It’s known as “the richest game in football” – worth up to £170 million to the winners – and on Bank Holiday Monday, Aston Villa and Derby County will battle it out for the remaining place in the 2019/20 Premier League.
It’s Villa’s second attempt in two seasons – after narrowly missing out in last year’s final when Tom Cairney’s goal gave Fulham a 1-0 win – so the Villans will be doubly determined not to miss out this time around.
They start the game as favourites 2.25 for the win with good reason: they are the team that entered the play-offs with momentum. A mid-season wobble coincided with an injury to star midfielder Jack Grealish but once their talisman was back to full fitness, it was all systems go.
For the final ten games of the Championship season, it was Villa who topped the form table with eight wins, a draw and a single defeat, and it was no surprise that they were able to edge past West Brom in their semi – even if it was via a penalty shoot-out.
TOP TIP! – Villa to win 2-1 @ 21/211.50+105010.5010.50-0.10 / Wilson as anytime scorer @ 11/43.75+2752.752.75-0.36
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The Villans have been well managed by Dean Smith since his arrival in October – after the sacking of Steve Bruce – and have an experienced and knowledgeable backroom team, that includes one John Terry.
A particular area of strength for Villa is in their attack, where their options are plentiful. In addition to Tammy Abraham (26 goals this season) they have Anwar el Ghazi, Andre Green, Albert Adomah and Jonathan Kodjia.
Even in the fallow periods on Monday, they will carry a goal threat. We don’t expect them to go through another Championship Play-off final goal-less.
Derby, on paper, possess similar levels of quality in their squad but it’s worth noting that their key performers are players brought in on loan by manager Frank Lampard from Premier League clubs. Liverpool’s Harry Wilson and Chelsea’s Mason Mount have been their best performers by some way– players lured to Pride Park using Lampard’s connections.
The Rams, unlike Villa, left it late to qualify for the play-offs and spent some time outside the top six when it looked unlikely that the media’s love for Lampard would be repaid with a top-six place. Fortunately for them, Frank made a decent fist of his first season in management. He brought his squad of youth and experience together in time to sneak into the play-offs.
All of which makes Monday’s game harder to call than it initially appears and in truth there is, in our view, some value to be had in the 13/53.60+2602.602.60-0.38 on offer for the straight Derby win.
We do however feel that this is Villa’s time and after a three-year hiatus in the Championship, it’s time for the biggest club in the second city to return to the Premier League.
They will have learned from last season’s defeat by Fulham and, in some cases, will still be feeling the pain, so this will be a Villa side determined to not make the same mistake twice.
An important match-up will be Villa’s in-form Tammy Abraham against veteran Derby defender Richard Keogh, and we feel there is only one winner.
The Rams’ main threat will come from their youthful and energetic midfield and we’d certainly not argue against anyone taking the 11/43.75+2752.752.75-0.36 on offer for Wilson to be an anytime goalscorer, but equally we’re drawn to the 2-1 to Villa on offer at 21/211.50+105010.5010.50-0.10.
Charlton Athletic v Sunderland – 26th May – 15:00 GMT
TOP TIP! –Charlton to win 1-0 @ 15/28.50+7507.507.50-0.13 / Taylor to score first @ 17/45.25+4254.254.25-0.24
The League One Play-off Final brings together two teams who both see their rightful place as much higher in the football pyramid.
For Sunderland, it’s the chance to bounce back to the Championship at the first attempt, after dropping out of the second tier last season, and for Charlton it’s the chance to get back to the Championship for the first time since the start of the club’s ongoing off-field ownership issues.
The Addicks’ fans, who still demand that owner Roland Duchatelet relinquishes his controlling interest in the club, will see this trip to Wembley as a triumph over adversity, and in many ways as a reward to the fans for all the dark days they have suffered over the last few seasons.
While a Charlton victory wouldn’t automatically solve all the ownership/funding issues, it would likely make the club more attractive to prospective buyers, so their fans will be hoping they can tap into the form that saw them win their first-leg semi tie away in Doncaster.
Sunderland’s season hasn’t gone as planned – automatic promotion was the aim – but the Mackems will fill Wembley hoping that Jack Ross’ team can rally for one final time this season and get themselves over the line.
The bookies have Sunderland as favourites but there are worse bets out there than the 2/13.00+2002.002.00-0.50 on offer for the straight Charlton win, especially with Addicks having a mean defence.
The fact that Sunderland have already lost at Wembley this season – against Portsmouth in the EFL Trophy Final – may have a bearing, but such is the pressure on the North-Eastern giants to deliver, we have a hunch that Charlton may prosper as a result.
In Lyle Taylor, Charlton have a striker who spurned the chance to join the Black Cats and therefore, football being football, it would be no surprise if he were to open the scoring at 17/45.25+4254.254.25-0.24 on Sunday. Consider too the 15/28.50+7507.507.50-0.13 on offer for the 1-0 win for Charlton.
Newport County v Tranmere Rovers – 25th May – 15:00 GMT
TOP TIP! – Newport to win 2-1 @ 11/112.00+110011.0011.00-0.09 / Norwood last goalscorer @ 7/24.50+3503.503.50-0.29
The play-off final weekend kicks off with Newport v Tranmere.
For Tranmere, a win would be the denouement of a battle back from the brink – having spent some time outside the Football League – and would confirm that finally this is a club that is back on the up.
Newport, on the other hand, will be looking to make history and qualify for the English game’s third tier for the first time ever. And it would come at the end of a thrilling season in which a fine FA Cup run saw them make it to the fifth round before losing to eventual winners, Man City.
So, while Tranmere with their greater history are favourites – and in James Norwood they have League Two’s leading goalscorer – we can see the Exiles making history. We’re going 2-1 Newport at 11/112.00+110011.0011.00-0.09, with Norwood getting the last goal at 7/24.50+3503.503.50-0.29 – a consolation for Tranmere.
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