English Football Playoff Preview: Four Fighting To Play at Top Level
There is no single sporting event in the world more valuable to the winners, who end up approximately £60,000,000 better off than the losers.
This is mainly due to the increased commercial television revenue from being promoted to the Premiership. However, by convention, the two finalists agree that the loser will keep all the gate receipts from the game, so as to slightly soften the financial blow of missing out.
This will be of little comfort to the fans whose dream of away fixtures at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge will be replaced by midweek fixtures at Doncaster and Scunthorpe.
In recent years, the previously seen curse of finishing third has disappeared as three of last four teams promoted through the playoffs have finished third.
Previous to that, however, only two teams in the previous 10 years that finished third succeeded in the playoffs.
So, who will be the lucky team this year?
Even the most loyal Blackpool fan would have thought the playoffs were out of reach at the start of the year.
However, a run of only one defeat in nine matches saw Blackpool claim the last playoff spot. They’ve also only lost four games at home this season, and this solid home form could see them claim a place in the top flight for the first time since 1971.
Blackpool have enjoyed three previous triumphs in the playoffs, but their manager Ian Holloway has been through the playoff system unsuccessfully twice before with previous clubs.
My Prediction: Blackpool’s home form will see them through a tough test against Forest, but they will suffer heartbreak in the final.
For a while, Forest seemed to be on for automatic promotion, but West Brom’s consistency, combined with a poor second half of the season for Forest, saw them miss out.
Forest have not won away since January, and that could be a major problem against Blackpool’s strength at home.
The Reds hardly finished their campaign with a flourish, claiming only two wins in seven.
Forest will hope they can get back into the Premier League after an 11-year absence, and if Paul Anderson is on his game for Forest, he can hit Blackpool on the break when they push bodies forward, Forest could achieve their aim.
My Prediction: Forest to lose out to Blackpool in a close-fought tie, their away form letting them down in the end.
Leicester are chasing back-to-back promotions. Last season's League One champions go into the playoffs in their best form of an impressive season after five consecutive victories.
They have been involved in the playoffs four times before. They were promoted to the top flight via them in 1994 and 1996, and have never failed to reach the final, so could be considered a team to beat.
Obviously, a massive loss for Leicester is Steve Howard, who got stupidly sent off against Watford. He will be eligible for the final if the Foxes make it that far, so he will have everything crossed that his teammates can get past Cardiff.
The return of Matty Fryatt is a big boost though. He's missed the vast majority of the season, yet is still joint-top scorer.
My Prediction: They will make the final and squeeze past Blackpool in an exciting finale.
Bluebirds fans, many of whom have never seen their team compete among the elite, are hoping for another playoff triumph.
This time, though, the prize is top-flight football for the Welsh side, for the first time in 48 years.
Cardiff also ended the regular season strongly, going 10 games unbeaten, before losing 2-0 at Derby in their last match, when their top-six place was already assured.
This game is more key for Cardiff than for any other team. The club has been given another six weeks to pay off an outstanding tax bill of £1.9 million, after their case to avoid a winding-up order was adjourned for a fourth time.
Paying off this bill will be a drop in the ocean if they manage to make it to the top flight, but will this pressure be on the minds of the players?
My Prediction: Cardiff will miss out to playoff pros Leicester and will have to continue to fight off the tax man.