Soccer AM/MW - the home of lively and humorous discussion from the Football and Non Leagues

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Championship Play Offs: Teams Preview

The Championship play-offs kick off this weekend. We'll take a closer look at the matches later in the week.

First of all, Nobes takes a look at the four teams fighting it out for a place in next season's Premier League.

Final top of the table:

1. Newcastle..........46.....55......102
2. West Brom.........46.....41.......91

3. Nottm. Forest.....46.....25.......79
4. Cardiff...............46.....19.......76

5. Leicester............46.....16.......76

6. Blackpool...........46.....16.......70

7. Swansea............46......3........69

Nottingham Forest

Story of the season:

After narrowly avoiding the drop last term, Forest have been rejuvenated under the wily Billy Davies.

An expensive summer rebuilding job took time to settle in, but the team went on a 20-match unbeaten run from September to January lifting them right into the automatic promotion mix.

Ultimately, they were unable to last the pace with Newcastle and West Brom, but comfortably took 3rd place.


Billy Davies kept up his proud record of never finishing outside the top six in the Championship when in charge for a full season. The 45-year-old is now embarking on his fourth play-off campaign.

He twice lost with Preston, in the 2005 final and 2006 semis, and was promoted with Derby through the play-offs in 2007.

A passionate Scot, he is known for his attention to detail on the training ground and fiery temperament on the touchline. Tactically very shrewd.


Forest have turned the City Ground into a fortress. They have lost just three times on home soil and are unbeaten there since September - a run of 19 matches.

They've also conceded just 13 goals at home this season, including keeping clean sheets in nine of their last ten City Ground contests.

The experience of manager Davies in play-off situations must also count in their favour.


Davies's men were the last professional team to be unbeaten away from home this season. However, after going 13 games without defeat on the road, they've failed to win any of their last 11 away matches.

Having finished third, Forest will also have pressure on them - and expectations will be high that they can improve upon their disappointing play-off record and return to the top flight.

Key players:

Forest have conceded just 40 goals in their 46 games, and have an excellent defensive unit - including keeper Lee Camp [left]. His performances this season have led to him being suggested for the England World Cup squad.

He's also taken as captain after a long-term injury to influential midfield man Paul McKenna.

That also increases the importance of winger Paul Anderson. The former Liverpool man has shown glimpses of pure quality this term and his pace can electrify any encounter.

Powerful and pacy striker Dexter Blackstock - who's found the back of the net 14 times this season - could also play an important role.

Play-off history:

Forest have appeared in the play-offs twice - losing in the semi finals both times.

In 2002/3, under Paul Hart, they lost to Sheffield United 5-4 over the two legs in the Championship play-offs.

In 2006/7, Colin Calderwood's Forest team threw away a 2-0 lead to lose 5-2 in the second leg to Yeovil in the League One play-offs.

Top flight pedigree

Unbelievably, promotion to the Premier League would see Forest make their first appearance in the top flight since 1999.

The former English and European Champions were constant members of the top flight during the '80s and most of the '90s.

They have fallen on harder times recently - including a three year spell in League One - but can still legitimately claim to be at home in the Premier League.

Cardiff City

Story of the season:

One of the pre-season favourites for the top six, Cardiff have, for once, lived up to their billing and consistently held down a play-off spot this term.

They missed out on the top six by the narrowest of margins on the final day last season. However, this time they have put off-field financial worries aside and shown greater resilience.

Rarely out of the top six, they have shown the typical attacking flair and quality associated with their play to take 4th.


Dave Jones has been in charge in the Welsh capital for five seasons, and has finally taken them into the play-offs.

The Scouser has experience in the end of season lottery - taking Wolverhampton Wanderers into the play-offs twice - winning them the second time around.

At 53, he is the oldest manager in the play-offs, and likes to encourage his team to play good football and entertain.


Quite simply, on their day, Cardiff have the ability to score plenty of goals and beat anyone in the division.

They hit Derby and Bristol City for six, and scored four past Sheffield United, Scunthorpe, Watford, Peterborough, and play-off opponents Leicester.

A rich array of attacking quality up-front, in midfield, and out wide makes containing them a difficult prospect.

Even with them making the top six this term, Cardiff have still shown the kind of brittleness associated with previous campaigns.

Throwing away a 4-0 lead at struggling Peterborough was typical of their ability to squander good positions. A willingness to play good football can often lead them to being exposed at the back too.

Key players:

With Cardiff's attacking emphasis, striker Michael Chopra can always be guaranteed good service and plenty of opportunities. He's found the back of the net 19 times.

City's top scorer though is actually midfielder Peter Whittingham [left]. The left winger and dead-ball specialist has notched up an outstanding 23 goals for the Bluebirds this term.

At the back, summer signing from Walsall, Anthony Gerrard, has matured into an excellent centre back whose presence at the back will be important if Cardiff are to prosper.

Play-off history:

This may be Cardiff's first time in the Championship play-offs, but they've appeared twice in the end of season lottery in the lower leagues.

In 1996/7 they lost out to Northampton in the League Two play-offs in the semi finals.

However, they had more success in League One in 2003. After seeing off Severnside rivals Bristol City in the semis, they defeated QPR in the final to seal promotion to the Championship.

Top flight pedigree:

Cardiff have never played in the Premier League. Indeed, it's been 48 years since City appeared in the top flight of English football.

