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The Championship Play-Offs – The Road to Wembley

08 May | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
The Championship Play-Offs – The Road to Wembley

Four teams. One Final. A £130m prize. It's the road to Wembley for the Championship Play-Off Final.

Four teams. One Final. A £130m prize. It’s the road to Wembley for the Championship play-off final. This weekend sees Brentford, Middlesbrough, Ipswich and Norwich fight to join the ‘best football league in the world’, the Premier League. Who will triumph?

Brentford vs. Middlesbrough

With Middlesbrough ending up in fourth place, eight points ahead of Brentford, they certainly look the stronger side on the surface. Despite ending the season with a 4-3 loss to Fulham and a goalless draw against Brighton, which kept them out of automatic promotion, their form throughout the campaign will give them optimism for the play-offs.

•    Middlesbrough have only lost three games in their last 10, which includes defeats to table topping and now Premier League newbies Bournemouth and Watford.  

•    Despite ending the season with a couple of poor performances, Boro held on to the top spot for much of the season. They have looked dangerous throughout thanks to Championship Player of the Year, Patrick Bamford. 17 goals in the league is a stellar return, and if he is fit to play, will be expected to give the fans something to cheer about. To me, Boro look like an easy bet in this fixture.  

Brentford are another team looking to reach their dream. As Premier League virgins, they will have the odds stacked against them. They are certainly the play-off underdogs, ending the season with two impressive wins. They now face the most important fixture in their history. History, however, does not look upon them favourably.

•    Brentford lost both previous fixtures to Middlesbrough, including a 4-0 away defeat early in the season.

•    There has been some drama at the club with manager Mark Warburton falling out with owner Matthew Benham. Warburton is due to depart the club in the summer. Will the disruption behind the scenes affect the dressing room and the club’s promotion bid? With the odds and Boro against them, they look to be falling just short.

Verdict: Middlesbrough will manage comfortable wins in both legs.

Ipswich vs. Norwich

This tasty fixture sees East Anglian rivals collide in the play-off semi-finals. Norwich came close to automatic promotion but stumbled at the last hurdle, their loss to play-off rivals Middlesbrough spelt the end of all automatic promotion hopes. However, their strong squad might give them a second lifeline.

•    Third placed Norwich are favourites to go all the way. The Canaries will want to rectify their earlier mistakes in front of their vocal travelling support and earn redemption for their recent errors.

•    Young Norwich Manager Alex Neil has done a great job since arriving from Scottish Championship side Hamilton, achieving 45 points out of a possible 57. The Canaries look solid at the back and strong up top. Keeper John Ruddy’s 14 clean sheets and striker Cameron Jerome’s 18 league goals are testament to that.

With Ipswich, meanwhile, only narrowly making the play-offs on goal difference, they will be looking to ride their luck all the way to Wembley. Manager Mick McCarthy will be looking to take his second team into the Premier League after guiding Wolves up a few seasons back.

•    Ipswich have a lethal weapon in striker Daryl Murphy, who finished top goalscorer of the season with a very impressive 27 goals, six ahead of second placed Watford man Troy Deeney.

•    Mick McCarthy needs to prove his doubters wrong, after being relegated with Sunderland and Wolves during his controversial managerial career. He will need a brilliant game plan to cope with Norwich’s Jerome and Grabban. With the Irishman often accused of being over-defensive, his team will have to prove it here.

Verdict: Norwich to draw away and win the home leg.

On the respective strength of their sides, potent goal threats and experience in the big games, I believe Norwich and Middlesbrough will make it to the final, with Norwich taking the win and returning to the Premier League.  The Norfolk side have been moulded by Alex Neil, his brilliant leadership has seen the underachieving team turn their season around. They are more creative in the middle of the park and their goal scoring record speaks for itself. Neil isn’t afraid to switch things up, experimenting with six different formations since his appointment. Middlesbrough’s manger, Aitor Karanka will have a tough challenge against him, despite seeking advice from his friend and mentor ‘The Special One’ it looks like he will not be a match for Neil’s in-form Norwich.