Norwich and Middlesbrough meet on Monday afternoon at Wembley in what has been described as the ‘richest club game in world football’. The winner of the Championship play offs final on bank holiday Monday afternoon stands to earn a windfall of over £100 million. The biggest prize, which has no price of course, is the chance to play Premier League football again, and both clubs will be desperate to return to the promised land.
For Norwich it would be a swift return after relegation last season, and for Middlesbrough it would be more than welcome since their relegation in 2009. The North East club have had the better of the league meetings this season, but Wembley finals rarely pay attention to form, and the showpiece event looks very evenly matched.
Road to the Final
Middlesbrough made light work of Brentford in the end in their semi-final, although the tie was in the balance in the first leg when Brentford were on top at 1-1. A late ‘Boro winner gave them a 2-1 lead that they never looked like surrendering at home. They eventually ran out 3-0 winners at the Riverside to take the tie 5-1 on aggregate.
Norwich faced a passionate East Anglia derby in their semi-final against arch rivals Ipswich, and it was a typically hard-fought affair. Norwich took the lead in the first leg at Portman Road, only to be pegged back for a 1-1 draw. The second leg was effectively ended as a contest when Christophe Berra was sent off for handling Nathan Redmond’s shot on the line, and Wes Hoolahan converted the resultant penalty. Ipswich did threaten to get back into it with a quick equalizer, but Norwich made the extra man count and won 3-1 on the day, 4-2 on aggregate.
Draw – +240 with Boylesports
Middlesbrough definitely hold the psychological edge after the two league meeting this season, having beaten Norwich 4-0 at the Riverside earlier in the season, and 1-0 at Carrow Road more recently when both were still in contention for automatic promotion. Norwich boss Alex Neal may be concerned that his side haven’t scored against the Smoggies this season, but he’ll be reassured by the fact that his team have scored in the other nine of their last ten games.
Much of Middlesbrough’s success this season has been bourne out of their defensive discipline, and they had the best record in the entire division, conceding just 37 goals in 46 Championship games. Their game plan will be to sit back and soak up the Canaries pressure while trying to hit them on the break. That may not work in their favour though, as the big energy-sapping Wembley pitch makes it hard to close down for 90 minutes. If they surrender possession to Norwich, they could be chasing shadows towards the end of the game.
The battle for Norwich of course is to try and break down that Middlesbrough defence, and it’s something they failed to do at Carrow Road a few weeks ago after going a goal down early in the game. ‘Boro held on for a 1-0 win and if they do get their noses in front again, it could be a similar scenario for the Norfolk side. On paper Norwich probably have the better squad, but they will have to prove it on the day and as far as confidence is concerned, the sooner they breach the ‘Boro backline the better.
It’s all set up to be a very tight encounter, and the value bet has to be on the draw and extra-time. Such is the importance of the match that a safety-first approach can easily creep into the players’ mindset, and one suspects this will be a very cagey affair.
First Goalscorer Betting
As ever when a game of this magnitude is live on TV, it’s nice to have a couple of little side bets to spice things up, and we’re backing Bradley Johnson at a nice price for first goal scorer. With a match this tight, it’s always possible that it could end 0-0, so look out for bookies that refund your bet if no goal is scored in the game.
Johnson has had a very productive season in the heart of the Norwich midfield, and he’s the club’s second top scorer with 15 goals, behind Cameron Jerome. That’s an excellent return from midfield, and it shows his ability of arriving late in the box at just the right time. Norwich are likely to be on the front foot at the start of this game, with Middlesbrough playing their usual organized football, and that should lead to plenty of possession for the Canaries. Jerome and Bamford head this market for obvious reasons, and they’ve both hit impressive tallies this season, but Johnson represents a bit of value and he has a habit of popping up with important goals. His long-range efforts and late surges into the box could be one of Norwich’s most powerful weapons on the day, and he’ll give us a good run for our money.
Correct Score Betting
We’re backing the draw here, and again, it’s worth looking for bookies who refund bets if the game ends as a ‘bore draw’. With that caveat, we’re tipping a 1-1 draw which is available at a decent price. If there are to be goals, you can almost guarantee whoever gets the first will sit back and protect the lead. That scenario lends itself to a 1-1 draw as the other side go chasing the game with more and more urgency as the clock ticks by.
It would be no big surprise to see this one go all the way to penalties, as there looks to be so little to choose between the two sides.
Championship Play Offs Final, Monday 25th May, 3pm
Draw – +240 with Boylesports
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