League Two enjoyed a thrilling regular campaign and the excitement has only continued in the play-offs.
Going into the final game of the regular season, there was still a lot to be decided at the top including the last automatic promotion spot. Northampton Town entered the final day in third but an unbelievable comeback from Bristol Rovers saw them leapfrog the Cobblers, who dropped into the play-offs.
They were joined in the play-offs by Mansfield Town, Port Vale and Swindon Town, who confirmed their spots in the final day, beating off competition from Sutton United and Tranmere Rovers.
Northampton’s reward for a fourth-placed finish was a tie against seventh-placed Mansfield, but they lost the first leg of their semi-final 2-1, going down to goals from Rhys Oates and Jordan Bowery, with Ali Koiki handing them a chance. However, they could not overcome that challenge and Stephen McLaughlin actually made Mansfield’s victory more comfortable over the two legs.
In the other semi-final, Swindon will take the advantage into their second leg over Port Vale with a Harry McKirdy double helping them to a 2-1 victory – former Manchester United player James Wilson pulled one bag late on for Vale.
But first let’s remind ourselves of the action from the final day of the regular season, including how the play-off spots were confirmed.
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1. 2021/22 League Two play-offs
Unlike the other divisions in the Football League, four teams are promoted from League Two. Forest Green Rovers, Exeter City and Bristol Rovers all secured their automatic spots, with Northampton, Port Vale, Swindon and Mansfield battling to join them.
Mansfield were the first team to seal their spot in the final, looking to reach League One for the first time since 2003. Who will join them?
Semi-final first leg results
- Mansfield 2-1 Northampton
- Swindon 2-1 Port Vale
Semi-final second leg fixtures
- Northampton 0-1 Mansfield Town (1-3 on aggregate)
- Port Vale v Swindon (Thursday 19 May, 7:45pm UK time)
2. Bristol Rovers break the internet
Bristol Rovers went into the final day of the League Two campaign level on points with third-placed Northampton, but trailing by five on goal difference, having never been in the automatic promotion spots all season. To leapfrog the Cobblers, Bristol Rovers would either need to better their result or (if Northampton won) win with a five-goal swing.
That didn’t look likely as Northampton stormed to a 3-0 lead inside 22 minutes away from home against Barrow, with Bristol Rovers scoring their second against Scunthorpe at the same time. So, 22 minutes into the day and Bristol Rovers now needed a six-goal swing. But then something happened.
First, Barrow pulled one back just before half time, taking the swing needed back down to five and then something happened in the Bristol Rovers’ dressing room at half time. Whatever Joey Barton said to his players riled something in them.
BRISTOL ROVERS HAVE SEVEN!
As it stands, Joey Barton's side will get automatic promotion to League One at the expense of Northampton!! https://t.co/Y1rliYFlo6
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) May 7, 2022
Less than 10 minutes after half time it was 3-0, then it was four. Three goals were needed as Northampton were struggling. In the 76th minute it was five, three minutes later Bristol Rovers were one goal away. They couldn’t, could they? They could. In the 85th minute, on-loan Newcastle United midfielder Elliot Anderson converted to make it 7 (SEVEN)-0 to Bristol Rovers. Cue the fans rushing onto the pitch which led to the game being put on hold while everything was cleared time. When the match did start up again it was rather uneventful, as Scunthorpe looked dead on their feet and Bristol Rovers didn’t need to score anymore, knowing Northampton’s game had finished 3-1. They were up.
During the celebrations there was still time for Bristol Rovers to appreciate Josh Kay, who scored Barrow’s goal against Northampton, sending Barton’s side up. Kay cheekily tweeted later on Saturday evening, offering Bristol Rovers fans the chance to fund his golf holiday. We wonder if anyone actually did.
Any Bristol rovers fans want to dm me taking all donations to my golf holiday funds 👍🏻💰🤣 https://t.co/H6XIXT4jIL
— Josh Kay (@JoshwKay) May 7, 2022
3. The world’s greenest title winners
Forest Green Rovers have been dubbed as the world’s greenest club by FIFA, with a vegan-only menu at the stadium, shirts made from coffee grounds and the pitches water by collected rain water – they were also reportedly the world’s first carbon neutral football club. But for fans of the club, the most important thing is the success on the pitch, and Forest Green are flying high.
Just five years ago they were in the National League, securing their spot in League Two thanks to a play-off win in 2016/17, and now they’re getting ready for League One. And they’re entering the third tier as League Two champions.
Forest Green went into the final game of the season already promoted, but one point behind Exeter in the title race and facing a Mansfield side looking to secure their spot in the play-offs. A 2-2 draw was the result, with Forest Green twice having to come from behind, but that was enough to seal the title as Exeter lost 1-0 to Port Vale – who were also fighting for the play-offs.
— (C) Forest Green Rovers (@FGRFC_Official) May 8, 2022
5. Mark Hughes has big plans for Bradford
A name many may be surprised to see in League Two, former Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers and Wales manager Mark Hughes took charge of Bradford City in February and after a rough start appears to have steadied the ship. The Bantams won their final three games of the season, including a 4-1 victory over play-off chasing Sutton and two home wins – bringing an end to Bradford’s poor home form.
But this isn’t a brief encounter. Hughes appears to be at Valley Parade to stay. After securing a 14th-placed finish, Hughes was already talking about next season, and building on their recent revival at home.
“It is clearly going to be massive for us next season. We have got to come to Valley Parade and turn teams over,” he told reporters.
“If we have really strong home form next season then it is going to go a long way towards whether we can actually sustain a real challenge.
“Clearly in the recruitment of players we are looking for ones who can deal with the demands and expectations of the club and thrive in that environment.
“If we can get it right then we are going to have a good year.”
Bradford ended the season with just six wins from their 23 home games, with only five teams having a worse record.
2021/22 League Two stats leaders
Forest Green may have had to leapfrog Exeter on the final day to secure the title, but their win may have been deserved, with a number of their players leading the stats. Kane Wilson in particular was important with his 13 assists matched only by Northampton’s Mitchell Pinnock – Wilson was unrivalled with his 124 completed take-ons though.
The champions also had League Two’s most creative player, with Nicky Cadden creating 128 chances, and its top tackler in Ebrima Adams and his 107 tackles.
Of course, the stat everyone looks to immediately is goals, and Newport County’s Dominic Telford takes the crown with 25 goals across the season – though it wasn’t enough to get his side into the top seven.
Northampton’s Liam Roberts was the leading goalkeeper with 21 clean sheets, but Glenn Morris of Crawley Town made a league-high 143 saves.