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The Football League season is over, and across the EFL’s three divisions, the automatic promotion places have been won. However, for those near misses, there is still a chance of promotion via the nerve-shredding playoffs.
Who has qualified and what are their chances of promotion as they enter the casino that is the playoffs?
Championship Playoff Semifinals
It’s congratulations to Norwich and Sheffield United, who will be playing Premier League football next season. Four teams will fight it out for the £200 million prize of the final place in next season’s Premier League.
Derby County vs Leeds United
Leeds looked set for automatic promotion until a disastrous Easter weekend of back-to-back defeats saw them drop into third place. Leeds’ problem remains a lack of clinical finishing, as they’ve created more scoring chances than any team in the Championship, but too often failed to convert those chances into goals. The return of Kemar Roofe could boost a side that lost Patrick Bamford to suspension, but Roofe has scored just one goal since Boxing Day.
Leeds did receive a timely tonic on Monday when their under 23’s were crowned Development League National Champions. With injuries and suspensions biting, Marcelo Bielsa may yet turn to youngsters Jamie Shackleton, Jack Clarke and Ryan Edmondson to get over the promotion line.
Derby secured the final playoff spot with four wins from their final six games edging them into sixth place, climaxing with Sunday’s 3-1 win over West Brom. However, it was victory at a cost, with Martin Waghorn limping off injured. Manager Frank Lampard has tried to erase the memory of Derby’s recent promotion near misses by overhauling his team with young Premier League loanees; most notably Liverpool’s Harry Wilson and Chelsea’s Mason Mount.
Lampard has described his side as underdogs going into the playoffs. Although they are in superior form, Lampard’s side still finished nine points behind Leeds and were easily beaten by Bielsa’s side this season 4-1 at Pride Park and 2-0 at Elland Road. Derby needs to win the home leg to stand a realistic chance of progress, but that will be far more difficult if Waghorn is absent.
Prediction: First Leg- Derby 1-1 Leeds, Second Leg- Leeds 2-1 Derby
Aston Villa vs West Bromwich Albion
West Brom have been the fourth-best team in the Championship by some distance in both directions. Manager Jimmy Shan has steadied the ship after Darren Moore’s controversial sacking.
West Brom have struggled to replace the creativity of Harvey Barnes, but have Premier League experience throughout the squad. Blocking West Brom’s path to Wembley are Midlands rivals Aston Villa.
Villa’s late surge saw them make it comfortably into the top six on the back of a divisional record ten straight wins. A draw at Leeds and defeat to champions Norwich took some of the shine off Dean Smith’s sides achievement. However, Villa remain many’s favorites to progress to the Premier League. Jack Grealish has been instrumental in Villa’s upturn, alongside Conor Hourihane and twenty-five goal-striker Tammy Abraham. Villa have painful memories of last season’s playoffs when they made it all the way to Wembley, only to be denied by Tom Cairney’s goal for Fulham.
West Brom need to avoid the errors they made against Leeds and Derby during the regular season and protect their defense in the first leg at Villa Park. If they can stay in the tie during the first leg, West Brom will be confident their firepower will prevail in the second.
Prediction: First Leg- Aston Villa 3-1 West Brom, Second Leg- West Brom 2-1 Aston Villa
League One Playoff Semifinals
The League One playoffs see three former Premier League clubs trying to take a significant step back towards the top flight, and one club trying to end seven seasons in the third tier.
Doncaster Rovers vs Charlton Athletic
Doncaster have been stuck below the Championship for seven years and secured their playoff spot with a 2-0 win over Coventry on Saturday. Inevitably, it was top scorer John Marquis who had the final say with his twenty-fourth goal of the campaign. Doncaster have fond memories of the League One playoffs from their last promotion in 2008 at the expense of Yorkshire rivals Leeds, but face a tough task to get back to Wembley.
Standing in their way are Charlton Athletic, under the management of Lee Bowyer. Charlton had the best defensive record of the four playoff teams. Lyle Taylor remains the creative fulcrum of the team, having finished just three points behind promoted Barnsley. The South London club last played in the Premier League in 2007 and are desperate to end their two-year stay in the third tier.
Prediction: First Leg- Doncaster 0-1 Charlton, Second Leg- Charlton 3-1 Docaster
Sunderland vs Portsmouth
Sunderland have arrested their slide of successive relegation with a strong League One campaign. Manager Jack Ross has got ‘The Stadium of Light’ buzzing again, and Sunderland enjoyed their day out at Wembley for the often mocked Checkatrade Trophy final. Former Ireland international Aiden McGeady has been instrumental in The Black Cats improvement, but they face a tough semifinal against the team that defeated them at Wembley last month.
It has been eleven years since Portsmouth’s finest hour of winning the FA Cup. Financial armageddon followed and saw Portsmouth slip all the way to League Two. Having made it back to League One and winning the Checkatrade Trophy, they now stand on the brink of a return to the second tier. Jamal Lowe has enjoyed an excellent season as Pompey amassed 83 league goals, but they do concede goals and arrive on a run of no wins from their last three games, including a draw at Sunderland.
Prediction: First Leg- Sunderland 2-1 Portsmouth, Second Leg- Portsmouth 3-1 Sunderland
League Two Playoff Semifinals
At the bottom of the League pyramid are four clubs trying to make it into League One, including one coming off a fine season in the FA Cup.
Newport County vs Mansfield Town
It has been some season for Newport, as the Welsh club shocked the football world by dumping Leicester out of the FA Cup and then giving Manchester City a run for their money. For a club not so long ago facing relegation out of the league, it has been a remarkable turnaround with Padraig Amond and Robbie Wilmott enjoying fine seasons.
Mansfield narrowly missed out on the top three after a final day defeat to MK Dons. Tyler Walker will be key to Mansfield’s hopes. Traditionally, teams missing out on automatic promotion on the last day of the regular season struggle to reengage for the playoffs.
Prediction: First Leg- Newport 1-0 Mansfield, Second Leg- Mansfield 1-1 Newport
Tranmere Rovers vs Forest Green Rovers
The visit of Forest Green to Tranmere isn’t the most anticipated fixture on Merseyside this weekend, but for Tranmere, it’s vital. Rovers failed to win any of their final four games, including defeat to Forest Green. However, they do have the division’s top scorer in James Norwood.
Forest Green meanwhile have never been higher than League Two, having won through from the National League in 2017. Forest Green enter the playoffs on a run of four wins from their last six, with midfielder Reece Brown adding an impressive twelve assists this season.
Prediction: First Leg- Tranmere 2-1 Forest Green, Second Leg- Forest Green 1-1 Tranmere
The EFL Playoff Semi Finals run 9th- 16th May.
The EFL Playoff Finals are at Wembley 25th-27th May.
Photo Credits: BBC Sport, Vital Derby