Ahead of the Championship play-offs, xtheline.co.uk’s Ollie Baines depicts the 4 sides who will fight tooth and nail for a place in the Barclays Premier League.
Norwich City vs Ipswich Town
Who would have guesses it eh? What a mammoth fixture this will be! An East Anglian Derby to decipher who will go on to Wembley to play for a place in the Premier League. Who will claim the true bragging rights and become the pride of East Anglia?
Alex Neil’s side finished the season four points short of earning automatic promotion, despite dropping just eight points from their final 18 games. Meanwhile, Town lost on the final day of the season away at Blackburn but managed to scrape 6th place and duly be matched against their rivals.
The Canaries have never faced Ipswich in the play-offs before, but have done the double over their counter-parts this term. However, as we all know, you cannot predict football, especially the play-offs.
Touted as “the biggest derby in history”, who will City and Town be looking to, to help them on their way to Wembley?
One to watch for City – City’s Player of the Season, Bradley Johnson has finally found his feet in the Norwich midfield. The former Arsenal youth prodigy has bagged a whopping 15 goals for the Green Army this season. Johnson has been at the heart of City’s attacks, none more so then some of his glorious efforts against the likes of Watford, Reading, Blackburn and of course Ipswich! The bullish midfielder wears his heart on his sleeve and gives everything for his club, can he help City across the finish line?
One to watch for Town – Front-man Daryl Murphy cannot stop scoring! With 27 goals this season, the 32-year-old has set the Championship alight and has aided Town’s push for promotion. Mick McCarthy will be delighted with the Irishman but will be hoping that the former Sunderland striker still has some left in the tank to pose a threat against rivals, Norwich City.
Prediction – Norwich win[separator type=”thin”]
Middlesbrough v Brentford
Two sides who have been there of there abouts the entire season, both Middlesbrough and Brentford thoroughly deserve a chance for promotion.
Boro have been the defensive kings of the Championship, having only conceded 37 goals this season which include 21 clean sheets. There’s no wonder why no-one fancied a two legged tie against Aitor Karanka’s side.
Experience may be with Boro, but Brentford will have gusto. The Bees were promoted from League One at the end of last season and could see themselves in a double promotion in as many years should they overcome Boro first. Norwich City were the last side to go from League One to the Premier League in successive seasons, so it can be done and that will give Mark Warbuton’s side hope.
Brentford like to get the ball down and exploit the flanks, whilst Boro will look to win the midfield battle. Last time these sides met, Middlesbrough stuffed the Bees 4-0 and 1-0; however the past counts for nothing when a place in the Premier League is at stake.
Who will come out on top?
One to watch for Boro – The Championship player of the year, Patrick Bamford must be hailed as a huge factor in Boro’s season. The on-loan Chelsea starlet has grabbed 19 goals for himself this season and will be ready to provide the sucker-punch once again to put Boro in the reckoning for promotion.
One to watch for the Bees – Jota Peleteiro, the Spaniard who has taken the Championship by storm. A player of undobuted quality and poise, the midfielder has the “je ne sais quoi” to hurt Boro on the counter attack. Jota also has experience of an unlikely promotion having joined Eibar on loan for the 2013-14 season and took the division by storm, contributing the goals and assists that won Eibar the title and their first-ever promotion to the top flight. Can he be the secret formulae to Brentford’s success?
Prediction – Middlesbrough win[separator type=”thin”]
As for the final itself, I have to go with my gut… Play-off winners – Norwich City!