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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

League One Play Off Final: Preview

League One Play Off Final
Millwall vs. Swindon Town
Saturday May 29, 15:00, Wembley

A place back in the Championship awaits one of Millwall and Swindon this Saturday as Wembley witnesses a classic clash of cultures.

One's badge is that of a roaring Lion, the other has images of a steam train and a little robin. You get the feeling Millwall could eat their opponents alive.

Indeed, I actually don't think you could find two more dissimilar clubs.

In the blue corner Millwall -
a club rooted in the London Docking industry and notorious for their partisan fans who can always ensure a cold welcome to away fans at their New Den ground.

In the red corner, Swindon, famous for trains and roundabouts, and being twinned with Disneyland. In the north east of rural Wiltshire, are they Westcountry bumpkins or Thames Valley commuters? Maybe both.

The two teams are also very different in their style.

Kenny Jackett's Lions - a physical and imposing opponent. No quarter asked and none given. If you're not up for the fight against Millwall, then you're unlikely to get anything from the game.

Resolute at the back, pragmatic in their play, they're not afraid to bombard their opponents with a succession of well drilled set pieces and high balls up front to their dangerous attacking duo of Neil Harris and Steve Morison.

Swindon, as is the way of their manager Danny Wilson, preach the message of good football.

They never waive from a belief in playing the game the right way - they might find Wembley's expansive, if not smooth, pitch to their liking.

Where the Robins are, you can be sure of goals too - at both ends. Strikers Billy Paynter and Charlie Austin have both been in red hot form to fire Town to Saturday's final.

Millwall took four points off Swindon Town during the regular League One season

They'll be in for a tough time against Millwall though. The Lions had the joint-best defensive record in League One this term, and comfortably saw off Huddersfield in the semis without conceding.

Jackett's side have also been here before - just 12 months previously in fact - where they were 3-2 losers to Scunthorpe.

If experience counts then, finally, at the fifth time of asking, Millwall will emerge victorious from a play-off campaign.

Or will Wembley simply bring back bad memories? As with last May's match, the Londonders will again start favourites - albeit slight ones - particularly after defeating Swindon 3-2 on the final day of the regular season.

A high-scoring match that day, I don't envisage Saturday going along the same lines. Both sides know there's simply too much at stake.

With both having benefited from financial backing, they will be hopeful a win will be the gateway to establishing them back in the second tier of English football.

Swindon haven't been there in ten years, Millwall dropped out of the Championship more recently - in 2006. Life in the third tier has generally not been kind to two sides who regularly competed for the top flight 20 years ago.

Who will have the opportunity of competing in the Championship next term though?

Part of me thinks that things have clicked for Swindon this season, they weren't one of the pre-season favourites, but their penalty win over Charlton in the semis shows that fate is on their side.

However, only one side - Leicester in the early '90s - have lost play-off finals in successive seasons. Usually, a side triumphs second time around, so it's unlikely Millwall will lose again.

It wouldn't surprise me to see it go into extra time, but I'll go for Millwall to edge it. Although they probably won't.

Nobes' Prediction: Millwall 2 Swindon Town 1

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