nPower League One Play Off Final Preview

Only two places left in the Championship and tomorrow’s League One playoff final is between two sides that will be new to the Championship. Brentford last played in the second tier two decades ago (when it was the old Division One) while this season’s fourth placed finish is Yeovil’s best season in the Football League since they were promoted from the conference ten years ago.

Brentford are the favourites to win promotion, but I think this is going to be a very, very close game that could have a surprise ending. Here’s why:

This is the eight time in the last 20 seasons that the League One playoff final has been contested between the sides that finished third and fourth at the end of the season. However, five of those eight finals have been won by the lower placed team and the last time the third placed team beat the team that finished immediately below them was 13 years ago, when Gillingham beat Wigan.

Additionally, half of those eight finals needed extra time to separate the clubs – including last year’s showdown between Huddersfield and Sheffield United – and finals that go to extra time tend to come in bunches. Between 2007 and 2011, all the games were settled in 90 minutes, but six of the eight finals between 1999 and 2006 were undecided at full time.


League One Playoff Finalists 1997 (lost to Crewe), 2002 (lost to Stoke), losing semi finalists 1991, 1995, 2005 and 2006

Hardly an inspiring record is it? It’s not as if Brentford are going to Wembley with a lot of recent form either. You get the impression that they’re only favourites because they finished two points ahead of Yeovil.

The Bees have won only three of last ten games in League 1, their last win coming in a 3-2 victory against Portsmouth at Griffin Park in the middle of last month. Goals – from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Clayton Donaldson in the last five minutes gave Brentford a come from behind victory.

The West London side been in the playoff positions for half the season but were in with a chance of automatic promotion before the crazy ending to their game against Doncaster at the end of last month. To be honest, the Bees drew far too many games to really be considered auto promotion candidates – only four teams in League One featured in more stalemates this season.


League One Playoff Finalists: 2007 (lost to Blackpool)

The Glovers were looking like a solid mid table team until they went on a run of eight wins between the end of December and the start of February, but since then they’ve manoeuvred themselves into the playoffs by being tough to beat.

This season’s final table is a little misleading: although Yeovil have one of the poorest defensive records of the top ten sides in League One, over the latter half of the season they were much tighter at the back.

Absolutely no problems up front though – only Swindon and Bournemouth scored more goals this season. Irish striker Paddy Madden is League One’s leading scorer and James Hayter scored the winning goal for Doncaster Rovers in the 2008 League One playoff final.

VERDICT: one of the overlooked aspects of this game is that whatever happens next season, Yeovil will be the best team in the West Country if they win promotion. Manager Gary Johnson, left back Jamie McAllister and midfielder Gavin Williams were all involved with Bristol City’s more successful seasons in the Championship.

Having won both league games against Brentford this season, I think Yeovil are underrated. The Bees have one of the worst records in the playoffs at any level and also seem to have acquired the habit of screwing up at the worst possible time this season. Defeat at home against Doncaster was bad enough, but they also let Swindon back into the game in injury time at the end the playoff semi final at Griffin Park and I think they may get found out tomorrow.

Update: congratulations to Yeovil Town, who were promoted to the Championship following their 2-1 win over Brentford yesterday.



Some Familiar Names Rejoin The Championship

QPR and Reading will be playing in the nPower Championship next season after a goalless draw at Loftus Road earlier this afternoon meant that both clubs were relegated. Rangers had lasted two seasons in the Premier League, whilst the Royals were promoted as Champions at the end of last season.

After a dramatic ending to the League One season, Doncaster were promoted as champions after one season away and will join Bournemouth in the second tier in 2013/14.

The remaining promotion and relegation issues in the Championship will go to the last day: Hull or Watford will be promoted automatically, Brighton will be hoping to break the Curse Of Fourth and Palace, Bolton, Forest and Leicester will be competing for one playoff place. At the bottom….I’ll try to work out the permutations before Friday, which is will be the next scheduled post.



nPower Championship Preview 26th/27th April 2013

Well, well, well. Two big games this weekend and Sky Sports are showing them both. I’ve mentioned their rather bizarre scheduling before but it’s funny how they manage to pick the big games at the end of the season – almost as if they can remind viewers that the only place to watch the football league playoffs is Sky Sports.

Anyway, enough moaning about Sky for this week. There’s a distinct possibility that by 5:00pm tomorrow afternoon the automatic promotion place will have been settled.

Only Hull, Watford, Brighton and Crystal Palace can still win automatic promotion, although it would take a very odd combination of results for the latter pair to do so. Still, this is the Championship and anything could happen.

At the bottom, it’s anyone’s guess who’s going to be joining Bristol City in League 1 next season, although my guess is it’ll go down to next weekend and that any two from Peterborough, Barnsley and Wolves will be going down – the Posh hold advantages over Wolves in terms of goal difference and goals scored.

