however, and literally, anything could happen.

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