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The Championship Play-offs: Who will be victorious?



Ahead of the Championship play-offs,’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

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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

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As for the final itself, I have to go with my gut… Play-off winners – Norwich City!

Ollie is a Freelance Football Writer, living in Frinton on sea. A Christian guy who has a passion for writing, watching and playing sports. Norwich City fan and Co-Founder of Cross The Line -

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Exclusive: Brentford’s Ollie Watkins on his rise from League Two to the heights of the Championship



Ollie Watkins

It is the stuff of dreams. Any young, budding footballer will say that they want to breakthrough at their childhood team and take them to Wembley Stadium before earning that big-money move further up the Football League ladder.

Whilst it remains an elusive goal for the vast majority, Brentford forward Ollie Watkins has turned his dream into a reality and made the leap from Exeter City to the bright lights of the Championship. However, it certainly hasn’t been plain sailing for the boy from Devon.

At just nine years of age, Watkins was turned down by local Football League side Exeter after a short trial period at the club. He was forced to go back to playing regular Sunday League football before the opportunity to impress arose once again further down the line, when the Grecians scouted him for a second time.

“I went on trial for the Under-9s and didn’t make the grade – concentration seemed to be the main issue amongst other things. I went away for a couple of years and enjoyed my football before I was scouted again by Exeter later down the line, and they gave me the opportunity.”

Watkins ensured that lightning didn’t strike twice as he worked his way through the youth ranks at Exeter, making an impression in their Under-18 team before being awarded his first professional contract back in April 2014.

He made his first appearance on the final day of the 2013-14 League Two season in a 2-0 victory over Hartlepool, coming off the bench to play the final 13 minutes for the Devonshire outfit.

There was no immediate route into the first-team set-up after that brief taste of action, though, and he was sent out on-loan to Conference South outfit Weston-super-Mare to continue with his development.

Initially intended to be a month-long loan, he ended up staying for the rest of the 2014-15 season after receiving first-team football on a regular basis and he finished the year with ten goals in 25 appearances.

His prolific form edged him closer to first-team exposure at St James Park upon his return, although it took three months of the new season for Exeter manager Paul Tisdale to name the young forward in one of his squads, eventually awarding him his first start in a 2-1 victory over fierce local rivals Plymouth.

“When I got my chance in the first-team I didn’t take it too seriously – in my mind I thought I was a first-team player already by that point. It was after that first spell when I realised what it would take to take to stay at that level.”

Little did Watkins know at the time that his outing at Plymouth in late November would signal the beginning of a remarkable – and sudden – rise to prominence, and by March 2016 he would have firmly forced his way into the reckoning at Exeter, on a regular basis, after a string of impressive performances.

Four goals in six games saw him clinch both the PFA Fans’ Player of the Month and the EFL Young Player of the Month for March and his excellent form continued, scoring eight goals in ten matches towards the end of the campaign – a run that included a sublime match-winning brace against old foes the Pilgrims.

After firmly cementing his status as a cult hero at Exeter, ending the year with ten goals in 22 appearances, he began the 2016-17 League Two season as an established and key first-team player.

He continued to spear-head the Exeter attack and helped them dramatically turn their fortunes around. With the Grecians sat rock bottom of the Football League in late November, Watkins led his side to a run of form that saw them win 16 matches out of 29 to secure a play-off semi-final tie against Carlisle United.

Watkins was influential in their play-off push, scoring 15 goals and earning 13 assists. However, he saved his very best for a pulsating semi-final second-leg when his double clinched a 6-5 aggregate win.

Football can be a cruel game, though, and after a stirring revival from Exeter following their dire position in Autumn they fell agonisingly short of promotion to League One as Blackpool ran out 2-1 winners at Wembley Stadium – and Watkins admits it is a game that still plays on his mind five months down the line.

“I think about the play-off final every day. We had a great year, going from bottom to the top seven come the end of the season, but I didn’t turn up. You can’t make excuses but it’s an experience I’ll learn from – you’ve got to leave everything on the pitch and I don’t think I did that at Wembley.

“I don’t have any regrets but looking back that’s definitely one thing I’d change. You’ve got to pick yourself up and go again and hopefully it’ll be a different outcome if I get to Wembley again.”

