The Football League play-off games
Going into the final day of the Football League season the four play-off places in all three divisions were just about secured. In fact, there was only some last day-of-the -season heroics from MK Dons and Bury that got them into automatic promotion from Leagues One and Two.
Therefore, Loveaflutter is going to take a look at the play-off games in the Championship, League One and League Two and give a prediction on which teams to look out for when the big games come around .
Starting off in the Championship
The play-off final for this division will be played on Monday, May 25, at 3pm. The play-off semi-finals will be played over two legs with the first game on either Friday, May 8, or Saturday, May 9, and the second leg play-off matches on Friday, May 15, and Saturday, May 16.
Four teams set to contest the Championship play-off games are Middlesbrough, Norwich, Ipswich and Brentford. Norwich have taken third spot in the table, which in the past has come back to haunt teams going into the play-off games. This is because to get so close to automatic promotion and miss out can sometimes affect the players’ confidence. However, if there is a team low on confidence in the championship play-off places at the moment, it isn’t Norwich City.
Aside from a slip-up at home to Middlesbrough in April, they are on a great run of form. However, they face Ipswich in the play-off semi-final and that is a hard match to call being that it is the East Anglian derby. The Canaries have the better squad than Ipswich. They were only relegated from the Premier League last season, but Ipswich have the league’s top scorer Daryl Murphy in their side and less pressure on them to get a result.
I think it would be better to back Middlesbrough to get promoted via the play-off final out of the four teams currently there as they have the easier play-off semi-final game against Brentford. Middlesbrough have a great defensive record this season and that can prove useful when games are tight and nervy. Brentford also gate crashed the play-off places on the final day on the season and have, in Mark Warburton, a manager who has already announced he will be leaving at the end of the campaign.
The League One play-off games will be contested by Swindon Town, Sheffield United, Chesterfield and Preston North End. The League One play-off final will be played on Sunday, May 24, with the first leg of the play-off semi-final on Thursday, May 7, and the second leg of the play-off semi-final to be played on Sunday, May 10, or Monday, May 11.
Preston joined the other three teams in the play-off games when they lost away at Colchester United on the final day of the season. That defeat, coupled with MK Dons victory over Yeovil Town, knocked them out of the automatic promotion spots.
Preston will be favourites to go up, via the play-offs, as they would have finished on substantially more points than the rest of the sides below them. However, North End’s record in play-off games is abysmal. They have contested the play-offs nine times and never been promoted. Last season, Simon Grayson’s side finished fifth and were then knocked out in the play-off semi-finals by Rotherham. It would be a brave man who backed them to buck that trend this season.
Out of the other three teams, Sheffield United would be a team the others would want to avoid. They have proved that this season by beating Premier League QPR and Southampton in cup competitions and by running Tottenham Hotspur close in the League Cup semi-final over two legs that they can get up for the big games. They may have lost the first leg to Swindon Town 2-1 at home, but I wouldn’t be ruling out the Blades just yet. At the odds you’ll get, they are a good bet to make it out of the League One play-offs this season.
Southend United, Plymouth Argyle, Wycombe Wanderers and Stevenage will contest the League Two play-off games. The play-off final will be played on Saturday, May, 23, with the first leg of the play-off semi-finals to be played on Saturday, May 9, and Sunday, May 10, and the second leg of the play-off semi-finals to be played on Thursday, May 14.
Southend United are a strong side who recorded seven wins on the bounce, without conceding, to get very close to automatic promotion. They have a tough semi-final as they will play Stevenage, arguably the second best side in the League Two play-offs. It is a very hard play-off semi-final to call, but I would just back Southend to make it through.
The winner from that game would be big favourites to go up as the other semi-final is contested between Plymouth Argyle and Wycombe Wanderers – two sides badly out of form. In mid-February, Plymouth were in the run in to make it up automatically, but they have faltered badly since then. They are, arguably, only still in the play-off picture because the sides chasing them towards the end of the season – Luton Town, Newport County and Exeter City – slipped up just as badly as they did.
Wycombe Wanderers are the same. They have had a very good season, as for large part of the campaign they were in the automatic promotion spots, but have just run out of steam. They have a small squad and as a result like to keep the ball out of play, when they are winning or drawing, as much as possible to conserve the energy of their players. However, they picked up injuries to Matt McClure and Aaron Holloway against Exeter City recently and have only won one game since. For them promotion now appears to be a step too far and I expect them to lose to Plymouth, who in turn will lose to either Stevenage or Southend United in the final.
Stevenage could be the dark horse out of these four teams though. They are defensively solid and good from set-pieces, which can prove useful in games that are tight and nervy – and play-off matches are definitely that. You can probably get reasonably odds on Stevenage to go up via the League Two play-off games and it is definitely worth a punt on Graham Westley’s team.