After 48 games and nine long months of the League Two season, it’s all come down to a defining 90 minutes at the home of English football for both Plymouth Argyle and AFC Wimbledon.
A place in League One is at stake for two of the most impressive sides of the season, and if their respective play-off semi-finals are anything to go by, then we could be in for an entertaining game that’s fitting with the way League Two has been all year.
Despite their impressive win against Accrington Stanley in their semi-final tie, Wimbledon take the short trip across the capital as the firm underdogs as they look to secure their place in the third tier of English football for the first time in their short history.
Argyle, on the other hand, arrive at Wembley as favourites after dispatching Portsmouth in the most dramatic style; a Plymouth side that were five points clear at the top of the table at Christmas will be looking to finish the season on a high.
In this article, the four key individual battles that will be on show across the Wembley pitch on Monday have been explored, showing where the play-off final may be won or lost.
Peter Hartley and Curtis Nelson vs Adebayo Akinfenwa
For someone who isn’t an avid fan of the lower leagues, it may be a tough task to recognise any names on the team-sheets for this game – yet there’s one name that any football fan will know.
Adebayo Akinfenwa; or ‘The Beast’ as he’s better known, will be out to gain revenge for his play-off final heartbreak with Northampton Town back in 2013, and central defenders Peter Hartley and Curtis Nelson will be the ones handed the unenviable task of keeping him at arm’s length.
Although it is unlikely that Akinfenwa will start the final, you wouldn’t bet against him coming on in the second half to add some physicality and experience to Wimbledon’s young front-line, much like he did when scoring a vital goal against Accrington Stanley last week.
The perennial football league man, however, will be up against a defence that only conceded a measly average of a goal a game across all 46, and they will be hoping to stifle him and to add one more clean sheet to the 14 that they’ve picked up across the campaign.
Jake Jervis vs Lyle Taylor
If there was ever a game for strikers to deliver in, then this is most certainly it.
Two of the most in-form players in League Two are set to face up, hoping to be the one to secure the trophy and secure promotion for their club. In Jervis, Plymouth have a reliable forward who has filled the goal-scoring void that an out of sorts Reuben Reid has left this season, linking well with Carey behind him to fire in eight league goals.
For the opposition in the form of Wimbledon, Lyle Taylor has had an outstanding debut season and is undoubtedly the reason as to why the Dons have been flying so unexpectedly high up the table. His 21 goals in 40 league games is the fourth best in the league this year, including the crucial extra time goal against Stanley to send Wimbledon to the final.
If both of these players turn up and play to the extent that they’ve showcased all season, the Wembley crowd could be treated to some fireworks.
Graham Carey vs Sean Rigg
Out of all of the mini-battles that will take place on Monday, the one between attacking midfielders Carey and Rigg could turn out to be the pivotal one.
In the early stages of the game both sides will be looking to come flying out of the blocks and stamp their authority on the game, and the width of the Wembley pitch could lead to a very attack-minded game which will suit Carey and Rigg perfectly.
Carey’s ability going forward can’t be underestimated by Neil Ardley’s side, and he showed this by securing Argyle’s final berth with an injury time winner against Portsmouth. Him; alongside Jervis, are Plymouth’s top scorers this season and Carey could play a vital role once more.
Luke McCormick vs Kelle Roos
They may not be in the thick of the action for much of the 90 minutes, but these two goalkeepers could be hugely instrumental in deciding which team goes on to hit the heights of League One next year.
McCormick’s 14 clean sheets this season have kept Argyle in the hunt for promotion, and prevented them from free-falling down the table even further than they did, and with a trio of Akinfenwa, Azeez and Taylor to handle on Monday, he will need to be on top form again.
With Jervis, Reid and Matt attacking Roos’ goal at the other end it seems like the goalkeepers could be the ones to decide the tie, and this could become even more true if the tie goes to penalties.
If the game does go all the way there can only be one hero between the sticks, and one person that go down as legendary status with the club, and these two will be hoping that it is their time.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Dan Westwell