Head-to-head: The key battles in Sunday’s League Two play-off final

The League Two play-off final stage is set, as Carlisle United prepare to face Stockport County.

The Cumbrians finished fifth, overturning a 1-0 deficit against Bradford City in the semi-finals to win 3-2 on aggregate, with Ben Barclay providing the killer blow in the second half of extra-time.

The Hatters finished the season one place better in fourth and had to overcome a tough Salford City side on penalties (3-1) after the tie ended 2-2 on aggregate.

As the two teams take to Wembley Stadium in a fight for promotion to League One, we used the Twenty3 toolbox to analyse the key battles.

Moxon vs Croasdale

Owen Moxon is a player that can do it all.

The 25-year-old midfielder has scored five and racked up an impressive 13 assists, including his decisive delivery to Barclay in the second leg against Bradford.

He also works hard defensively, winning 273 defensive duels and making 296 ball recoveries in the opponent’s half, as well as 246 interceptions. 

While Stockport’s Ryan Croasdale did not feature in their second leg against Salford, he may be reintroduced and tasked with keeping Moxon quiet.

While the anchorman is not the most expansive in possession, he is an expert at breaking up play and snuffing out dangerous attacks.

The Hatters’ No18 has averaged 5.9 interceptions and 13.38 ball recoveries per 90 minutes in League Two this term.

Moxon’s ability to escape Croasdale’s attentions – or Croasdale’s ability to limit Moxon’s influence – could be crucial to determining the winner of the play-off final.

Dennis vs Hinchliffe

After missing out in the semi-final due to injury, Carlisle marksman Kristian Dennis will be one to watch should he return.

The Manchester-born striker is his side’s top scorer in League Two this term, bagging 19 goals and chipping in with two assists.

He is a sharpshooter with an eye for goal, averaging 2.33 shots, 3.08 touches in the opposition box and 2.01 successful link-up play sequences per 90 in the competition.

Rather than attempting to travel with the ball, Dennis plays off those around him, combining in and around the box.

But to make his mark in the final, he will have to get past Stockport goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe, who produced a phenomenal performance against Salford last time out.

He made 11 saves in the second leg of the semi-final, only being beaten by a looping deflection he could do nothing about. 

Then, in the shootout, Hinchliffe saved two penalties to help his side reach the final in dramatic fashion.

The 25-year-old will have to be on top form again if he is to deny Dennis the goals that could seal promotion to League One.

Rydel vs Senior

Stockport’s 22-year-old left wing-back Ryan Rydel is one of the side’s most dangerous avenues of attack.

While he was used as a substitute for the first leg of the semi-final against Salford, he found a way into the starting line-up for the second and provided a crucial assist. It was his eighth of the season – a team-leading total.

He also leads the Hatters in crosses completed (48) and shots assisted (37), demonstrating the threat his wide deliveries pose.

On the opposing side for Carlisle will be right wing-back Joel Senior, who impressed against Bradford.

He is dominant in his defensive ground duels, winning 70 of the 106 he has contested, but has not fared as well aerially, coming out on top in just five of his 32 such duels.

Rydel’s ability to beat Senior and get a cross in could be crucial to Stockport’s ability to threaten their opponents.

Madden vs Huntington

With Kyle Wootton ruled out with injury, 10-goal striker Paddy Madden is likely to combine with Isaac Olaofe in attack for Stockport.

Madden has registered 22 headed shots this term, which ranks eighth in League Two, and he averages 1.76 aerial duels won per 90 – the Hatters will certainly look to pick him out in the box against Carlisle.

His combination play is solid, completing 60 of his 83 link-up play attempts and acting as a focal point up front, helping his side move up the pitch and keep the ball in advanced areas.

At the heart of Carlisle’s three-man defence is Paul Huntington, who will be tasked with keeping Madden at bay.

The 35-year-old centre-half averages 5.77 interceptions, 6.32 aerial duels won and 16.71 ball recoveries per 90 – leading his teammates in all three categories.

His defensive prowess and leadership will be key to blunting Stockport’s attack and nullifying the impact of their target man Madden.

Simpson vs Challinor

Ahead of the play-off final, much of the focus is understandably on the players whose performances will decide the fate of their clubs, but the influence of their managers – Dave Challinor and Paul Simpson – should not be underestimated.

The pair should produce an evenly matched contest, given they both employ the same 3-5-2 formation and lean on wide deliveries for attacking threat.

In fact, the last time the two locked horns in April, the result was a 2-2 draw, with Carlisle coming back from 1-0 down to take a 2-1 lead in the 83rd minute, only to see their opponents equalise just three minutes later.

With so much on the line, the two managers may see their sides play out a similarly tight contest – the finest of margins could yield joy for one and despair for the other.

All visualisations and Smart Reports in this article were produced with the Twenty3 Toolbox. For more information, please get in touch below.