After six entertaining play-off semi-finals – one of which was cruelly decided by penalties – we now know who will be butting heads at Wembley for the ultimate prize of promotion.
To help predict who will be victorious, we asked our three resident experts (Adrian Clarke, Dan Roebuck and Iain Spragg) to give their thoughts on each game. Here are their predictions for the Championship, League One and League Two play-off finals.
Championship Play-Off Final
It feels like this might be David Wagner’s year. The charismatic German is a clever motivator with smart tactical moves up his sleeve, and up against a solid but unspectacular Royals side – that boast a poor Wembley record – I think they will nick it.
At the start of the campaign, Huddersfield were 12/1 to gain promotion to the Premier League. Ten months on they are slight favourites to be playing top-flight football for the first time since the 1971/72 season. The Terriers goals have dried up a little, but in Manchester City loanee Aaron Mooy have a player of Premier league quality. David Wagner, meanwhile, has moulded a multi-national squad virtually from scratch to be competitive in less than a year. Reading have been unpredictable and are taken to miss out.
Widely tipped for the drop nine months ago, the Terriers have enjoyed a fairy-tale season and are one priceless victory away from returning to the top flight after a 45-year absence. Reading finished third but the momentum, as well as the neutrals, are now both with Huddersfield.
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League One Play-Off Final
The Bantams go in search of revenge having been knocked out in the play-offs by Millwall last season, and I have a hunch they will get it. Neil Harris’ side is strong, but Wembley hasn’t been kind to them in recent years. For me, Bradford City are also the more talented side.
Bradford have not been as entertaining as some teams in League One this year; their regular season tally of 62 goals was the fewest of any side that finished in the top ten. However, their ability to grind out results might just be enough to gain revenge on a Millwall side that knocked the Bantams out of the play-offs at the semi-final stage last year. It might go to extra-time – Stuart McCall’s side have drawn 11 games 1-1 this campaign – but they are taken to beat a Lions outfit that conceded more goals than any other team in the top eight.
Millwall beat Bradford 4-2 on aggregate in last year’s play-off semi-finals, only to lose against Barnsley at Wembley. Both league clashes this season between the two sides finished 1-1, but Bradford are the in-form outfit with only two defeats in their last 15 and are narrow favourites to end their 13-year Championship exile.
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League Two Play-Off Final
Exeter have done amazingly to reach the final after flirting with relegation earlier on this season, but there’s a growing feeling the Tangerines have their name on promotion. Scoring just five seconds from time at Luton to book their place in this duel, I’m backing them to triumph in a thriller.
Exeter and Blackpool both left it incredibly late to seal their place at Wembley after dramatic aggregate wins in the play-off semi-finals. There’s every chance of more excitement given the Grecians free-scoring form – they’ve netted three goals in each of their last five games. Whether a sizable contingent will travel down from Lancashire is up for debate, though, as the Seasiders supporters are still protesting about how their club is run. That might just tip the tie in Exeter’s favour.
Blackpool kicked off their season back in August with a 2-0 win over Exeter, and a repeat performance at Wembley will see the Tangerines gain promotion. The Grecians were a League One side as recently as 2012, and as the division’s third top scorers this season, are a real force going forward.
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