AJ Odudu's Strictly exit sparks vicious regional war as southerner Rose Ayling-Ellis takes on northerner John Whaite

TONIGHT’S Strictly final is set to split the nation after injury turned it into a north v south head-to-head ballroom battle.

AJ Odudu’s dramatic late withdrawal with a foot injury means just two celeb dancers are left — Rose Ayling-Ellis, 27, and John Whaite, 32.

The southern vote has helped EastEnders’ Rose become favourite to win.

But John, 32, is now set to gain yet more support from the northern half of Britain after fellow Lancastrian AJ, 33, pulled out.

It puts them neck-and-neck in what will be the first final in 12 years to feature just two couples.

A TV insider said: “The regional vote has a massive effect on the success of contestants on TV contests, and never before has there been two people in the final with such a clear geographic divide.

“There’s a strong sense that this is a clash of the titans, as both Rose and John are incredible dancers who will now go into the final neck-and-neck with voters.

"AJ’s exit was a tragedy for her. But getting the votes she’d have received from northerners is likely to be the last-minute surge John needed to put him in reach of the glitterball.”

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Rose, Strictly’s first deaf contestant, is paired with Giovanni Pernice, 31, while Bake Off winner John and pro Johannes Radebe, 34, are the BBC1 show’s first all-male pairing.

TV presenter AJ, from Blackburn, and John, who lives 10 miles away in Chorley, received huge support from northerners. Meanwhile, Kent-born actress Rose has been heavily backed in the south.

The last time two couples performed in the Strictly final was in 2009, when Hollyoaks actor Ricky Whittle, 39, lost to BBC breakfast host Chris Hollins, 50.

Three have since gone into the last show, with one winner and two runners-up.

Bosses now face a race against time to prepare after the last-minute withdrawal.

Some sections, such as the judges’ comments, will be extended while the two-hour, five-minute running time will be shortened.

Yesterday bosses insisted their priority was always AJ’s safety — and hailed her “unforgettable routines” with pro dance partner Kai Widdrington, 26.

Executive producer Sarah James said: “AJ may not be able to compete in the final but she is and always will be one of the most brilliant Strictly finalists we have ever had.

“We cannot thank her enough for fully embracing the experience and being a total delight.”

  • Strictly Come Dancing final, BBC1 tonight, 7pm.        

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