And so, after nine months and 46 games, the winners and losers from the English football leagues have been decided (the Premier League still has a week to go, but Chelsea sewed that one up weeks ago).
And despite the weary legs and tired minds, for some clubs it’s the torture of the play-offs to get through before the final promotion spots can be decided.
There’s been a little justice for the purists this season, as the runaway 4th/5th-placed finishers will contest this weekend’s play-off finals in each of League Two, League One and the Championship. There’s no room this year for a play-off final place to those luck boxes who scraped into 7th place in the league and managed to secure a Wembley final.
With three finals left to play, who will be lighting up Wembley, and who will be (not) looking forward to yet another hard slog next season?
SkyBet League Two
Wycombe v Southend
May 23, 2015
Wycombe and Southend will compete at Wembley for the League Two play-off final this weekend. It’s perhaps right that the teams will be appearing, with both sides finishing the season on 84 points, one behind an automatic promotion spot and TWELVE ahead of 6th-place finishers, Stevenage.
Southend dispatched Stevenage 4-2 on aggregate over the two semi-final legs, with Wycombe making light work of a Plymouth side who only got into the play-offs via a late surge.
Wycombe were unlucky to not gain automatic promotion, and in Paul Hayes and Aaron Holloway have two proven goal scorers. Most recently, the two sides played out a 2-2 draw in the league, with Alfie Mawson saving a point for the Buckinghamshire side in the 85th minute.
Those late goals have been a signature of Wycombe Wanderers, so we’ll lump for a very late Hayes goal to settle it for the Wycombe. The goal scoring prowess of Southend’s Barry Corr can’t be dismissed, however, so he completes our tips for this one.
Wycombe to win (in 90 mins): 13/8 (bet365)
Barry Corr (Southend) First Goalscorer: 9/2 (bet365)
Paul Hayes (Wycombe) Last Goalscorer: 6/1 (bet365)
Aaron Holloway (Wycombe) to score anytime: 7/2 (bet365)
SkyBet League One
Preston v Swindon
May 24, 2015
Who said play-offs were boring?
Swindon beat Sheffield United in a pulsating play-off semi-final, drawing 5-5 on the night to win 7-6 on aggregate after winning the first leg 2-1 away.
Meanwhile, Preston brushed aside Chesterfield 3-0 in the home tie, having beaten them 1-0 away for a 4-0 aggregate win.
It was just desserts for Preston, who only missed out on automatic promotion by two points, and who finished 20 points ahead of Chesterfield in the table.
So, in the final it will be 3rd v 4th, as Preston take on Swindon.
Preston are outright favourites for the final, and justifiably so having finished 10 points ahead of Swindon in the league. They also go into the final off the back of six wins and three draws from their last 10 matches, with the most recent league win a 3-0 win over….yes, Swindon.
Meanwhile, Preston can call upon league top scorer Joe Garner (26 for the season) and a resurgent Jermaine Beckford as they vie to return to the Championship. It could be tight, but we’re lumping our money on a Preston win to make it fourth time lucky after three play-off final defeats.
Preston to win in 90 minutes: 8/11 (PaddyPower)
Joe Garner (Preston) to score anytime: 6/5 (bet365)
Middlesbrough v Norwich
May 25, 2015
The Promised Land of the Premier League awaits the winner of the Championship play-off final on May 25.
Middlesbrough have played some lovely football all season under their head coach, the former Champions League-winning Real Madrid player, Aitor Karanka. They brushed aside Brentford 2-1 in the first leg of their semi-final, and finished the job off at home with an easy 3-0 second leg win.
Meanwhile, in the other semi-final, the East Anglian derby between Norwich and Ipswich went into the second leg finely poised at 1-1. However, Norwich prevailed to send them to Wembley and confirm more play-off heartache for Ipswich.
Norwich have the good form, with seven wins and two draws from their last 10 games. Their only defeat during that spell came in April away against…..Middlesbrough.
For 35-year-old Boro defender, Jonathan Woodgate, whose contract comes to an end this summer, it would be a great return to Premier League football, and there’s no denying the Riverside stadium deserves some top-flight football again.
With Norwich looking to return to the Premier League after just two seasons out, and Boro hoping to be back after a break of six years, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Draw in 90 minutes: 9/4 (Coral)
Under 2.5 goals: 7/10 (bet365)
Patrick Bamford (Boro) to score anytime: 11/5 (888sport)