Three promotion games are set to take place this weekend in the Football League.
The play-off finals for the Championship, League One and League Two are, perhaps, the cruellest games in English football. Two teams, in each division, travel to Wembley Stadium full of hope and expectation, but only one team can go up. Only one team will be celebrating at the final whistle and the other will be contemplating how a season of hard work, skill and endeavour has ultimately turned into nothing.
Loveaflutter takes a look at the three big play-off games to be played over this May Bank Holiday weekend and gives its sportsbook betting predictions on which teams will come out on top in the football play-off finals for the Championship, League One and League Two.
The Football League
Two play-off final kicks-off first on Saturday evening at 5.30pm. It will be played between Southend United and Wycombe Wanderers. Southend United finished fourth in the division, just behind Wycombe, and successfully made it to the play-off final by beating Stevenage 4-1 over two legs.
They are the favourites for the Football League Two play-off final with the bookies at 7/5, but with Wycombe priced at 9/5 it is viewed as a very close game to call. The pitch at Wembley is likely to suit Southend United’s football style more than Wycombe and that is, perhaps, reflected in the prices for both teams. Wycombe have been the surprise package of League Two this season and certainly stunned Plymouth Argyle in the first leg of their play-off semi-final as they raced into a 3-0 lead and recorded a 5-3 aggregated win overall.
However, Southend have the better squad and more momentum going into the match – having gone 10 games without defeat. They also have a win over Wycombe recently to draw upon as well as an appearance at Wembley Stadium two seasons ago in the final of the Football League Trophy. Verdict: Southend to be promoted.
The Football League One play-off final will be contested between Swindon Town and Preston North End. The play-off final will kick-off at 5.30pm on Sunday. Preston at 6/5 are the clear favourites to win the tie, with Swindon Town priced at 23/10. Preston don’t have a good record in play-off matches, having competed in them nine times but not gained promotion once.
However, the strolled into the play-off final with a comfortable 4-0 aggregate win over Chesterfield and finished 10 points ahead of Swindon in the League One table this season. They also have a striker in form at the minute, with Jermaine Beckford finding the net three times in the play-off semi-final against Chesterfield.
As his FA Cup exploits for Leeds United in 2010 proved, when he scored away at Manchester United and Tottenham Hostpur, Beckford is a man for the big football occasion and could well prove to be the match winner again in the play-off final. Swindon Town’s route to the play-off final was a little more anxious.
They won 2-1 away at Sheffield United and then raced into a 3-0 in the first half of the second leg. However, a fight-back from Sheffield United saw the play-off second leg end 5-5 at the County Ground. However, what it does highlight is that Swindon have goals in them and are very dangerous going forward.
This game is going to be a lot closer than the bookies suggest and I think with the pressure on Preston North End to win there could be a football upset on the cards. Verdict: Swindon to be promoted.
The Football League Championship play-off final will be played between Middlesbrough and Norwich City. The game will be played on Monday, with a 3pm kick-off. Middlesbrough are priced at 19/10 in the sportsbook betting to win the match, while Norwich City are the slight, and very slight, favourites at 13/8. It really is a football match that is going to be difficult to call. There was little to separate the two sides in the Football League Championship this season, with Norwich City finishing a point better off than their rivals in the table.
Middlesbrough have won both games against Norwich City this season and even recorded an impressive 4-0 win against the Canaries at the Riverside Stadium. However, that match was back in November when Norwich City still had Neil Adams in charge.
The club have improved massively since he resigned in January and was replaced by Hamilton boss Alex Neil. Neil has guided the club to 16 wins from his 24 games in charge. However, one of his three losses was a home defeat to Middlesbrough in April, which ultimately scuppered their chance of automatic promotion.
They successfully qualified for the play-off final by beating Ipswich Town over two legs in the play-off semi-final, while Middlesbrough comfortably saw off Brentford with a 5-1 aggregate win in their play-off semi-final. It is such a close match to call and one that is worth an estimated £120m to the winner.
It is the richest game in football, in regards to what is on offer for the winner and promotion to the Premier League and the top tier of English football. I think Norwich City might just shade the match and collect their first victory over Boro this season. Verdict: Norwich City to be promoted.