Weblog: The football punter

Home advantage should help Exeter in playoff

Sky Bet League Two playoff semi-final second leg
Sky Sports Football, 7.45pm Thursday

Exeter had the third-best home record in Sky Bet League Two and they could be too strong for Lincoln in the second leg of their playoff semi-final.

Last Saturday's 0-0 draw at Sincil Bank was a tight encounter and the markets are struggling to separate the sides before the return match in Devon.

Exeter are just a shade of odds-on to qualify and that may come as a surprise to Lincoln manager Danny Cowley, who expects his team to be labelled clear underdogs.

Cowley said: "The pressure will be on Exeter. Most people outside of Lincoln will expect Exeter to go through."

Those comments may be the manager's attempt to take the pressure off his players and Lincoln have fared well as underdogs in the past.

They won the National League in 2016-17 despite starting the season as 16-1 shots and their promotion season was accompanied by a stunning run to the FA Cup quarter-finals, which featured wins over Ipswich, Brighton and Burnley.

However, they are no bigger than evens to get past Exeter and those odds look a little too respectful.

Lincoln huffed and puffed in the first leg and went closest to scoring when Matt Rhead's second-half header hit the crossbar but Exeter dealt with the aerial onslaught pretty well and created a few dangerous moments of their own.

The goalless outcome was a fair reflection and Exeter are likely to play with more freedom and attacking intent at St James Park, where they have won 15 of 23 league games this season.

Exeter lacked consistency during the run-in and were weaker at the back without injured captain Jordan Moore-Taylor, who failed to start 11 of the last 12 matches of the regular season.

But Moore-Taylor has come back into the side for the last two matches and his influence has been obvious with the Grecians keeping back-to-back clean sheets for the first time since October.

Exeter have also benefited from the recent return from injury of attacking midfielder Ryan Harley, who is one of the most technically gifted players in League Two.

Getting two big players back at such an important time is huge boost and could be the key to Exeter reaching the League Two playoff final for a second successive year.

Exeter to qualify

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Match in Focus

19:45 Sa 26May BT2

Real Madrid v Liverpool

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Real have won just one of their last four Champions League meetings against English opposition
Expert verdict
Real Madrid have lifted the Champions League in three of the past four seasons but they could struggle to retain their crown against a lively Liverpool. Real have been the dominant force in Europe, with last year’s 4-1 thumping of Juventus in the final in Cardiff showcasing their superiority. However, Zinedine Zidane’s men have not bumped into a front three like the Reds’ often - Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have netted 29 of their 40 Champions League goals this season - and they are vulnerable to the counter-attack.