(Young Joe Mason has bagged his share of goals for Cardiff this season)
The first playoff game sees the outright playoff favourites West Ham travel to take on League Cup finalists Cardiff after starting out their season hosting the same opponents in a loss at Upton Park, they also met here in March & West ham took advantage of a bit of a League Cup hangover by coming out with a 2-0 win, this promises to be a tough & tense affair before the deciding leg. Neither side have been easy to beat recently with West Ham only having two losses in 2012, coming in a freak heavy loss to Ipswich & to red hot Reading, Cardiff have gone ten games without a loss themselves but both sides have had way too many draws & they scuppered West Ham's automatic promotion chances & nearly did for Cardiff's playoff spot. Both sides' draw counts are quite extraordinary with the Hammers having 9 in their last 17 games & Cardiff with 7 draws in 13, & with this only being the first leg no side wants to lose it here so things could be pretty tight. Both sides do have match winners though with Peter Whittingham being a main man for Cardiff especially in terms of his quality at set pieces with great goal threat & a top delivery for setting others up, he'll need to be at his best though as the Hammers have the best away record in the league & also conceded the fewest goals with just 22 in 23 games & that would be lower if not for the 5 conceded away to Ipswich. West Ham have plenty of variety to play up front but Sam Allardyce can't all of hi players into the team at once, Carlton Cole offers a potent physical threat & Ricardo Vaz Te has been great since joining from Barnsley in the transfer window with 10 goals in 12 games. West Ham have to be sorely disappointed at not getting the automatic promotion place that the strength of their squad surely should have managed but they haven't let their heads drop in recent weeks & odds of Evens for the Hammers to win on the draw no bet market is a real tempter. As we said West Ham have only lost twice in 2012 & are outstanding on the road, the draw is a big player in this market but we'll get our bet refunded & we fancy West Ham slightly more with Cardiff having so many near misses in the playoffs over the years.
(Impact! Stephen Dobbie's put the ball in the back of the net 5 times since joining Blackpool on loan in March)
At Bloomfield Road we see another two teams trying to return to return to the top flight after relegation just last year with the colourful, in kit & playing style, Blackpool hosting Chris Hughton's Birmingham side. Ian Holloway has kept Blackpool playing the attacking football that saw them start off their Premier League season so well & they've done pretty well defensively at home too with just 21 conceded in their 23 games, they've outscored opponents here at a rate of two goals to one & have only lost 3 times at home all season. Both sides are much better at home than on the road & Birmingham's loss record shows just 10 wins all year but with 9 of those coming away from home, they have got the most away goals in the league though with 41 but 37 in the conceded column too which shows that Hughton sends his side out to play wherever they are. Birmingham's goals have come from throughout the team with Zigic, Marlon King & midfielder Chris Burke all reaching double figures, Burke has been particularly influential since leaving Cardiff for the Blues last summer & he will be desperate to play in England's top league. For Blackpool Kevin Phillips has continued to be a finely tuned goalscoring machine this year with 17 goals & has been ably backed up with goals from midfield from namesake Matt Phillips, Gary Taylor-Fletcher & also the blossoming Tom Ince. For all of that in recent weeks Blackpool's main man has been loan signing on the 22nd March Stephen Dobbie from Swansea & he's bagged 5 in 6 since stepping in showing the benefit of having so many fewer games this year on his legs than the players around him. Bearing in mind that both teams score goals & Birmingham don't seem to know how to play a containing game when playing away the odds of Evens available with BlueSquare for over 2.5 goals looks outstanding value. We also like Stephen Dobbie to score first at a very big 15/2 with Ladbrokes, he's in fine form right now & is as short as 5/1 with many other firms.
West Ham United to beat Cardiff City in the draw no bet market at Evens (Paddy Power)
Blackpool v Birmingham City to be over 2.5 goals at Evens (BlueSquare)
Stephen Dobbie to score first at 15/2 (Ladbrokes)