After a final day of the season full of drama, and situations still to be resolved at both ends of the table, it was Cardiff who joined Wolves in securing promotion to the Premier League. That has left four former top tier sides in the lottery of the playoffs as they look to return to the promised land.
Of the four sides competing for a place at Wembley it was only Derby who won on the final day. Despite this, and a three game unbeaten run, they are in the worst overall form of all, losing two of their last five.
Both Fulham and Villa lost on final day. Prior to that both picked up three wins and a draw in the previous four.
Middlesbrough are arguably the form side going into the playoffs. The same results as Fulham and Villa but they are currently on a four game unbeaten run.
Derby have had the longest wait to return to The Premier League. Many failed attempts since their relegation in 2008 has seen them become a bit of a joke.
All the sides are fairly even. Fulham were top scorers of the four with 79, while lowest scorers Boro got 67. Villa conceded the fewest with just 42 while Derby were highest at only 48.
This is Fulhams best chance since their relegation in 2014, while Villa are looking for second time lucky after their relegation in 2016. Boro were relegated last year and are hopeful of an immediate return.
Derby v Fulham
Fulham should go into the matches confident having drawn 1-1 at home and beating Derby 2-1 at Pride Park.
I asked a fan of each club the following questions and then made my predictions :
1. How do you view making the playoffs? Over/under achievement or expected.
2. How do you rate your chances over 2 legs?
3. For the neutral who are your player(s) to watch?
4. And What danger men do you need to wary of to progress?
5. Who do you think will win the other semi?
6. How do you rate your chances of Promotion?
By Scott Leader
At the start of the season most Derby fans like myself would have taken a top 6 finish if it was offered to us, however after breaking into the top 2 over December and going on a fantastic run over the months October and December a 6th place now leaves a bit of a bitter taste in the mouth.
Derby’s problems over the last 4 or 5 years has been consistancy especially over the new year (Jan – March) which has seen Derby go from 1st to 7th and collapse to end up out of the play offs completly.
In recent games Derby have found their more fluid entertaining feet again. Also we are one of the leagues top teams when it comes to scoring 3 goals or more in a game.
I am pleased that Derby managed to make the playoffs under their own watch without needing other results to do them a favour.
Derby have the experience of playing in 2 playoff campaigns the 13 – 14 where they lost out to QPR in the final also the 15 – 16 season where they were beaten by Hull City.
In those games and others during this season it has been individual mistakes that have cost Derby dearly and led many to call them “bottlers” refering to the fact they seem to not handle the big occasion.
From that defeat against QPR only Rickard Keogh, Craig Forsyth and re-signed Andre Wisdom remain.
Derby have the ability to beat anyone who comes to Pride Park and also have been good at picking up points on the road. Their problem has been when they concede first and are one of the worst teams in the league failing to win any game that they have gone behind in. If Derby can win at home on Friday night and have a 1 or 2 goal cushion they have a great chance of making the final.
Players to watch? Matej Vydra, won the golden boot as the Championships top scorer this season and is deadly either from the starting 11 or the bench.
Cameron Jerome scored some crucial goals lately and seems to be finding a bit of form.
Tom Lawrence – he has the ability to turn any game but his ability is all down to his confidence.
Sessengon was a real thorn in Derby’s side when the teams met and Pride Park his pace and ability to take people on is a real problem and also he knows where the back of the net is.
I can see Villa triumphing over ‘Boro, their experience and quality teamed with one of the tightest defences means I can’t see Boro making the final.
Playoffs are a lottery and I’m hoping Derby will make it 3rd time a charm and go up.
By Liam Walsh @LiamTWalsh
I feel that looking at our squad at the start of the season and towards the middle of the season we definitely over achieved. I was expecting us to push for a play-off spot, not push for automatic promotion like we did.
I don’t feel that you can rate your chances in the play-offs, it’s literally anyone’s game. Going off last year’s record, we were favourites to get to Wembley and that turned out horrendously (knocked out in the semi’s) so at this point I wouldn’t even like to give a prediction.
I think we have a few lads who should be at the next level, Sessengnon being at the top of the list. I feel our main player who we rely on most would have to be Tom Cairney, he’s unbelievable at dictating the play and has a wand of a left foot. Ryan Fredericks is also a player you should look out for, he is a right back who loves to get forward using his pace and on his day can be unstoppable.
Vydra is a very talented player, I feel like Derby rely on him too much at times.
I can see Villa going through, as I mentioned above, the play-offs can throw a lot of surprises and certain teams don’t turn up in the play-offs.
25%, can’t really say much more than that. Anyone can go through and win it, it’s a three game season now.
My Prediction: I am a big fan of Gary Rowett but I am afraid more misery is coming for the Derby fans. I fancy the disappointment of not getting automatic will spur them on.
Middlesbrough v Aston Villa
The sides have met 3 times this year. Twice at Villa park where it finished 0-0 in the league and 2-0 Middlesbrough in the cup. At the Riverside Villa won 1-0.
