This weekend saw the end of the domestic seasons for the Championship and League Two meaning we find ourselves completely immersed with play-off fever. Now I League One and Non- League sides started their play-off campaigns but this has only teased the tastebuds of football fans up and down the country with the sweet glorious taste of the play-offs. For those who haven’t sampled such a decadent taste it consists of joy, agony, ecstasy and bittersweet after taste with a hint of heartbreak.
Here at Severn Sport we love the play-offs so what we have done is preview the play-offs from the Championship down to National League North/South to provide you with some guidance and anticipation as to what to expect between now and the end of May. Attached to each preview are the odds for the side to be promoted. (Odds are provided by Bet365 for Football League and National League, BetVictor for National League North/South)
Please note that whilst this was being written the League One Semi Final 2nd legs were currently being played, hence why they are last.
Championship – Final Monday 29th May
Fulham (7/4) vs Reading (5/1) – First Leg Saturday 13th May/ Second Leg Tuesday 16th May
Huddersfield Town (11/4) vs Sheffield Wednesday (5/2) – First Leg Sunday 14th May/Second Leg Wednesday 17th May
A couple of months ago if you had told me that I would be writing this preview and not including Leeds United then I’d have given you a blank stare and questioned your sanity. In Chris Wood they have the top goalscorer in the league surely they made it? Well here we are. Four sides who deserve their place. Reading finished 3rd and looked set to make the play-offs for the most part of the campaign. Despite a huge 7-1 defeat to Norwich City (another side that you would have thought would have made the play-offs earlier in the season), The Royals went on a couple of long unbeaten runs and won games that in recent years have lost, the hallmark of a good side. One game they did win was a cold, rearranged midweek game at home to Fulham, the side who finished sixth and were the one side you get every year that kicks down the door to the play-offs and force their way in. Fulham did that by being hard to beat in the second half of the season and played some lovely, attacking football along the way. Being from Reading I have been asked how I think they would do in the play-offs and my answer everytime was “alright, as long as they don’t get Fulham in the semis,” the toughest tie to call.
Fourth placed Sheffield Wednesday were my tip to win the play-offs last season but fell short at the final hurdle. This time however they are made of sterner stuff and will be buoyed after a strong end to the domestic campaign. They will also be confident as they have already completed the league double over their opponents, Huddersfield Town. In fact, Wednesday have beaten their opponents twice without conceding a goal along the way (1-0 & 2-0 wins) yet Huddersfield play an expansive game and possess some talented players. This Yorkshire showdown will be feisty and the winner will have some war wounds at Wembley that is for sure.
Ryan’s Championship Winner: Overall I see Fulham and Wednesday getting through their two legged semis and I am hoping lightning won’t strike twice. I am picking Sheffield Wednesday to go up. Plus also it will be funny if after all this time and talk of a Sheffield derby once again for Wednesday to prevent that.
League Two – Final Sunday 29th May
Blackpool (10/3) vs Luton Town (15/8) – Both First Legs Sunday 14th May
Carlisle United (7/2) vs Exeter City (12/5) – Both Second Legs Thursday 18th May
Amazingly the League Two play-off race was that tight that 12th placed Mansfield Town still had a chance of sneaking in on the final day if results went their way! In the end both Colchester and Wycombe missed out by a point after Blackpool won 3-1, thus earning their play-off spot. Blackpool are of this season’s fairytale stories after the complete disarray the club and fans have been put through since their storybook Premier League campaign. However, at Severn Sport I have a reputation of not enjoying the underdogs winning or the fairytale stories coming to fruition and I am sorry to do this once again but I can’t see them getting passed Luton Town in their semi. Luton (like Sheffield Wednesday) boast a two wins and two clean sheets record against their opponents and for me are just a better side. It isn’t me disrespecting Blackpool but Luton have known for a while they would be play-off bound so I can’t imagine that they won’t be focused. However, saying that you cannot completely underestimate the importance of momentum which is something Blackpool do have.
The other semi sees a replay of the final day fixture which sees Carlisle United & Exeter City square off twice more. On Saturday it was a 3-2 win for United, as it was when the two sides met back in November. Both sides play better away from home really so if either can manage their home leg it is all the play for. This is the tie I am looking forward to the most out of the two leagues still at semi final stage.
Ryan’s League Two Winner: I can’t look passed the favourites, Luton Town. They will have to earn it for sure, but I think they will have too much for Blackpool over two legs. In the other tie I think Carlisle will come out victorious, just. Expect extra time and penalties in that one but I think the Hatters will be too strong at Wembley.