But they say every cloud has a silver lining, and despite the over-riding disappointment arising from Exeter’s play-off final defeat there was still something for Watkins to shout about at the annual Football League Awards bash as he earned the acclaimed title of Football League Young Player of the Year 2017.

There aren’t many that’ll dispute this after his performances during the 2016-17 campaign, a season in which he made a name for himself as one of the best up-and-coming young prospects in the Football League.

It was perhaps expected, then, that a number of Championship teams came sniffing around the 21-year-old during the summer transfer window as they looked to steal away the prolific forward.

Leeds United and Aston Villa were just a few of the high-profile names thrown around, but it was Brentford who managed to fend off competition secure their man, with Watkins arriving in west London on a four-year contract. This signalled the end of his ten-year spell at his childhood club.

Since breaking into the first-team at St James Park he found the net 26 times in 78 appearances, taking Exeter to the brink of promotion, and he admits the decision to leave was one made with a heavy heart:

“I was at Exeter for ten years – it was home. However, I want to progress and play at the highest level possible for the longest time possible. I wouldn’t be testing myself if I stayed in my comfort zone. The gaffer here [Dean Smith] showed great desire to get me to sign and I’m glad that I did.”

Nobody at Exeter would begrudge him his shot at the big-time and Watkins seems to have already taken to life in the Championship like a duck to water, despite having to adjust to a different style of football. He said:

“The ball is on the floor a lot more than in League Two – I found it very physical at that level and you’ve got to take your chances. In the Championship I’ve got some great players around me – they get me the ball and then it’s down to me to do something from there.”

Watkins has featured in all of Brentford’s matches so far this season, making nine starts, and in recent weeks his natural instinct to score goals has come to the fore after finding the back of the net in three matches in a row, earning his side a valuable point against both Derby and Middlesbrough.

There may have been an air of trepidation around west London when Jota – who scored 12 times in 21 matches for the Bees last season – left for Birmingham City and was replaced by the League Two marksman, with some wondering if he was ready for this level, but any fears have since been alleviated.

Heading into the international break – something the youngster hasn’t experienced before – he had been directly involved in each of Brentford’s last four goals, scoring three and earning an assist too.

His composure on the ball is akin to someone with far more Championship experience, whilst his fast turn of pace and his raw strength naturally lend themselves perfectly to competing in the higher division.

It is the burning desire inside of Watkins – allied with his clever and shrewd movement – that has earned him goals so far this season, and he has all the ingredients needed to be a long-term success story.

Whilst Watkins’ individual performances have started to catch the eye of late Brentford have found it tough going in the opening 11 matches of the new season, only sitting out of the relegation zone by virtue of goal difference after securing just the single victory against basement boys Bolton last month.

The Bees are without a win at Griffin Park in five attempts this campaign, frustratingly being held to four consecutive draws, but the young forward has played down concerns over their current form:

“There’s plenty of quality in the squad and we’ve passed some of the top sides off the pitch, we just haven’t put the ball in the net as often as we should have. There’s going to be more top performances from us and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone’s on the end of a four or five goal score-line.

“People look at the table and say, ‘they’re towards the bottom of the table, we should beat them,’ but they haven’t seen our performances. Once we’re sharper we’ll move onwards and upwards.”

The step-up from League Two to the Championship is a vast one but Watkins has made it look relatively easy after a strong start at Brentford and, if the club’s form is to turn around, expect him to play a critical role.

The 2017 EFL Young Player of the Year seems well-set to continue his meteoric rise after settling down well to life in England’s second-tier, and it certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed that a fair few of the past winners of the annual accolade have gone on to achieve big things throughout their respective careers.

The likes of Gareth Bale, Nathaniel Clyne, Fabian Delph, Wilfried Zaha, Tom Ince and Dele Alli are all previous winners of the award, and they have set quite the precedent for Watkins to try and live up to.

