We’ve already seen plenty of drama in the League 2 and League 1 play-off semi-finals. Bradford City, Northampton Town, Brentford and Yeovil Town would all profit, financially, from playing at the next level but their rewards will pale into insignificance alongside those on offer for the four sides contesting the Championship play-offs.
The winners are in for a windfall that’s been estimated, conservatively, at £120million. Not only is there the massive TV rights but sell-out attendances usually follow and increased sponsorship opportunities. Even if the stay is short-lived, increased parachute payments soften the blow of a subsequent relegation and means that teams dropping out of the Premier League have a massive advantage over a team that has, for example, just been promoted from League 1.
So will it be Watford, Crystal Palace, Brighton and Hove Albion or Midlands interlopers Leicester City celebrating at Wembley in just over two weeks’ time? Watford ended the regular season with most points but missed out on promotion on the final day, losing at home to Leeds when a win would have seen them leap-frog second-placed team Hull City. Their transfer policy and partnership with Serie A side Udinese hasn’t gone down well with their rivals this season, many of whom regard it as borderline cheating. But Gianfranco Zola’s team have produced scintillating football on occasions, though top scorer Matej Vydra has lost his form at just the wrong time and regular strike partner Troy Deeney is suspended for both legs of their semi-final against Leicester. With a goalkeeping crisis on his hands as well, Zola will do well to rally his troops and it’s no surprise that BetVictor have gone as big as 10/3 about the Hornets celebrating promotion.
Leicester needed an unlikely set of results on the final day to reach the play-offs but everything went their way and Nigel Pearson‘s team will think they have nothing to lose now. They are 5/2 with 888sport but are too inconsistent to produce their best in three consecutive matches. Crystal Palace (45/11 on Betfair) have rather stumbled over the line after looking genuine top-two contenders for much of the season. Manager Ian Holloway suffered play-off heartbreak with Blackpool last year and may come up short again as I think Brighton have the strongest credentials.
They’ve known their fate for a few weeks and Gus Poyet has had plenty of time to prepare and rest key players. Everything is in in place at the Amex Stadium for Premier League football, including a new state-of-the-art arena which regularly gets filled and can accomodate the big travelling support teams get in the top flight. Brighton won their last three matches in the regular season and are unbeaten since early March so arrive fresh and in form and Paddy Power’s 23/10 against the Seagulls looks the value.