As for game of the week, there are far too many games to chose from this weekend. Tonight we’ve got Watford’s trip to Leicester (Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm): if the Hornets fail to win at the King Power Stadium tonight then Hull will only need a point at Barnsley tomorrow to win automatic promotion. If Watford lose, that’s it: Hull are up. The Foxes have only won two of their last six games at the King Power Stadium, but they seem to have rediscovered their shooting boots with five goals in the last two home games with Jeff Schlupp scoring three of them. The problem is that defensively Leicester aren’t that sound – two home clean sheets in the last ten is nothing special – and there’s a been at least one goal after 70 minutes in each of the last ten home games.

Watford have lost two of their last three aways but the good news for Hornets fans is that they’ve not lost three in a row on the road since Autumn 2011 and with wins at Hull, Palace and Brighton this season Watford have shown their ability: if Jeff Schlupp is the player that Watford defenders need to keep an eye on, then the same can be said for Troy Deeney and Matej Vydra. The bad news is that the Hertfordshire outfit have only won one of their last ten visits to Leicester and a draw is no good for them.

Even if Hull are promoted tonight, tomorrow’s games will still have an impact on the playoffs and relegation. Although we’re waving goodbye to Cardiff City for the foreseeable future, their opponents tomorrow are looking to consolidate a playoff place. Bolton have been worse than average on the road this season, but it’s their home form they need to reproduce at the City Of Cardiff stadium if they want a top six finish. Wanderers will also have the advantage of knowing precisely what to do tomorrow if Leicester win this evening.

It’s at the bottom where the drama will be over the next couple of weekends. First of all, spare a thought for Bristol City. Over the last ten seasons, nine of the clubs that eventually finished bottom earned fewer points over the whole season than the Robins already have with two games less. Despite losing their place in the Championship, City could still have a big impact on who goes down with them if they can beat Huddersfield at Ashton Gate.

The biggest game at the bottom of the table is between Peterborough and Sheffield Wednesday (Sky Sports 2, 5:20pm tomorrow). Despite having spent the entire season in the bottom four, the Posh can still save themselves from relegation: they’ve only lost five games in the latter half of the season. Wednesday have been consistently in the bottom third of the table since September, but have never really looked like candidates for the drop, but the competitive nature of the Championship this season means the Owls are not out of danger by any means.

Before I sign off for now, it’s the last game in League 1 tomorrow and with three clubs in with a chance of winning the division it couldn’t be any tighter. We already know the Bournemouth will be playing in the Championship next season, but it’s a fight between Doncaster Rovers and Brentford for the remaining automatic place.

There will be at least one update tomorrow and possibly even one later depending on how Watford do at Leicester, so please stay tuned!

Update: Watford won 2-1 at Leicester – Nathaniel Chalobah scored one of the goals of the season t0 give the Hornets a 2-0 lead – and so Hull have to beat Barnsley tomorrow afternoon to win automatic promotion.



League 1 Showdown Goes To The Final Day

There’s been a lot of hype about the Premier League and the Champions League recently, but for fans of Championship clubs not involved in the playoffs there’s an exciting climax to League 1 to look keep an eye on before the Cup Final. After 45 games in the third tier, the two Sheffield clubs are only separated by one point and one of them will definitely be back in the Championship by this time tomorrow evening.

Charlton were promoted weeks ago and it looked like Sheffield United would be joining them only one season after the Blades had been relegated from the Championship. However, following a defeat at Milton Keynes Dons and a draw with Stevenage, it’s Sheffield Wednesday who are in the driving seat tomorrow. The Owls – who were relegated on the final day of the 2009/10 season – haven’t lost a league game since mid February and took full advantage of the misfortune suffered by their rivals by beating Carlisle and Brentford.

As luck would have it, both Sheffield clubs face teams that will be playing in League 2 in August. United have to make the long journey down the M5 to Exeter City, while Wednesday entertain Wycombe Wanderers at Hillsborough. I’d be surprised if they didn’t both win and with so much at stake I’d be very, very surprised if either of them lost.

Regardless of which club is promoted, the presence of Wolves, Charlton and either – or possibly even both – Sheffield clubs in the Championship next season is something to get excited about. Multiple Yorkshire and London derbies aside, average attendances for both Sheffield clubs and Charlton in League 1 this season were higher than half the averages in the Championship so there’s a distinct possibility that attendances will rise next season. If Wednesday are promoted, Milan Mandaric and Dave Jones will be back: if – as seems likely after last night – Cardiff are still in the Championship next season that should give an extra edge to those games.

It’s a shame that most of us have got to wait another three months for the next game isn’t it!