Teams: Derby County (3rd), Queens Park Rangers (4th) Wigan Athletic (5th) Brighton & HA (6th)
When Derby sacked long term coach Nigel Clough, after defeat to fierce rivals Nottingham Forest in September, they could not have imagined the season which would follow. Former England boss Steve McLaren took over and completely transformed their fortunes.
McLaren’s first involvement supposedly came at half-time, with Derby down 4-1 to Ipswich, they drew 4-4 after this and he did not look back. Utilising much of the exiting young talent already at the club, Derby have only lost two home games since his appointment. With players like Will Hughes, Jeff Hendrick, Craig Bryson and, Coldplay front man, Chris Martin the Rams became one of the most exiting and offensively potent sides in the division. Mix this with astute loan signings like Andre Wisdom and Pat Bamford Derby are the bookies favourites to reach the Premier League. They comfortably finished 3rd and even won 7 games in a row in Nov/Dec.
Brighton & Hove Albion:
Brighton snatched the 6th place play off spot from the hands of Reading on the last day of the season, with an injury time Leo Ulloa goal. They will be hoping to ride this momentum and complete an unlikely victory, over Derby, to reach Wembley. After sacking Gus Poyet in strange circumstance, proceeding last years play-off defeat to Crystal Palace, Brighton have had an inconsistent season under his replacement Oscar Garcia.
With a squad consisting of many Spanish players Brighton’s managerial options were limited, they settled with the rather unknown former Maccabi Tel Aviv and Barca youth boss, Oscar Garcia. An indifferent start to the campaign was followed by a good spell over November and December with impressive victories over Wigan and Leicester. 2014, however, was frustrating for the Seagulls, struggling to string wins together their inconsistency looked as if it may cost them. 14 points out of their last 18 allowed them to scrape into the play off, but Brighton will now be hoping that they can be that team with momentum that often causes an upset in the Play-offs.
Brighton vs Derby County Thursday 8th of May – Prediction 1-1
Derby County vs Brighton Sunday 1th of May – Prediction 3-1
Queens Park Rangers:
The only team of the four who can be seen to have underachieved this season are Queens Park Rangers. Relegated from the Premier League last season it was thought Harry Redknapp and a seeming blank cheque would be more then enough for QPR to get an automatic promotion spot. Building from the back Redknapp’s side have not had any defensive woes, going 9 games without conceding in the early stages of the season, but putting the ball in the net has been troubling at times. Top scorer Charlie Austin was the man given the task of firing in the goals and he has been very successful, netting 17 Championship goals. But he also suffered a bad Injury which kept him out for several months. This coincided with a poor run where the West Londoners lost 6 out of 12 games between December 21st and February 22nd, winning only 4. On paper QPR are the strongest team by a mile, international players such as Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Niko Kranjcar and Yossi Benayoun should not be at this level, but paper never won a football match and the fact is QPR haven’t met expectations. The play-offs represent the last chance to go up this season and they need to take it more then others, due to their huge wage bill.
Wigan have had a long, long season. FA Cup semi-finalists, Europa League group stages, an entire Championship campaign with a few match’s postponed and now the play-offs. It’s fair to say that without these distractions their early performance might have been better, not that it was poor anyway.
Owen Coyle started the season as manager, with signings like Grant Holt and Chris McCann the Latics were elected to start well, but they did not. Poor early season form saw Owen Coyle be an early managerial casualty. They then turned to Uwe Rosler and looked to have uncovered a gem. The former Man City player has made Wigan a fast, exciting and dangerous side. Knocking out his former club in the FA cup and going on a run of 1 defeat in 13 towards the end of the season Wigan are another side entering the Play-Offs on the back of some good form. Callum Mcmanaman, Jordi Gomez and the rejuvenated Martin Waghorn can cause any team problems. Their two-legged affair with QPR is a mouth watering prospect, the team with pedigree players vs an inform entertaining side.
Wigan Athletic vs QPR Friday 9th of May – Prediction 2-0
QPR vs Wigan Athletic Monday 12th of May – Prediction 1-0
Play Off Final (Prediction): Wigan Athletic 3-1 Derby County