League Two Playoffs: 7th-placed Crawley to sneak through back door?

Unlike the EFL Championship and League One, League Two is unique in English professional football in that four teams can get promoted each year. 

Three gain automatic promotion, and a fourth spot is decided in a playoff tournament between fourth and seventh place.

Carlisle United winning the 2023 League Two Playoffs
Carlisle United won the 2023 League Two Playoffs. Who will triumph in 2024? – Photo by Icon Sport

League Two is always a melting pot, from newly-monied upstarts to fallen giants and grizzled Football League veterans. 

It is also always extremely closely fought, and a late run can always see you make a promotion charge. At the season’s close, only 10 points separated fifth and 14th place in the table.

Stockport County, Wrexham and Mansfield have taken the three automatic places, leaving MK Dons, Doncaster, Crewe Alexandra and Crawley Town to compete in the playoffs.

League Two Playoffs: The Teams

MK Dons: League One regulars to return?

MK Dons have several reasons to be confident going into the playoffs. Firstly, as the fourth-placed place, they are, on paper, the best side. They also have the benefit of playing the lowest-placed side, Crawley, in their semi-final.

MK Dons will welcome Crawley to Stadium MK – Photo by Icon Sport

They have scored ten more goals than anyone else in the playoffs, in large part thanks to their lethal front three. Dan Kemp, Max Dean and Alex Gilbey all have 20 or more combined goals and assists this season.

Finally, the Dons simply have the know-how. They have spent 11 of the last 14 seasons in League One, and will be confident of returning for next season.

Doncaster: Red hot Rovers

The form side coming into the playoffs, however, are undoubtedly Doncaster Rovers.

Rovers were in 20th place on New Year’s Day, but have been on an astonishing run in 2024, and have picked up more points than anyone else. They won 10 games in a row between March and April.

Striker Joe Ironside is the side’s top scorer with 20 goals, and has scored six in his last five games. The versatile Luke Molyneux has also found a more permanent home on the right wing in recent months, and has nine goals and eight assists. 

Luke Molyneux has played all over the pitch – Photo by Icon Sport

At the back, Newcastle United academy product Owen Bailey has been ever-present, and popped up with key goals and assists when needed. 

After a season of adaptation in 2022/23, where they finished 18th, Doncaster will be confident of returning to League One.

Crewe Alexandra: Best defence wins titles?

The old adage goes that “attack wins you games, defence wins you titles”.

Crewe Alexandra will be hoping that rings true for this season’s League Two Playoffs, as they boast the best defensive record among the competitors.

At the heart of this defensive success is 34-year-old Mickey Demetriou, who has had an incredible 2023/24. The former Newport County man has appeared in every game this season, and used his experience to marshall their defence. But where he has really shone is at the other end. Demetriou has scored eight goals, and assisted six, a Ronald Koeman-esque return.

They may not have the firepower of MK Dons, but Crewe are more than capable of getting the goals they need. 

First-choice striker Elliott Nevitt is a real success story, having worked his way up from playing Sunday League to professional football. The 27-year-old will be hell-bent on making the next step up. He’s done it before at Wembley too, having scored a hat-trick in the FA Vase final.

Crawley Town: Escaping the doldrums at last?

Crawley Town have ticked over nicely this season, floating around their eventual seventh place finish most of the season.

Their consistency has earned them an opportunity to get out of League Two for the first time in nine seasons. Since relegation from League One in 2014/15, the Sussex side have not finished any higher than 12th place. 

Crawley are led by star-striker Danilo Orsi. The 28-year-old has taken the path less-travelled to the playoffs. Born and raise in North London, Orsi, who is of Scottish and Italian heritage, moved to Florida to play college soccer for three years. He also had spells at Chivas and Fort Lauderdale Strikers. 

Orsi already has a taste of the big-time. He won a penalty away at Southampton in last season's FA Cup – Photo by Icon Sport

After returning to England, Orsi was inspired by Jamie Vardy to work his way up the Football League. He is three games away from making another big step along that path.

Crawley endured some final day drama to sneak into seventh place. After an uncharacteristic four game winless run, they were the beneficiaries of playoff rival Barrow’s shock draw at home to Mansfield. After two first-half goals, Crawley endured a second-half onslaught from visiting Grimsby, who out-shot them 12 to 8. On the full-time whistle, half elated and half relieved, their supporters flooded onto the pitch. 

Crawley will be hoping to channel that excitement and energy into their tough tie with MK Dons.

For more playoff action, check out our guides on the League One and Championship playoffs

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William Evans

William Evans is a football and politics fanatic. A first-class graduate of UEA's Broadcast and Digital Journalism MA course, he also achieved a first class degree in politics and media studies during his time at UEA.