Monday, May 19, 2008

The Play-offs: The Most Exciting Time Of The Year?

We are less than a week away from the biggest weekend of football outside of the Premier League as Wembley looks set to host another years worth of hopes and dreams either come true or crash and burn in painful circumstances. The Football League certainly lacks the quality of the Premier League but what it lacks in class it more than makes up for in excitement as anyone who watched the play-off semi-finals will tell you. For those of you who don’t normally look beyond the world of the Premier League then you should take the blinkers off and enjoy this Bank holiday weekend’s football.
Let’s look back at the semi-finals from the past week starting with the Championship where we saw a nerve jangling game at Ashton Gate between Bristol City and Crystal Palace which could easily have gone either way if not for a pair of outstanding goals from Lee Trundle and Michael McIndoe in extra time. Whilst not many people will share much sympathy with Palace manager Neil Warnock, his outspoken nature doesn't appeal to everyone, those Palace fans who believed their team could have been promoted yet again after coming from no where it must have been gutting to lose out so late on.
As for Watford fans you imagine its more a sense of frustration after leading the Championship, then failing to gain automatic promotion before being outclassed in two-legs by a very impressive Hull City side. So now we move onto Wembley and two sides who have never been in the Premiership playing for an estimated £62m windfall. As far as predictions go its too close to call really, both sides where close to gaining automatic promotion and both were impressive in their semi-finals for differing reasons. Bristol because of their grit and determination combined with their ability to pull it out of the bag when it matters whilst Hull demonstrated their over riding desire to make it to the top flight by picking apart a side who were a Premier League outfit last season. Head on over to Betting.Betfair to place your money on the Championship play-off final.
As for League 1 it appears that north-west London is about to be invaded by half of Yorkshire for this clash. Leeds against Doncaster hasn’t always been a rivalry, in fact they hadn’t been in the same division since 1956 before this season. But with both sides pushing for promotion another Yorkshire feud has developed. Again this is another tough on to call and like the two sides in the Championship final Leeds and Doncaster have displayed different aspects. Leeds showed really grit to come from behind to win against Carlisle, the only side to make it through to a final with their second leg away from home. As for Doncaster well after a tight first leg they blitzed their way past Southend after an incredibly high quality performance, especially by James Coppinger who scored an excellent hat-trick. Both sides will be confident heading into the final and what an incredible story it would be if Doncaster were to leapfrog Leeds into the Championship with their third promotion in six years.
Finally we have League 2 and another local derby set to take place on the biggest stage in English football. Stockport may claim to be a Cheshire club but both are located well within the border of Greater Manchester. It was an interesting contrast to watch the second-leg between Rochdale and Darlington before the FA Cup Final, while the cup final wasn’t dull it could not match the game between these two League 2 outfits, Rochdale coming from two goals down, on aggregate, to take the game to extra time and penalties with Ben Muirhead scoring the winning penalty to send Spotland into a frenzy. The only sore point for Rochdale was the sending-off of David Perkins, one of Rochdale’s key players this season. As for Stockport, while they didn’t provide the most the entertaining game on Saturday evening they did what was required of them to make it through. Liam Dickenson grabbing the only goal of the game and what a purchase he has been for Jim Gannon, a non-league player two years ago he has banged in 20 goals this season. Looking ahead to Wembley and it’s nice to have two sides who like to play football in the final for once. Head on over to Betfair for the latest online betting figures.

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