Football League Playoff Finals Weekend Preview and Tips

It is the final set of games in the Football League season this coming weekend with the playoff finals taking place from Saturday 25th through to Monday 27th May. Six teams are battling it out for three places in the division above next season. For the three winners, promotion awaits, for the three losers, another season back in the same division next season beckons.

The action begins with the League Two Final on Saturday followed by the League One playoff final on Sunday and then on Bank Holiday Monday is the big one. The Championship Playoff Final sees the two teams battling it out not just for a place in the Premier League, but also a projected windfall that, when you add on all the different cash streams available, could be worth as much as £170 million to the team that gets promoted.

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Let’s now take a closer look at the three games this weekend, starting with the League Two playoff clash on Saturday between my hometown club, Tranmere Rovers, and Newport County.

League Two Playoff Final

Newport County v Tranmere Rovers

  • Saturday 25th May – 3pm Kick Off

These two teams finished in the bottom two spaces in the league table with just two points between them, Rovers earning 73 points compared to Newport’s 71, however Rovers goal difference of +13 was considerably better than Newport’s who finished the season having conceded and scored the same number of goals (59), the frewest of any team in the playoffs or promotion spots in League Two this season.

Tranmere’s season has been built on rock solid home form with Rovers struggles tending to come on the road. They are the only team that Lincoln failed to score against this season in landing the title but against Newport County they could only manage a 0-0 draw in South Wales when the teams last met, with Newport earning a 1-0 win at Prenton Park earlier in the season.

Newport themselves have enjoyed a solid season and they are the form team, being unbeaten in their last five games. It was that run of performances which saw them pip the likes of Colchester, Stevenage, Exeter and Carlisle to claim the fourth and final spot in the playoffs.

In their semifinal, they earned a 1-1 draw at home with Mansfield and then in an incredible second leg, both sides missed a hatful of chances before the game finished 0-0, with Newport then emerging as the winners via a penalty shootout.

Tranmere’s progress was more straightforward as they won their home leg with Forest Green 1-0 thanks to a sensational Ollie Banks strike and then away from home a James Norwood equaliser after an early Forest Green goal was enough for Rovers to earn a 2-1 aggregate victory and a place at Wembley in a playoff final for the third year in a row.

Key men to watch include the main strikers for the two teams, Padraig Amond and Jamille Matt have been Newport’s chief goal getters, scoring 15 and 14 goals apiece, while James Norwood is League Two’s top scorer netting 30 goals over the course of the campaign, plus another in the playoffs.

Tip – This will be a close one and while Newport are the form team, Tranmere have the experience of playing at Wembley in these big games and that could be key here. I am backing Rovers to win this one at 6/4 with bet365.

League One Playoff Final

Charlton Athletic v Sunderland

  • Sunday 26th May – 3pm Kick Off

These two teams have met in this game previously, back in 1998, when an incredible 4-4 draw between the teams saw Clive Mendonca score a hattrick for Charlton, while Michael Gray was the fall guy, missing a sudden death penalty for Sunderland to hand Charlton a 7-6 win on penalties after an incredible tie and one of the best playoff finals of all.

However, I don’t think this game on Sunday will be anything like that one. Both these teams are far more solid defensively and while Charlton finished a couple of places higher in the table, third to Sunderland’s fifth, both teams have the same +33 goal difference and both come into the game having battled their way through nervy semifinals.

Charlton were seemingly home and dry when they won the first leg in Doncaster 2-1 and then went 1-0 up in the home leg. However, Doncaster fought back superbly at the Valley to go 2-1 in front and then they snuck a lead late on, only for Charlton to level almost immediately. Extra time could not split the teams and in the end penalty misses from Marquis and Rowe proved costly allowing Charlton to claim a nervy win.

Sunderland’s tie with Portsmouth was poor in terms of quality but high on energy. Maguire’s strike in the first leg for Sunderland was the only goal in 180 minutes of football and proved to be enough to send the Black Cats to Wembley once again.

Sunderland have the better record between the two this season, winning 2-1 at home against Charlton before drawing 1-1 away, but I feel that this won’t play too big a role, even if Charlton’s fans are likely to be outnumbered by the Wearsiders travelling south,

Tip – I can’t see too many goals being scored in this game and if that is the case, I think that slightly favours Sunderland here as I feel they are the better side defensively. Back Sunderland to win at 8/5 with bet365 Sport.

Championship Playoff Final

Aston Villa v Derby County

  • Monday 27th May – 3pm Kick Off

The final game of the weekend is the big one in terms of cash rewards with the winning team likely to benefit from a windfall estimated at around £170 million for reaching the Premier League. There’s so much riding on this game that it has been called the richest in football and it will be Aston Villa and Derby County battling it out for that incredible carrot dangling before them.

A quick look at the teams reveals Villa enjoyed the better league season and they also had much the better of the matches between the two teams winning 4-0 at home in the league and also earning a 3-0 victory when they played Derby on the road. Those results will leave Derby under no illusions as to the task facing them on Monday.

However, Derby have been up against it before. In the playoff semifinals, they were 1-0 down from the home leg and 1-0 down at Elland Road against Leeds before launching a sensational comeback to lead 3-1 in the second half. Leeds struck back to level the tie up at 3-3 but late on Derby secured a fourth goal on the night to earn an unlikely win.

Villa were taken to penalties after winning 2-1 at home to West Brom and then losing 1-0 at the Hawthorns however keeper Steer was the hero as he produced the saves that saw West Brom miss out on penalties.

Tip – This is a game where I can see the potential for more goals being scored than in the other playoff matches and while all the form charts seem to suggest a Villa win, in these crucial one off games, Derby have been superb this season so I am backing the Rams to land the upset win at 12/5 with bet365.

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