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Sporting Life's play-off preview

A look at the clashes between the top six of the Championship...

10 May 2019

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The Sky Bet EFL play-offs are here with 12 teams all holding aspirations of achieving promotion. Sporting Life’s Tom Carnduff takes a look at the semi-final ties in each of the three divisions.

Four teams battling out for their involvement in what is often described as the 'richest game in football' - the Sky Bet Championship play-off final.

Leeds' involvement has upset the typical status quo with the club often found bouncing around mid-table at this point. Marcelo Bielsa has managed to guide the Whites to third in the table in his first full season in charge.

Aston Villa and Derby are in for the second consecutive seasons while West Brom have secured top-six as many expected following their relegation from the Premier League.

What we have though is an incredibly strong line-up with each of the four teams able to make a case for good enough to take on England's elite in August.

The first of the semi-finals is a West Midlands derby as Aston Villa host West Brom in the first leg before the return fixture at the Hawthorns on Tuesday.

Aston Villa have set a club record for most consecutive wins this season with ten, and the fact that the run came in the second-half of the season means many have put them down as the favourites for the play-offs.

The winning run came to an end in final week, though. A draw away at Leeds, where Bielsa ordered his players to allow Villa to score in an act of extraordinary sportsmanship, was followed by a defeat to Norwich on the last day.

West Brom's form hasn't been exceptional but they are an incredibly difficult side to face at the Hawthorns. The Baggies have won their last five in front of their own supporters, fantastic form despite the surprise sacking of Darren Moore which some expected would damage their post-season prospects.

A concern for James Shan will be their record on the road in recent weeks. Before heading to Leeds, West Brom were one of the best away sides in the division but since that 4-0 hammering at Elland Road they have won just one away game.

Its three defeats in five away since then which could set this up to be a tie which will be all but decided in the first leg. That said, the circumstances show that it was a difficult run of games.

They faced a Derby side who had to win to secure a play-off spot and the same applies to Bristol City and their play-off aspirations when they travelled there at the beginning of April.

There have also been visits to Reading and Millwall, who were both battling the drop, but the solo win during that time offers hope. They beat Brentford 1-0 who, despite finishing in 11th, had the third-best home record in the division.

Aston Villa's aspirations have obviously been boosted since that late run but it'll be intriguing to see how they can bounce back now that has come to an end. While Villa are the form team, West Brom have been a constant feature in the top-six throughout the campaign.

Waiting for them in the final will be Leeds or Derby. Leeds are favourites to win the play-offs - but their recent form has left some questions.

They've finished the regular season on the back of four winless games, two of those against teams at the bottom who only had 10 men. Bielsa isn't worried and he’ll be hoping his squad feel the same.

Leeds have been superb throughout large parts of the campaign but their issue is putting the ball in the back of the net, despite creating plenty of opportunities.

The one positive for the Whites going into this tie is the fact they have dominated Derby twice this season already. They hammered them 4-1 at Pride Park in the second week of the campaign, while also securing a convincing 2-0 win at Elland Road.

Leeds need to find that spark again and it is there. A lot has changed since those two regular season meetings which sets it up to be an encounter that could go either way.

In Derby, they take on a team in great form with defeat a rarity at the end of the campaign.

Frank Lampard’s debut in management has seen the Rams return to the play-off picture and whatever happens in the end, the four teams can view their seasons as a success.

It's not a certainty - but finishing higher does give you a slightly better chance of success according to the history of this competition.

In 14 play-off finals since the league was re-branded to the Championship, only three teams have failed to make Wembley when finishing in 3rd (Brighton in 2016, Nottingham Forest in 2010 and Ipswich in 2005).

In 50% of those finals, the team finishing in 3rd has been promoted to the Premier League. Most recently that was Fulham in 2018, and prior to that it was Norwich in 2015 after they beat Middlesbrough at the national stadium.

Blackpool (2010) and West Ham (2005) are the only teams who finished in 6th and went on to win the play-off final.

Probability of success based on recent history:

  • Leeds - (3rd - 7/14)
  • Aston Villa (5th - 3/14)
  • West Brom (4th - 2/14)
  • Derby (6th - 2/14)

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