There’s no time for the sides involved in the Championship play-offs to rest on their laurels as they face ultimately their two biggest games of the season over the coming days in a bid to keep their promotion dreams alive.
Fulham, Derby County, Middlesbrough and Aston Villa are the sides left to vie for that final promotion spot and join Wolverhampton Wanderers and Cardiff City back in the Premier League.
Our football expert runs through the first leg of the Championship matches as the sides bid to reach Wembley for the final on 26th May.
Derby County v Fulham
A final-day defeat at Birmingham put paid to any chance of Fulham beating Cardiff City to the final automatic promotion spot.
It also ended a 23-game unbeaten run, which had last seen them taste defeat against relegated Sunderland on 16th December.
Following that disappointment, some sides have struggled in the past to get themselves up for the play-offs, but I cannot see that being the case with Slavisa Jokanovic at the Whites helm.
The two games in the regular league season between these two sides saw Jokanovic’s charges pick up four points from a possible six, with a 2-1 win at Pride Park back in March a notable result.
Derby themselves go into the play-offs in solid form having picked up seven points from three games to ensure Gary Rowett’s side still have something to play for past the regular season.
Thirteen points separated the two sides over the course of the season, but more often than not the first legs of these play-offs are often cagey affairs and I can see this one following suit, so the draw at 9/4 looks the best bet to me.
The scores finishing level on Friday would suit Fulham, who would certainly back themselves to finish the job at Craven Cottage in the second leg on Monday.
Alongside that, it may be worth backing both to teams to score, which is available at 8/11.
Middlesbrough v Aston Villa
These two former Premier League sides will be eager to get back up into the top flight.
In Tony Pulis and Steve Bruce, you cannot have two more experienced managers at the helm, and Steve Bruce has certainly got his charges largely firing on all cylinders, though Pulis took the helm at the Riverside back in December 2017.
Boro picked up 10 of a possible 12 points in their last four games, and with their spot in the play-offs already confirmed, Villa lost 1-0 at Millwall as they took the opportunity to rest the likes of John Terry ahead of these crunch showdowns.
When these two sides met at the Riverside earlier on in the season, a Robert Snodgrass second half strike sealed a 1-0 win for Villa, and I fancy Bruce’s charges to just edge it once more and a bet on the same scoreline here looks attractive at 15/2.
If you just fancy the in-form Villains to take a lead into the second leg though, you can get odds of 9/4 – which I think is the more likely outcome.
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