Championship playoffs seem too close to call

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As the main Championship season finished with an aplomb on Saturday afternoon, our attention now turns to the teams that extended their season a little bit longer and qualified for the playoffs.

In a day of high drama which included a game being abandoned due to fan protest at Blackpool and a last gasp equaliser at Watford which gave AFC Bournemouth the league title, the contest for the final two playoff places also went to the wire.

Brentford and Ipswich took the final places, fending off a challenge from Wolves who missed out on goal difference. The other team to miss out, Derby, experienced a fall from grace worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy as they dropped out of the top six for the first time since September last year after a appalling 3-0 home loss to Reading.

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This defeat against a team only playing for pride allowed Ipswich to scrape to take the final playoff spot, even though they lost to Blackburn 3-2.

But who will emerge triumphant from these imminent encounters? And how would they fare in the Premier League?

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Norwich leapfrogged Middlesbrough on the final game of the season with a convincing 4-2 win against Fulham at Carrow Road.

They could have gone up automatically if they had had their very shrewd and attacking manager, Alex Neil, at the start of the season. Since he left Hamilton Academical in January, Neil has amassed a 68 percent win ratio in the 22 games he's been in charge, with 15 triumphs.

The squad itself is in very good shape, with creative players such as Bradley Johnson and Nathan Redmond having exceptional seasons. Johnson in particular highlighted that he is in the form of his life, scoring two goals against Fulham at the weekend.

Norwich also have excellent attacking options with the likes of Cameron Jerome, Gary Hooper and Lewis Grabban spearheading the attack. Defensively, the team looks in good shape as well with Russell Martin and Martin Olsson ensuring that Norwich have been defensively sound as they have been attacking.

From a neutrals perspective, Norwich look the most likely team to get to the Premier League. That have the best squad, a very talented manager and most crucially at this stage of the season, momentum.

There will also be passion as their playoff semi-final is against East Anglia rivals, Ipswich, which looks a mouthwatering prospect. If they do get to the Premier League, they have the financial resources and leadership within the squad to stay there this time.

It would be a challenge but Alex Neil has always embraced that, establishing Hamilton Academical as a solid team in the SPL on very limited resources. 


This season for Middlesbrough has been exceptional. Aitor Karanka has been doing a superb job in rejuvenating Middlesbrough into a potential Premier League team once more.

When Karanka took over from Tony Mowbray in November 2013, he inherited a team languishing in mid-table in the Championship with a lack of flair and cutting edge in their game. Over the last year and half, the club has been transformed with fluid, attacking football being played at its very best.

The brilliant use of the loan market and use of connections at Chelsea (one of the many perks of being Jose Mourinho's former assistant at Real Madrid) helped bring in Tomas Kalas and Patrick Bamford who have been crucial to Middlesbrough's push for the Premier League.

Other players have also been key, with Albert Adomah, Grant Leadbitter and Jonathan Woodgate having exceptional seasons, bolstering Middlesbrough's creativity and attacking flair. The team however has stuttered in the last few weeks. It lost a highly entertaining game to Fulham losing 4-3 in the last minute before playing out a dull 0-0 draw against Brighton on Saturday.

Middlesbrough need to lift themselves from missing out on automatic promotion and need to find the motivation to get to the Premier League. They are the team that is most likely to falter at this stage as they have shown that nerves can get the better of them in crucial games.

Karanka needs to install some of the steely resolve that his former boss, Jose Mourinho, has installed into Chelsea this season. They need to show resilience which has been lacking in recent weeks.

They play Brentford in what promises to be a highly energetic and enthralling tie. One would expect Middlesbrough to make the final and if it it did get to the Premier League, they could potentially keep itself afloat but it would be close.

They would need to make some very savvy signings in the summer to ensure that they stayed in the Premier League but Middlesbrough are in very good hands and if they don't make it this year, it is likely they will be challenging for it next year.


Who would have predicted this? Brentford have been the Championship's surprise package this season and have performed superbly to make it to the playoffs after being promoted only last year.

They have played very attractive football and thoroughly deserve to be in the playoffs. Credit must go to Mark Warburton who has done a fantastic job, getting them promoted last season and then sticking to his philosophy and producing great football in the second-tier.

The team itself has been in excellent form and go into the playoffs off the back of a comfortable 3-0 win against already relegated Wigan. This game highlighted the success that they have had with Alex Pritchard (on loan from Spurs), Jota and Andre Gray all scoring.

These three have been part of the Brentford goal machine with Pritchard in particular highlighting what a good prospect he is with some eye catching performances over the season, and the game against Wigan was no exception.

If Brentford did get promoted, it would be for the outgoing Warburton who reiterated after the game on Saturday that he will be leaving in the summer regardless of if Brentford get promoted or not. He will be not short of calls for his services as he has done a fantastic job there.

Brentford in the Premier League would certainly be an amazing story but there chances of making it are slim. If they do, it will be through grit and determination for their outgoing manager.

Staying in the Premier League if they made it would be challenging but it would be down to whoever they bring into replace Warburton that would make the difference but it would be a struggle.

But again, whatever happens, this season has been fantastic for the Bees regardless of what happens next week against Middlesbrough


Ipswich Town haven't been in this position since Joe Royle was manager back in the 2004-2005 season and, again, it comes down to the manager in charge, Mick McCarthy who is chiefly responsible for the rise of the Tractor Boys.

McCarthy took over in November 2012 when Ipswich were hovering dangerously over the relegation places and, since then, they have been slowly but steadily working their way up the table each season to reach the playoffs this season.

The team has enjoyed an exceptional season and McCarthy has found a gem of striker in Daryl Murphy who has scored 27 goals this season - the most in the Championship. The clever signing of Freddie Sears from Colchester in January has come good and both he and Murphy have formed a prolific partnership in recent weeks.

They have a good defence as well with Luke Chambers, Christophe Berra and Tyrone Mings all having good seasons. Teddy Bishop in midfield has been a revelation and showed his promise at the weekend by winning a penalty against Blackburn with a jinking run into the penalty box, dancing past four Blackburn players before being fouled.

Ipswich have had a stop-start season and this was highlighted in their last two games. An impressive win against Nottingham Forest was followed by a disappointing 3-2 defeat to Blackburn.

They are the weakest side going into the playoffs but they have got one thing that none of the other teams have and that is a manager who has been here and done all before. McCarthy is a straight talking manager who will ensure his players go into the derby with Norwich prepared and knowing what is needed to be done.

If Ipswich get to the Premier League, it would be another triumph to add to McCarthy's CV. It would be a struggle though and Ipswich would be probably fighting relegation in the face if they did go up as they don't have the depth of squad that is required for the Premier League.

But anything can happen and McCarthy could find his Premier League feet with Ipswich. He kept Wolves there so it is hard to see why he couldn't with Ipswich.


This is going to be a very close playoff chase and expect all the twist and turns that the Championship throws up. All four teams deserve to be there and all have the chance to make it to the big time.

It is nearly impossible to predict who will go up as nobody thought that Blackpool or Burnley would have been the team to reach the top-flight, but both have managed to do it in the past.

It requires passion, gumption, flair and luck to get there. With the financial incentive increasing again this year, it adds an extra incentive to clubs to try and go the extra mile.

Whatever happens, the playoffs look set to be an enthralling set of games.

Who do you think will reach the Premier League? Let us know below!

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