The Championship Play Offs commence on Friday evening as Brentford take on Middlesbrough in their first leg, while the East Anglian derby between Ipswich and Norwich kicks off at 12.15 on Saturday afternoon. It was an eventful final day of the season in the Championship, with Derby the day’s losers as they dropped out of the play off positions and Brentford took their place.
Brentford beat relegated Wigan 3-0 at home, a result which also took them above Ipswich, who lost 3-2 at Blackburn. Derby were poor in a 3-0 home defeat to Reading, when all they needed was a win to secure a place in the play offs, and Brentford took full advantage. The fact that their win took them above Ipswich means that they face Middlesbrough – who finished 4th after a 0-0 draw with Brighton – and also sets up a mouth-watering derby between the Canaries and the Tractor Boys.
To win the Play Offs
Middlesbrough – +240 with Bet365
Ipswich – +450 with Bet365
We already tipped Norwich to win promotion from the Championship, and they look the most complete team among the four contenders. It’s sometimes hard to back the third placed team in the play offs, but Norwich didn’t really miss out on automatic promotion, as they’ve known for a few games that they were almost certain to end up in the play offs. That has given them a little bit of time to prepare, and they aren’t coming into this off the back of a disappointment. That may actually apply more to 4th placed Middlesbrough, who looked in pole position to go up after winning 1-0 at Carrow Road a few weeks ago. However, a damaging 4-3 defeat at Fulham in their next fixture left the door open to Watford and Bournemouth, who needed no second invitation.
Both Ipswich and Brentford had to wait until the last day of the season for their play off places to be confirmed. Ipswich scraped in by the finest of margins, finishing ahead of Wolves on goal difference, while Brentford were also on the same points total and just a single goal ahead of the Suffolk club. They probably weren’t expecting to reach the play offs at all, with Derby and Ipswich both ahead of them at the start of play, but with both of those losing, Brentford sneaked in at the last. Sometimes it’s the team that comes with a late run who proves to be most dangerous in the play offs, and Brentford will be high on confidence after managing to get there.
It’s still hard to look past Norwich though, and we’re backing them to continue their fine run against Ipswich with a victory in the first leg.
Ipswich v Norwich
Ipswich – +210 with Betvictor
Norwich – +163 with Boylesports
This derby may not be as famous as the North London or Merseyside derbies in English football, but it carries with it just as much passion. There’s no love lost between the two clubs, and the two sets of players and supporters, and it’s probably a sensible decision to play both legs with an early lunchtime kick off. It will be a fiery encounter and Norwich are worth backing to come out on top.
The Canaries have won the last four derbies on the trot, including a league double over the Tractor Boys this season, and they’ve scored on each of their last 10 visits to Portman Road. Under new boss Alex Neal they’ve been in very impressive form in the second half of the season, and only just fell short of challenging the top two. They’ve won 13 of the last 20 games, and have suffered just three defeats. Bradley Johnson is the joint top Championship goal scoring midfielder this season with 15, and he could also be worth a look in the goal scoring markets.
Mick McCarthy has worked wonders with a limited budget at Ipswich, and they deserve their position in the play offs. However, neither club nor manager have a good record in this end-of-season competition. Ipswich have contested the play offs seven times, winning once but going out at the semi-final stage on the other six occasions. McCarthy has reached the play offs twice in his career, but been knocked out in the semi-finals both times. Their home record is very good (4 wins in the last 5), but Norwich tend to have the measure of their local rivals, and are worth backing to continue that trend on Saturday.
Brentford v Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough – +190 with Coral
The other tie is played at 7.45pm on Friday night, as Brentford play host to Middlesbrough. and it’s the visitors who hold the upper hand in terms of previous meetings. Brentford have failed to score against Boro in six league meetings, and lost both home and away this season. You have to go as far back as 1964 for the Bees last victory over the Smoggies, when they won an FA Cup tie. However, the two teams have probably spent several of the years in-between in different divisions, so it would be dangerous to read too much into that.
However, Brentford’s lack of goals in this fixture is of concern, particularly as Middlesbrough have the Championships best defensive record this season. They are also the lowest scorers in the top six, and this could turn into a very tight affair if Boro play to stifle the game. The draw looks to be the best value on offer, and a 0-0 or a 1-1 would be no surprise. Brentford had 61% possession when they lost 1-0 at home to Boro in January, and they can be expected to dominate the ball again, while Middlesbrough sit back and play on the counter-attack.
Brentford v Middlesbrough, 7.45pm Friday 8th May
Ipswich v Norwich, 12.15 Saturday 9th May
Norwich – +163 with Boylesports
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