Gruss Software look ahead to the Football League Play-Off Finals and the 6 teams' chances of winning promotion at Wembley this bank holiday weekend:
Championship Play-Off Final
Middlesbrough vs. Norwich City - 25th May (3.00pm)
The last of the play off finals brings together Middlesbrough and Norwich City to compete for a coveted place in the top flight, alongside Bournemouth and Watford who have already qualified. There is no denying that the fixture at Wembley will be a big occasion for both sides, since Middlesbrough haven’t played there since 1998 and Norwich City haven’t stepped onto Wembley turf in 30 years.
It has been a comfortable cruise through the semi-finals for Middlesbrough, who beat Brentford 5-1 on aggregate over the two games. Players to look out for would be goal scorers Lee Tomlin, Enrique Garcia Martinez, Albert Adomah, Jelle Vossen and Fernando Amorebieta as well as captain Grant Leadbitter. It is unclear if Championship Player of the Year Patrick Bamford, who has scored 19 goals this season, will feature in the final since he missed the second leg of the semi-final due to an ankle injury.
Norwich City’s path to the final was marred by having to face local rivals Ipswich Town, who did not make their semi-final an easy prospect. The 98th East-Anglian derby started off with a 1-1 draw in the first leg, leaving Norwich to produce the goods in the second leg, which they did by winning 3-1 (4-2 on aggregate). Cameron Jerome, who is top scorer for the club with 20 goals this season, produced the clincher in the second leg, and will inevitably feature in the final. Other players to look out for include Captain Russell Martin, Bradley Johnson, Nathan Redmond and Wes Hoolahan, who scored a penalty in the second leg.
Previous meetings this season between the two sides have seen Middlesbrough come out on top both times; 1-0 in April and 4-0 in November. However, the Canaries finished a point above Boro’ and have the most recent taste of premier league action in 2012-2013, which may spur them on to overcome their previous form.
League One Play-Off Final
Preston North End vs. Swindon Town – 24th May (5.30pm)
The League one Play-Off final sees Preston North End take on Swindon Town, duelling for the last spot that will whisk the winner up to the Championship alongside Bristol City and MK Dons. A win for Preston would see them overcome a dismal record of 9 previous failed promotion attempts, whereas Swindon have been absent from the Championship for 15 years.
Preston North End
The Play-Off semi-finals were a smoothly-ran affair on the pitch for the Lilywhites, who beat Chesterfield 4-0 on aggregate. Jermaine Beckford supplied 3 goals over the 2 games, the last of which was astutely scored from the halfway line, in a display that is likely to add to their confidence going into the final. Other players to look out for include top scorer Joe Garner, Paul Gallagher and centre-back Paul Huntington.
Swindon have come from a thrilling semi-final with Sheffield United which ended up 5-5, and Swindon winning 7-6 on aggregate. This score line set a record for highest number of goals scored in a play-off semi-final, and tested both teams to their limits. Ben Gladwin was responsible for two goals in under ten minutes in the second leg, and along with Nathan Byrne, Michael Smith and top scorer Andy Williams, will aim to make the same impact in the final.
At the end of the season Preston finished with a 10 point advantage over Swindon, so would seem like stronger favourites from the outset. Both sides met only a month ago, with Preston cruising to a 3-0 victory, but back in November Swindon managed to squeeze a 1-0 win so in that respect it could go either way. Swindon have already competed in the same Play-Off final at Wembley back in 2009-10, which they lost against Millwall, but if Preston lose on Sunday, it will be their 10th promotion attempt to end in failure.
League 2 Play-Off Final
Southend vs. Wycombe – 23rd May (5.30pm)
The first of the Play-Off finals will take place between Southend and Wycombe Wanderers, with the victor joining Burton, Shrewsbury and Bury in promotion to League One. Both sides have had tough semi-final games, so will undoubtedly be fired up for a thrilling encounter. Each team managed to end their respective campaign on 84 points, meaning this Play-Off final couldn’t be tighter.
Wycombe had an uphill climb to beat Plymouth Argyle, with both legs being hard fought battles that ended with the Wanderers winning 5-3 on aggregate. Two goals in the semi-final were supplied by top scorer Paul Hayes who has netted 15 this season and will be looking to bag more in the final. Fred Onyedinma, Aaron Holloway and defender Alfie Mawson will also be looking to increase their tallies in front of a Wembley crowd.
Southend managed to scrape through to the Play-Off final, with two extra time goals in the second leg indicating victory against Stevenage. These vital goals came from Stephen Mclaughlin and Michael Timlin who netted in the last minute of extra time to seal their Play-Off final appearance. Meanwhile, 21 year-old goalkeeper Daniel Bentley has kept 12 consecutive clean sheets at home this season, so will be expected to be on form for the final.
A tight fixture in March ended 2-2, whereas Wycombe beat Southend in December, clinching a 4-1 win. It has been an amazing turn around for Wycombe to be even featured in the final, as they narrowly avoided demotion last season, after a final day victory kept them in League Two. Their amazing performance this season could be brought to an end by a Southend side looking establish themselves back in the familiar territory of League One.