Championship Playoffs Preview
Championship playoff contenders Huddersfield, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield United and Luton will battle for a £170 million windfall in the week ahead. Securing promotion to the Premier League can totally transform a club’s prospects by providing a major injection of cash. That means there is a great deal at stake for these teams as they strive for a place in the top flight, so let’s take a look at the semi-final clashes and explore how they might unfold:
Luton vs. Huddersfield
Huddersfield finished third in the Championship, with 23 wins, 13 draws and 10 defeats. The Terriers ended the season with a flourish, rattling off consecutive victories over Middlesbrough, Barnsley, Coventry and Bristol City, so they will be surging with momentum ahead of the playoffs. They ended up six points behind second-place Bournemouth, but they were seven clear of Luton, who finished fifth.
The Hatters had the worst defensive record of any team in the top-10, conceding 55 goals in 46 games. However, they developed a knack of grinding out important results. Elijah Adebayo was the star in attack, scoring 16 of Luton’s 63 goals, while Harry Cornick chipped in with another 12.
In the 2018-19 season, Huddersfield were playing in the Premier League, while Luton were scrapping away in League One. The Hatters won the title that season, and they ended up 19th in the Championship in 2020. Nathan Jones returned as manager that summer, and he led them to a 12th-place finish. They were even better this time around, and they are now just three games away from the Premier League.
Luton beat recently relegated Huddersfield home and away in the 2019-20 season. Both of their meetings resulted in 1-1 draws last term, and they also drew 0-0 at Kenilworth Road back in October. However, second half goals from Jon Russell and Naby Sarr earned Huddersfield a 2-0 win when these teams played on 11th April, which could give the Terriers confidence.
Danny Ward scored 14 times for Huddersfield this season. He will be dangerous in attack, with Norwich loanee Danel Sinani providing support. The Terriers play with a back three, so holding midfielder Carel Eiteng provides a vital role in screening the defenders, while Pipa and Harry Toffolo are dangerous down the flanks.
Adebayo has been injured for Luton, but the manager revealed that he could recover in time to line up alongside Cornick for this crucial playoff semi-final. Veteran forward Cameron Jerome provides another option in attack. Veteran Henri Lansbury pulls the strings in midfield for the Hatters, while 34-year-old winger Robert Snodgrass could provide a moment of magic to settle a tight game.
The first leg of this semi-final clash takes place at Kenilworth Road on Friday night, and the reverse fixture will be held in Huddersfield three days later. Luton are the narrow favourites to win the first leg in the spread betting, but Huddersfield are the slight favourites to reach the playoff final at Luton’s expense. The Hatters have failed to score in both games against Huddersfield this season, and their top scorer will not be 100% fit, so under 2.5 goals may appeal. Huddersfield draw no bet also looks interesting, as they ended the season with five wins and a draw, while Luton may still be reeling from a recent 7-0 defeat to Fulham.
Sheff Utd vs. Nottingham Forest
Nottingham Forest ended up fourth in the standings after taking just one point from their final two matches. They had won nine of their 10 previous games, so it was a disappointing time to run out of steam. Yet Forest can take solace from their impressive run of form in recent weeks. They have nine wins, a draw and two defeats from their last 12 games, and no team in the Championship accumulated more points in that time.
Sheff Utd snatched fifth place after winning their final three matches of the season. They beat Cardiff 1-0 and QPR 3-1, before easing to a morale-boosting 4-0 victory over champions Fulham. They scored fewer goals than Forest this season, and they also conceded more, which does not bode particularly well, but they have a lot of experienced players, who will relish the playoffs.
Sheff Utd were relegated from the Premier League last season. They initially struggled to find their feet in the Championship, but they managed to hold Nottingham Forest to a 1-1 draw at the City Ground in November. It finished 1-1 again when the teams resumed hostilities at Bramall Lane in March. That game was tight. Bill Sharp scored in the 70th minute, and the Blades looked on course for a win, only for Ryan Yates to equalise five minutes into injury-time.
The Blades retained many of the players that represented the club in the Premier League, including Chris Basham, John Egan, George Baldock, Ollie Norwood, John Fleck, Sander Berge and David McGoldrick. Strikers Rhian Brewster and Ollie McBurnie are injured, so Wolves loanee Morgan Gibbs-White could partner youngster Iliman Ndiaye in attack. Both men scored in the 4-0 win against Fulham, although the veteran Sharp has 14 goals this season, and he could play a part.
Nottingham Forest impressed by beating Arsenal and holders Leicester in the FA Cup this season. Right-back Richie Laryea caught the eye, while Steve Cook, Joe Worrall and Scott McKenna have been very strong at the back, effectively screened by Man Utd loanee James Garner and veteran Jack Colback. Brennan Johnson, a 20-year-old, is their top scorer with 16 goals.
Sporting Index makes Nottingham Forest and Sheff Utd the favourites to be promoted, suggesting that the winner of the semi-final will be playing top flight football next season. The Blades are the favourites for the first leg, which promises to be a cagey affair at Bramall Lane on Saturday. Another 1-1 draw could be on the cards, and that is priced at 11/2.