Championship play-offs: Preview

Who looks in the best shape to take the most valuable prize in football?

John Leather
Published 09/05/2013 14:17 by John Leather, read by 2,264 people.

The last day of the Championship season was as exciting as it possibly could have been. 

Heartbreak for Wolves and Peterborough as losses at playoff contenders Brighton and Crystal Palace respectively doomed them to relegation, and delight for Hull as they dramatically clinched an automatic return to the Premier League as runners up to Cardiff City. 

Bad news for Watford, who now face off for a Premier League place due to Hull's automatic promotion, and disaster for Bolton and Forest, who narrowly missed out to Leicester for the final playoff place, thanks to a 91st minute Antony Knockaert strike at the City Ground. 

Four teams will now face off for the ultimate prize of £120 million in the shape of Premier League football.

There are four contenders; here is a rain down of those, plus a quick prediction of how it may unfold. Let us know what you think.

The hopefuls

1. Watford (finished third)

Zola's men have finished as the league's high scorers with 85 goals. Vydra and Deeney have scored 39 goals between them in a lethal partnership in a highly prolific side.

Their ability is unquestionable, and they will see themselves as rightful heirs to this Premier League place.  However, there will be question marks raised as to whether the club will be able to pick themselves up from the agony of missing out on automatic promotion in such unfortunate circumstances.

2. Brighton (finished fourth)

Brighton have shown rock like solidity, conceding a mere 69 goals in 46 games. Poyet has established strong defensive foundations with the key acquisition of Tomasz Kusczak, maybe they would have challenged for automatic promotion would it not have been for top scorer Mackail-Smith's injury.

Brighton have only been defeated twice in their final 16 league outings, emphatically thrashing Blackpool 6-0 recently and making a real statement of intent. They will be the form team heading into the playoffs, and will undoubtedly be seen as formidable opponents.

3. Crystal Palace (finished fifth)

Palace started well under Freedman, which continued under Fleming and then the appointment of Ian Holloway. Unfortunately it seems Palace ran out of steam towards the end of the campaign, taking their chance with a last day win at home against Peterborough United, punishing Darren Ferguson's side with Championship relegation.

They have the league's top goal scorer in 30 goal Glenn Murray, and Speroni has not missed a game in goal for Palace. 

Zaha will be given the opportunity to leave the club in style, and Holloway will be hoping to emulate his famous playoff win at Blackpool in 2010.

4. Leicester City (finished sixth)

Leicester looked destined for automatic promotion, occupying a place in the top two for the majority of the season with some impressive performances under Nigel Pearson. 

Two wins in the last 13, almost saw City miss out on the playoffs, if it wasn't for the dramatic 91st minute winner at the City ground on Saturday, condemning rivals Forest and Bolton to at least another season in the second tier.

Recent form has been admittedly poor, but what lift will making the playoffs have on the team. Schmeichel has been fantastic this term, making key saves noticeably in many games, and Nugent has looked decent up front scoring 14 goals for the side, along with Schlupp starting to look an ominous talent. 

Possible projection

From the semi final of Watford v Leicester, surely it's all about whether Watford can overcome automatic promotional disappointment, and if they can, expect to see them at Wembley.

Brighton must be favourites in the other semi due to their defensive stability and incredible form running into the playoffs

Due largely to the run of form and defensive stability evident I'm backing Brighton to overcome a close fought final, vaulting that final hurdle and claiming that huge windfall in the process. Who do you think will make it? 

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