And it is Tottenham and England talisman, Alli, who has come in for close comparison with Watkins over the past 12 months – and the Brentford forward admits he takes inspiration from the former MK Dons midfielder’s monumental rise:

“I get the comparison a lot – perhaps we look similar! I can see some similarities but I’m my own person and I’ve got to focus on my own game. He achieved that at a younger age than me; he’s at a different stage of his career now but hopefully I can go on to emulate what he’s done.

“Everyone wants to play in the Premier League – it’s the aim to get there and hopefully stay there.”

For now attentions will firmly turn back to Championship action and the looming visit of mid-table Millwall to Griffin Park, with Brentford continuing their search for a first home win of the campaign.

Millwall would do well to fully prepare themselves to face one of the league’s in-form strikers, with the rise of the young lad from Devon showing no signs of relenting just yet, as he continues to turn heads in his rise up the Football League.

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Birmingham City

How Twitter reacted to Birmingham City signing Jota from Brentford

Jake Jackman




Birmingham City have completed one of the deals of the day in the Championship as they have signed Jota from Brentford. The official site confirms that they have broken their club-record fee to bring him to the Midlands on a four-year deal. The Spaniard had been linked to Premier League this summer, while the Bees had rejected offers from Middlesbrough and Hull City. It is seen as a huge coup for the Blues to land him.

Harry Redknapp was delighted with the transfer and the following quotes were reported by the Evening Standard:

“There will not be many better players in the Championship than him, that is for sure. He has got great ability. We are very pleased to have got that one done.”

The Blues manager has always pulled out big deadline day deals throughout his career, but this could be one of his finest. He isn’t wrong when he says that the Spaniard is one of the best players in the division and he will provide the spark that their attack has been lacking during the opening weeks of the season.

Last season, he was excellent during the second half of the season, contributing 12 goals and five assists. Brentford had one of the better attacks after his return and Birmingham will be hoping that he can have a similar impact on their front-line.

Jota is an intelligent player, who takes up good positions in the final third and is capable of producing end product on a consistent basis. It is rare to have a player like him in the Championship and the Blues will have to be seen as one of the favourites for promotion now.

Here is how Twitter reacted to the news:

Birmingham fans were pleased with the news:

Brentford fans were disappointed, but couldn’t see why he wanted to move to Birmingham:

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Birmingham City

Birmingham City agree fee for Brentford’s Jota – is he what they need?

Jake Jackman




Birmingham City are close to signing Brentford attacker Jota, according to Sky Sports. It is believed that a fee of around £6 million has been agreed for the 26-year-old. This would be a huge coup for Harry Redknapp as the player has been attracting interest from Middlesbrough and Fulham during recent weeks. There is still a way to go before this deal is completed, but it is looking likely that the Spaniard will be going to the Midlands.

Will he make them a top-six candidate?

The club have maintained a consistent message that they need more signings if they are to challenge at the top end of the division. They have started the season poorly and are currently in 20th position after five matches. It was always going to take Redknapp time to improve the mood at the club after a disastrous end to the previous campaign and he will be hoping this signing provides the momentum to challenge for the top-six.

Jota was one of the best players in the Championship after returning to Brentford for the second half of last season. He contributed 12 goals and five assists, with a goal involvement every 100.5 minutes. It is surprising there hasn’t been considerable Premier League interest in him as the Spaniard is certainly capable of making the step up to the top flight.

His contribution in the final third was impressive last season, but his underlying stats suggest that he should be able to maintain it over the course of the season. Jota averaged 1.53 chances created and 3.79 attempted shots per ninety minutes. He was always involved in Brentford’s attacking play and Birmingham will be hoping he can be as influential in their team.

Despite his goal-scoring last season, he has yet to find the back of the net at the start of the new campaign. However, he has already contributed three assists and has remained a threat during a period of uncertainty for him. Birmingham have lacked quality in the final third when it comes to build-up play. Jota could be the missing piece in their attack.

Is Jota a good signing?

This is one of the more surprising deals of the Championship window, as Jota is regarded as a leading player in the division. His own aspirations have to be questioned as moving from Brentford to Birmingham is a sideways step at best, but it underlines the pull that Harry Redknapp has. Players want to play for him and for what he offers in recruitment alone, he was a good appointment for Blues. That said, results have to improve on the pitch soon if they want to challenge for promotion.

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