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League One

The magic (or lack of) of the EFL Trophy trophy…

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Well, it’s been a while. But here we go again. Here’s to some consistency.

Back in June, the FA announced a revamp of the English League Trophy (formerly the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy), or the ‘Tinpot Trophy’ to many football league team supporters.

Academy teams were to feature for the first time, expanding the competition from 48 to 64 clubs – a gateway to higher attendances, increased prize money, opportunities for young talent to shine through, and a platform to restructure the Football League in the future.

The FA thought they were on to a winner.

Well, the reception was somewhat muted from clubs, with many big academy sides (Manchester United and Arsenal) declining to take part. League clubs cited issues such as extra travel expenses (as the competition is no longer regionalised), the inclusion of academy sides and the ‘make the rules up as you go along’ attitude to the new competition format.

As for fans, these plans went down like a lead balloon.

Nobody wants to watch West Ham‘s kids take on a League 2 side on a winter’s Tuesday night, in a cup that doesn’t really matter, not even West Ham fans. Just imagine the final between Stoke Academy and Swansea Academy in front of a few thousand at Wembley. Embarrassing.

Fans were also wary of the fact the restructuring of the EFL Trophy was the first step towards League 3 – the inclusion of B Teams in the official English League system – something the vast majority of fans are against. Triggering plans for blanket boycotts of these matches, despite the FA expecting attendances to rise.

Six months on and we’ve reached the Quarter Final stages. And low and behold the concept has failed miserably. One academy team remains, illustrating that the ‘promising talent’ that the FA suggested hasn’t materialised, highlighted massively by League 2 relegation candidate Cheltenham’s 5-1 thrashing of Premier League champions Leicester City‘s academy side.

Even less surprisingly following the mass coverage of the #BTeamBoycott on Twitter and the general acknowledgement from football league fans that this new concept has been horrifically executed has led to record-low attendances for competitive matches at grounds around the country, with over two-thirds of fixtures being witnessed by less than a thousand spectators, with just 392 lucky souls seeing Fleetwood take on Blackburn Rovers academy – a one-goal thriller.

When even football league teams are taking the proverbial by breaking FA rules and fielding under-strength teams, and in Bradford’s case playing a full strength team and then substituting their first team goalkeeper Colin Doyle after he had a ‘poor 45 seconds’ the FA have to ultimately admit defeat.

Don’t get me wrong, as a Wycombe fan I definitely wouldn’t sniff at another day at Wembley and some silverware to boot. But the dire performance of the EFL Trophy deserves a rye smile and a little ‘we told you so’ from League One and Two supporters.

Championship

As others complain Millwall have taken full advantage of Wolves investment

Ben Marshall, George Saville and Jed Wallace have all become key players for Millwall.

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Whilst Wolves have romped away with the Championship this season, there’s may not be the biggest story from the second-tier this season. Millwall look like they could be the extraordinary tale of the 2017-18 season. Despite nobody tipping them to do so, the London side are currently in the play-off places after an exceptional second-half of the season.

Neil Harris has led his side of misfits and outcasts to an incredible run of form and Millwall are now firm promotion candidates.

But the two events should not be considered mutually exclusive.

Wolves’ rise to the top of the Championship table has come at a cost for many players. The Fosun era at Molineux saw the club sign some of the best talent the Championship has ever seen.

(Photo by James Chance/Getty Images)

The problem this presented for several Wolves players, however, was simple – where would they go?

Millwall have certainly taken full advantage of that situation. Firstly there is the midfield pair of Jed Wallace and George Saville.

Both were signed from Wolves as first-team opportunities at the club dried up with the influx of new recruits. The pair, who are both young combatant midfielders, have become key members of the Millwall team. Wallace has played 40 times in the Championship this season, scoring six times and registering nine assists. Saville has performed just as well. In 43 league games, he has 10 goals and one assist.

Then there is Ben Marshall. Paul Lambert brought Marshall to Wolves last January. When he was replaced by Nuno Espirito Santo and a whole heap of Jorge Mendes lads started arriving, Marshall was pushed down the pecking order.

(Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

In January, he headed to Millwall on loan and has been in great form since. The 27-year-old has three goals and five assists in just 13 appearances.

Put those totals together and the trio of Wolves rejects have contributed 19 goals and 15 assists to the Millwall cause this season.

Whilst many of the teams in the Championship have moaned about Wolves’ apparent transfer disparity, Millwall have taken full advantage of it.

The end result could see Neil Harris’ side joining Wolves in the Premier League next season.

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Brentford

Who will win the race for the Sky Bet Championship play-offs?

The Championship play-offs are just around the corner.

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Photo: Getty Images

The Championship is a league renowned for its unpredictability and twists and turns in what is a 46 game long season.

On any given weekend, any team can beat another which makes it one of the closest and exciting leagues in the world.

This season has proved no different, with six teams still competing for a play-off place with just six games to go.

In 5th place currently is Derby on 68 points, three points clear of 7th placed Millwall with a game in hand.

They are at the moment the favourites to secure a play-off spot, with the top three having already practically guaranteed their places if they do not gain automatic promotion.

Aston Villa look to set to join them, with a maximum of eight points needed from their last five games to be sure of making the play-offs.

Gary Rowett’s side have bounced back well from the loss of Johnny Russell in January to the MLS and a string of first-team injuries that have decimated the squad in recent months.

Most of their stars, including Tom Huddlestone and Joe Ledley, returned for their 1-0 away win over Preston on Easter Monday, a result that was desperately needed.