National League – Final Saturday 14th May
Forest Green Rovers (11/10) vs Tranmere Rovers (4/6)
On Sunday Forest Green Rovers earned their spot in the final with a 2-0 win over Dagenham & Redbridge in a real turn up for the books. Forest Green’s record against the other promotion hopefuls throughout the season was poor, against all except the opponents in the final Tranmere Rovers however. In fact Forest Green are unbeaten against their opponents this season (drawing 2-2 and winning 1-0 in the respective meetings). However, we have been here before with Forest Green and we have to ask ourselves “what do we honestly expect?” Well I expect Forest Green to give a good showing at Wembley next week that is for sure but I anticipate another season of heartbreak, especially after the defeat in the same game last season.
Ryan’s National League Winner: Simply put, on paper Tranmere should win. But as we know, football is a funny old game. Is this the year Forest Green finally get promoted? If they were facing anyone other than Tranmere I think they would but I envisage another defeat on the big stage unfortunately. Tranmere to win the battle of the Rovers.
National League South – Final Saturday 14th May
Ebbsfleet United (2/7) vs Chelmsford City (5/2)
Both sides won their second legs 2-1 on Sunday and after an initial 2-1 win the first leg free scoring Ebbsfleet romped to a 4-2 aggregate win over Hampton & Richmond. Ebbsfleet ended their domestic campaign with a whopping +66 goal difference and no matter what level of football that is impressive. Scoring more goals than you let in wins you games, wins you titles, wins you cup finals. That is football. Ebbsfleet haven’t lost in the league since Boxing Day and are rightfully 2/7 favourites. However, one of the sides who did beat them were their opponents Chelmsford City. We have seen the Clarets a few times in recent years when they have played Gloucester City in cup competitions so we have seen how handy they can be as an outfit. They saw off a strong and feisty Dartford side over two legs and won’t be going to Ebbsfleet to just make up the numbers, even if they were beaten 2-0 on their last visit.
Ryan’s National League South Winner: They have the form. They have the quality. They have home advantage. They should have too much. I can’t see anything but an Ebbsfleet United win.
National League North – Final Saturday 14th May
Halifax Town (1/3) vs Chorley (9/4)
Having seen Gloucester City play both of these sides I know that this will be a spectacle of a final! Realistically this is a playoff final that sees both underdogs of the semi finals stage fight and claw their way through to the big, final push towards promotion. In Halifax you have the Goliath of the piece and in Chorley you have your David. Now, over the season the mighty Goliath has beaten David twice. But are we set for David’s final flurry? Is it going to be a case of Halifax winning the battle but Chorley winning the war? Who knows. The two sides play good attacking football and are equally hard to beat. Gloucester City went to the Shay and ground out a 1-0 win which shows they can be suspect, even at home. Chorley fought to a courageous 2-2 draw away from home at Whaddon Road on the penultimate day, with 10 men. Both have the ability to cause the other problems so I think it will be tighter than most expect.
Ryan’s National League North Winner: I honestly thought that when I was going to be writing this preview I would be picking between at least one of Salford City and/or Kidderminster Harriers. But as we all love about football, anything can happen. I think Halifax are rightfully favourites for the match, of course being at home gives them an edge. However, I like the way Chorley play, especially in the 2-2 draw at Whaddon Road last month. I think Matt Jansen has done a great job (fans of other clubs will disagree) and they like Chelmsford in the south won’t be travelling to their final to just make up the numbers. I am going for a shock Chorley win.
*I have genuinely just finished writing this as we approach stoppage time in the League One games. There is 10 additional minutes over the two games and they are both in the balance. Crazy! I will let the matches play out before even attempting to preview the final.
League One – Final Saturday 20th May
Bradford City vs Millwall (No odds currently available)
Well having watched those second legs I have just witness two contrasting sides get through to the playoff final. In Fleetwood Town vs Bradford City I saw a drab and cagey 0-0 result, which was enough to see the Bantams through. But in the second match I saw Scunthorpe play out a play-off classic with Millwall beating United 3-2. I tipped Millwall to go up at the start of the year and am not surprised they are going to be playing in the final game of the League One season. In terms of Bradford they have deserved to be in the position they are in and they are one of the sides up and down the leagues who are coming back. The former Premier League side will be tough to breakdown and will look to break quickly. Two sides have cancelled each other out throughout the season, battling to two 1-1 draws across the campaigns. It will be a fierce atmosphere at Wembley with two well supported sides meeting in the final so I cannot wait for it!
Ryan’s League One Winner: I think today’s performances have shown me that the final is going to close. It is going to be scrappy at times and I think the contrast in styles will actually make an exciting climax, especially if it is level going into additional time at the end. I think experience will be key and they both possess a plethora of experience in their ranks but I think Millwall just possess too much quality. With a striker like Steve Morison up front who has seen it all I think he is the catalyst that will pull them over the line. Just.
And there we have it. Severn Sport’s play-off preview. As we approach the final weeks of the football league season the excitement is building in all leagues and I am sure there is still plenty more twists and turns left and many stories still left unwritten. God, I love football.