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Play-Off preview: The first legs

9 May 2019

The Sky Bet EFL Play-Offs are upon us once again, and this year the stakes are higher than ever.

Six highly anticipated ties across three divisions, with promotion under the arch at Wembley Stadium the prize at the end of it. It's time to #StepUp.

Derby County v Leeds United (Saturday 11 May, 5:15pm)

Background: While the final league table will place Leeds as favourites to come through this mouth-watering tie, the form guide reads favourably for Derby. The Rams - who claimed sixth place on the final day - come into the Play-Offs with some momentum, having won four of their last six games, and history tells us that can be important. Meanwhile, Saturday's game represents the perfect opportunity for the visitors to stop the rot; Leeds suffered a surprise 3-2 defeat at Ipswich on the final day, having missed out on automatic promotion, but it doesn't take away from what has been an excellent season for the Yorkshire side. This has all the makings of a classic.

Ones to watch: Derby will require some big performances from their key players, one of which being Harry Wilson. The on-loan Liverpool youngster has had a season to remember, with 17 goals to his name from midfield, but will be keen to finish the campaign in the same vein. Leeds, meanwhile, have no shortage of big-game players but, with Patrick Bamford suspended for the first leg, Marcelo Bielsa may well call on Kemar Roofe here. The striker scored in both of his side's league wins over Derby in 2018/19, including a brace at Pride Park. 

The second leg: the reverse fixture will take place on Wednesday evening at Elland Road (kick-off 7:45pm).

Aston Villa v West Bromwich Albion (Saturday 11 May, 12:30pm)

Background: Another fixture which needs no introduction, the latest instalment of the West Midlands derby - the 170th meeting between the two in all competitions - has some added spice. Just one place and four points separated the sides in the final 2018/19 standings, one of several signs which point to Saturday's clash being a cracker. Only champions Norwich City (93) scored more goals than Villa (82) and West Brom (87) during the regular season, meaning the two defences will have to be at their best here.

Ones to watch: Villa rested towering defender Tyrone Mings, midfield maestro John McGinn, captain Jack Grealish and top scorer Tammy Abraham for their final game of the season, but the star quartet are expected to return for this one, and will undoubtedly look to take the game to the visitors. Only Norwich's Teemu Pukki scored more Championship goals than Abraham between August and May. Meanwhile, West Brom forward Dwight Gayle has scored seven goals in his last seven starts, and is sure to test the Villa back-line. Together with strike partner Jay Rodriguez - who has scored in three of his last four games against Villa - Albion carry a serious goal threat.

The second leg: the reverse fixture will take place on Tuesday evening at The Hawthorns (kick-off 8pm).

Sunderland v Portsmouth (Saturday 11 May, 7:30pm)

Background: These two have had some huge battles this season, and they're about to have another. Sunderland and Portsmouth, two giants of English football, will go head-to-head at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, looking to take a step closer to Wembley for the second time this season. The sides met in a record-breaking Checkatrade Trophy Final back in March, with penalties needed to separate the two, and this game promises to be equally entertaining. Sunderland (fifth) and Pompey (fourth) will have been disappointed to miss out on automatic promotion, but will be giving everything to go up at the second attempt.

Ones to watch: Sunderland's squad remains packed with experienced heads, including the likes of Northern Ireland international Will Grigg and midfielder Lee Cattermole, but Aiden McGeady could hold the key. The 33-year-old has 14 goals this season, including one in the Checkatrade Trophy Final. Portsmouth aren't lacking when it comes to experience either, with Gareth Evans and Brett Pitman in their ranks, but Jamal Lowe could be the man to light up the Play-Offs for them. The exciting attacker also scored in the Final, and has enjoyed a fantastic season in blue and white.

The second leg: the reverse fixture will take place on Thursday evening at Fratton Park (kick-off 7:45pm).

Doncaster Rovers v Charlton Athletic (Sunday 12 May, 12.15pm)

Background: These two are no strangers to the pressures of a Play-Off tie. Doncaster are appearing in the Play-Offs for a second time in the EFL, having won promotion via this route in 2007/08. Charlton, meanwhile, are back in the Play-Offs after falling at this stage last season, setting up a really intriguing clash here. Both sides will also be on a high; Rovers claimed their Semi-Final place on the final day of the regular season, while Charlton have been in flying form. Who will come out on top?

Ones to watch: 38-year-old midfielder James Coppinger has the experience and talent to give Doncaster a real chance here. Should he feature on Sunday, it will be his 621st appearance for the South Yorkshire club and his 50th of this campaign, one which has seen him contribute four goals and 14 assists. Charlton, meanwhile, will be looking to Lyle Taylor to fire them to Wembley - his goals have been a key part of the Addicks' fine run of form which took them to a third-placed finish and he's sure to be a constant thorn in Rovers' side. Only Luton Town's James Collins scored more goals in League One in 2018/19.

The second leg: the reverse fixture will take place on Friday evening at The Valley (kick-off 7:45pm).

Newport County v Mansfield Town (Thursday 9 May, 19:45pm)

Background: The fact that Machester City were the last team to win at Newport says a lot about their season, and their strengths on home soil. County come into the Play-Offs having gone on a 10-game unbeaten run which saw them claim seventh spot in a dramatic end to the final day. Mansfield will have to pick themselves up after missing out on automatic promotion on the same afternoon, but will be favourites to make it to Wembley following a campaign which saw them concede fewer goals than any other side in League Two.

Ones to watch: Newport will surely look to call on the experience of Padraig Amond on Thursday. The 31-year-old, who received an Ireland call-up in March, has found the net 22 times this season and is no stranger to the pressure of Play-Offs, having won promotion to the EFL with Grimsby via this route three years ago. For Mansfield, Tyler Walker has enjoyed a fine season in front of goal, and is sure to be one of his side's biggest threats on the night, should he feature. The on-loan Nottingham Forest man is the Stags' top scorer in 2018/19 with 25 goals, including one against Newport back in August. 

The second leg: the reverse fixture will take place on Sunday evening at One Call Stadium (kick-off 6pm).

Tranmere Rovers v Forest Green Rovers (Friday 10 May, 7:45pm)

Background: Having reached the EFL via the Play-Offs this time last season, Tranmere will be hoping to make it back-to-back promotions via this route by seeing off Forest Green, but head into the first-leg clash on the back of a dip in form which includes a defeat against Friday's opponents. The history between the sides goes back further than last month though; these two met in the 2017 National League Play-Offs, with Forest Green coming out on top. It all adds up to what should be an eye-catching encounter under the lights.

Ones to watch: Tranmere have both the League Two Golden Boot and Golden Glove winners in their ranks in James Norwood and Scott Davies, and both will have a big part to play if they are to reach Wembley. No player in the Premier League or EFL scored more goals than Norwood's 29 in 2018/19, while Davies has 19 clean sheets under his belt since August. Forest Green, meanwhile, will rest some of their hopes on a prolific striker of their own, Christian Doidge. He's found the net 15 times this season, including 10 times for Rovers since the end of January, and is likely to be his side's main threat.

The second leg: the reverse fixture will take place on Monday evening at The New Lawn (kick-off 7:45pm).








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