They followed that up with a 3-0 win over Bolton at the weekend, and the goals of Matej Vydra plus the defensive experience of Curtis Davies and Scott Carson should see them over the line.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Two points behind them in 6th is Tony Pulis’s Middlesbrough, who have seen an upturn in form since the former West Brom man took over in December.

Pulis is known for his defensive style of play but Middlesbrough have scored plenty since he came in, with Adama Traore in particular impressing.

A club like Boro will be expecting play-offs as a minimum, and you would expect them to achieve that goal given the quality of their squad, although even if they don’t get there this season, they will be one of the favourites to go up next season under Pulis.

(Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

The surprise package of this season has been Millwall, with Neil Harris leading his side to an unexpected 7th place berth at this stage of the season.

The Lions have only lost one game all season, that being on New Years’ Day at Norwich.

They have relied on a mixture of youth and experience, with younger players like Jake Cooper, Jed Wallace and George Saville complemented by the likes of veteran Steve Morison, and an immense run of form has given them every chance of making the play-offs, which would be a remarkable achievement.

Most fans surely would have been happy with a mid-table finish on their return to the Championship, but they have defied expectations so far.

They face tricky trips to Middlesbrough and Sheffield United, and home games against Fulham and Aston Villa, but win at least a couple of those and the Lions could be roaring at the end of the league season.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Behind them on 62 points is Bristol City, who have had a mixed run of form since the turn of the year.

They briefly went 2nd in the table after a Boxing Day win against Reading, just a week after Lee Johnson’s side defeated Manchester United to reach the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.

They eventually lost on aggregate to Manchester City after giving them a stern test, but have only won twice since then.

Like Millwall, they too face a trip to the Riverside to play Middlesbrough and host Sheffield United on the final day, but they are only four points off the top six and can still make it in.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Another side who had an excellent first half of the season is Sheffield United, Chris Wilder’s side briefly sitting in top spot after a 2-1 away win against Leeds in October.

They have fallen away since then, currently sitting 9th and behind Bristol City on goal difference, but regardless of whether they qualify for the play-offs or not, it has still been a good season for Wilder’s men.

They drew 1-1 with Cardiff last week, a game which they had the better chances in, showing the fine margins that exist in the Championship.

The Blades lost in the Yorkshire derby against Barnsley on Saturday, a result that puts them four points behind Middlesbrough.

They host Preston before the season is out, a game which could still prove crucial for both teams, and also play Bristol City and Millwall.

Brentford sit just one point behind them in 10th, having shown some resurgence in recent weeks.

Their transfer policy is a very effective one, using a stats model to sign players both from England and all around the world.

Some of their signings appear to be gelling together well, with summer signing Neal Maupay netting the winner in both of their previous two games.

Manager Dean Smith has been linked with Premier League jobs in the past, and has done an excellent job at the Bees, who will surely be challenging at the end of the season.

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The final team that have a realistic chance of reaching the play-offs is Preston North End, Alex Neil’s side currently occupying 11th place on 60 points.

They have lost their last three league games, although they were unlucky to lose against Derby and had the fair share of possession and chances against Reading.

Neil’s side face only one team out of the top 11 in the remaining fixtures – Sheffield United – which could work in their favour.

They have missed the firepower of top scorer Sean Maguire, who missed four months of the season due to injury, but his return has boosted the team, who have seen some outstanding performances already this season from the likes of Ben Davies, Ben Pearson and Alan Browne.

If Neil’s side can get substantial points out of their remaining games, they still have a chance of qualifying for the play-offs, although like the teams above them up to 7th, will need to rely on Derby and Middlesbrough dropping points.

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Championship

As Leeds United toil, Steve Morison is leading Millwall toward the play-offs

The Millwall striker was never massively popular at Leeds United.

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Whilst Leeds United’s own push for the playoffs died a while ago, one team who have been on the charge are Millwall. Neil Harris’ side is flying in the Championship at present. They are unbeaten in the league since the New Year’s Day loss to Norwich City. That form has seen them surge up the table into seventh position, just one point outside the play-off places.

One man who has been key to their success is Steve Morison. The tireless striker scored at the weekend, as Millwall defeated rivals Bristol City 2-0 at The Den.

LEEDS, UNITED KINGDOM – SEPTEMBER 20: Steve Morison (R) of Leeds vies with Jack Robinson of Huddersfield Town during Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Huddersfield Town at Elland Road Stadium on September 20, 2014 in Leeds, United Kingdom. (Photo by Ryan Browne/Getty Images)

It was only his fourth goal for the club this season, but Morison brings so much more than goals. The 34-year-old has played 43 times this season and is a pivotal member of the Millwall squad.

For Leeds fans, it is certainly a bitter pill to swallow. In January 2013 Leeds United signed Morison, as part of a deal which saw cult hero Luciano Becchio head to Norwich City.

He went on to spend two-and-a-half years signed to Leeds, most of which were forgettable. He struggled to score goals for the club and spent the 2013-14 season back on loan at former club Millwall.

The striker only scored five goals in 42 games for Leeds and was sent back to Millwall permanently in 2015.

LEEDS, ENGLAND – JANUARY 20: Steve Morison of Millwall celebrates during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Millwall at Elland Road on January 20, 2018 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Leeds never truly appreciated Morison for what he does. Goals are not necessarily his game, but hard work and graft are his best attributes. In the Millwall team right now that is translating into excellent results for a team whose form is polar-opposite to Leeds’ bumbling 2018.

With Leeds struggling for strikers to have a sustained impact on the first-team, having a player like Morison in the side would undoubtedly be welcomed at Elland Road now.

Instead, Leeds may have to watch one of their more polarising strikers of the last decade lead an unfancied Millwall to play-off glory.

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