By Connor Quirk
Personally, pre season i think all Boro fans where expecting automatic, we have spent a lot of money this season and our chairman had high expectations too. A brief statement saying “we will smash the league” from him would suggest he had high ambitions. So some would say underachieved. Half way through the season however, we were mid table, a mile off play offs with Gary Monk. Since Tony has taken over we have been getting better and better every week, he’s got the best out of every player. Mid season play offs where very doubtful, and sometimes virtually impossible. But Tony and the team have dug in deep, and got us in there.
Play offs against Aston Villa will be very difficult, at their place we where down to 10 very early on and they put us under immense pressure, but we kept it together and got a draw. We played them the following week in the cup and beat them 2-0. At the Riverside it was a different story, a very tight game with great chances for either team, but Villa nicked it close to the end. Villa have a strong team and are a very good footballing side. I think Boro will bring it to them over the 2 legs and I think we’ll make it to Wembley.
Adama Traore, finally finding out what he’s capable of, under Monk he was the most frustrating player in the squad, couldn’t cross and couldn’t finish. Tony has really worked hard with him and now he even takes corners, amazing dribbling skills and some quality assists. Not only that he is lightning fast.
Patrick Bamford, he seems to be getting back to his peek, some decent goals already and starting to really stamp his mark in the first 11.
Jack Grealish – very good footballing talent, gets into some amazing positions and defiantly knows how to finish.
Fulham, Derby are woeful!
Out of 10, I’d say 6. Fulham have been amazing this season and are very unlucky to even be in playoffs. Villa will be very tough to beat, I think if we beat them at home we will get to Wembley.
By Matt Fernell @RapidApollo
This is a tricky one, because part of me can’t let go of the fact that a club like Villa should be dominating a league like the Championship, however the other part knows tradition means nothing and after the last few seasons we’ve had any position in the league is possible.
There are no rules in The Championship – any league in which Neil Warnock can play the worst football in the league and get automatic promotion is beyond prediction!
Looking at our squad and management team, automatic promotion should’ve been the aim and to be honest, should’ve been achieved. But I’ve learned not to be greedy, and overall this has been the most enjoyable season as a fan since the days of Martin O’Neil. It’s just been nice to win regularly and actually go into games with a bit of confidence.
I’m honestly not particularly confident, and sort of accepted another season in The Championship the moment it was obvious we weren’t getting one of the automatic slots. That shouldn’t be my attitude because we finished two places above ‘Boro and have a better starting eleven on paper, but the pessimism born out of season after season of disappointment is hard to shake off.
Having the second leg at Villa Park is a definite advantage however, and there’ll be one hell of an atmosphere on Tuesday night. Our fans have been great this season, especially the away support – selling out pretty much every allocation. A win or draw in the first leg and we should get through…
Jack Grealish has been one of the best players in the division since his return from injury and looks to make things happen whenever he gets on the ball. He’s also starting to add goals and assists to his performances and is integral to us getting through.
Robert Snodgrass has also been great for us – he’s settled in really well and has weighed in with goals and assists. Like Jack. he has that bit of quality that can pull you out of dodgy performance. See his last minute winner away at Sheffield Utd earlier in the campaign.
Another great addition has been Lewis Grabban, who’s a much better footballer than I gave him credit for before he joined. He’s a top goal scorer at this level but there’s much more to his game than that.
If those three are in the mood they’re too good for most Championship defences, and if Albert Adomah can rediscover his early season form, we have a formidable front 4.
One player all Villa fans are worried about coming back to haunt us is Adama Traore. He came to Villa at the start of our horror show relegation season as an exciting Barcelona youngster but never really proved himself and seemed to unreliable to use in a relegation battle.
Anyone who’s watched him knows that his pace is unreal; he can burn past any defender at will. His turn of pace is frightening and he has a monopoly on all the dribbling stats in the league. He showed zero end product for Villa, but he’s starting to produce goals and assists at Boro. He is the definition of raw potential, demonstrated by getting sent off against us earlier in the season, but he can hurt any team so I just hope Alan Hutton has a good night’s sleep before each game!
Aside from what must’ve been a dire performance against woeful Birmingham in the last regular game of the season, it’s impossible to look past Fulham. They’ve been by far the best team in the league since Christmas, and have the leagues most exciting player (apart from Jack of course) in Ryan Sessegnon.
Derby are very hit and miss and just about managed to get their act together at the end of the season to hold on to a playoff place so it’ll be a big upset in my opinion if they make it to Wembley.
We have a chance obviously, which is something, but the playoffs are really tough. I think we can go all the way, there’s no doubt that we have the squad to do it. I think we’ve got the strongest central defensive pairing in the league in Chester and Terry, and as already mentioned our front four can hurt anyone, and that’s not even factoring in Jonathan Kodjia who’s slowing returning from injury.
I’d give us a 1 in 4 chance of going up 😊
My Prediction: I fancy Boro to do it. It will be tight and nervy but I really like Traore and if they need to see a result out you won’t bet against a Pulis side.
Good luck to all sides.
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