During the '80s and '90s, City struggled along in the lower two tiers before winning promotion to the Championship in 2003.

That's where they have remained ever since - flirting with the play-offs on occasions and holding down a comfortable mid-table position.

Leicester City

Story of the season:

The Foxes were last season's League One winners, and have continued their form this term as they have mounted a second successive promotion campaign.

They've never dropped lower than 10th, and were always in the running for the play offs.

A run of four straight defeats late on threatened their top six position, but City recovered to win their last five games and secure 5th spot.


Nigel Pearson has been the architect of Leicester's renaissance after taking charge of the club in 2008.

City walked away with the League One title in his first season at the helm, and the step-up in division hasn't stopped them from continuing the same impressive form.

A talented coach, he has marshalled a team who work very hard and are well organised. His record in the transfer market has also been very good.


A side with an excellent work ethic and organisation, who have the ability to play good football, but also deal with the physical side of the game.

Leicester also have a group of players who are used to winning and have developed a great team spirit and unity over the past two years.

Five successive wins also means they come into the play-offs in good form.


Pearson is the only one of the four managers to have never experienced play-off football before. Can he prepare his side for the mental battle ahead in dealing with the pressure?

Given their form, winning mentality, play-off history, and impressive home record, it could be argued too that Leicester are the favourites. Can they handle that title?

Key Players:

Joint top scorer Matty Fryatt [left] is returning from injury and is always a reliable source of goals for the Foxes - particularly in key games where chances may be few and far between.

Midfield man Richie Wellens has been a steadying presence on the ball for City this term and has the vision and guile that may be needed to open up a tight encounter.

Andy King has had another excellent season - getting into double figures in the scoring charts.

Play-off history:

Leicester are looking to make it a hat-trick of promotions via the Championship play-offs.

They've actually made the play-offs five times, losing the 1992 final to Blackburn and the 1993 final to Swindon.

However, they were finally promoted in the 1994 final under Brian Little after beating local rivals Derby County 2-1.

Two years later, and this time under Martin O'Neill, they were 2-1 victors over Crystal Palace at Wembley to gain promotion again.

Top flight pedigree:

After promotion in 1994, Leicester were instantly relegated but bounced back at the first attempt. That heralded the start of six successive seasons in the top flight before relegation in 2002.

They once again bounced back at the first time of asking, but were immediately relegated. Before this season, they've rarely looked like returning to the Premier League, and even suffered relegation to League One in 2008.


Story of the season:

The surprise package of the Championship. Despite having one of the smallest budgets and crowds in the division, the Seasiders have been a revelation.

They made a solid start to the season, without ever looking like top six challengers. However, by Christmas, they were firmly in the play off race.

An inconsistent spell at the start of 2010 left them five points off the play-offs with eight to play.

Six wins from seven saw them edge out Swansea on the penultimate weekend and a last day draw secured them 6th and the final play-off berth.


After a disastrous tenure at Leicester, Ian Holloway has rebuilt his reputation with Blackpool.

Tipped to struggle before a ball had been kicked, the popular Bristolian was backed in the transfer market - including the signing of midfielder Charlie Adam for £500,000.

After a reputation for producing effective if dour sides at Plymouth and QPR, Holloway has the Tangerines playing an attractive, adventurous style of play which has won as many plaudits as points.


They are massive underdogs. Nobody expected Blackpool to be in the play-offs, and their hopes looked dead and buried a couple of months ago.

They now come into the play-offs in good form and have turned Bloomfield Road into a difficult place for opponents to visit - only faiing to score once at home all season.

They will also be pleased with facing Forest - they are the only side to do the 'double' over the East Midlands side this term.


How much more can they give? Holloway has overachieved getting Pool this far - can they continue their fairytale over two legs in the pressure cooker environment of the play-offs?

They've also lost more games away from home than any other top six side - and must travel for the all-important second leg.

Key players:

The driving force behind Pool's play-off charge has been former Rangers man Charlie Adam [left]. With 17 goals and numerous assists to his name this term, he will be vital to any hope they have of promotion.

Keeper Matt Gilks has taken over as the Number 1 at Bloomfield Road. An excellent shot stopper, he may be called upon regularly in the play-offs.

Veteran striker Brett Ormerod - in his second spell at the club - has been in typically good scoring form with 12 goals over the campaign. His goals could be key again.

Play-off history:

The Seasiders are appearing in the play-offs for the sixth time and have had a mixed bag of results.

They lost the 1991 League Two final to Torquay on penalties, but 12 months later were victorious at the same stage on spot kicks against Scunthorpe.

Their next taste of the play-offs came in 1996, where Sam Allardyce's Blackpool threw away a 2-0 first leg advantage to lose to Bradford 3-2 in the semis.

In 2001, they were promoted from League Two via the play-offs under Steve McMahon after a 4-2 win over Leyton Orient in the final.

Most recently, they gained promotion to the Championship after beating Yeovil 2-0 in the 2007 final to win the League One play-offs under Simon Grayson.

Top flight pedigree:

Promotion to the Premier League would be a first for Blackpool. The Lancashire team haven't played in the top flight of English football since 1971.

Since then, they've tumbled all the way down to the lower reaches of the basement division and, before their 2007 promotion to the Championship, yo-yoed between the bottom two divisions in the Football League.

We'll have an in-depth look at the two Championship play-off ties later in the week.

No comments:

Post a Comment