Football League Expert & Columnist
Play-Off Finals: Peter Beagrie looks ahead to an epic weekend at Wembley
Peter Beagrie previews the Football League's big finale, where the Wembley Play-Off winners are promoted.
Last Updated: 23/05/14 11:17am
CHAMPIONSHIP - Derby v QPR
Contrasting styles, contrasting expectations at the start of the season, but both capable of finding the knock-out blow in the final eliminator for the final place in next season's Premier League.
Steve McClaren's Derby languished in fourteenth place when he left his coaching job, ironically at QPR, to take over the manager's post. He hasn't so much dragged them kicking and screaming to verge of the Promised Land; more conjured and led them smiling and laughing with bright, inventive and progressive football. He has added great resolve and speed; tinkering with the system and adding a few quality loanees to bolster and strengthen the squad.
Harry Redknapp's QPR at times, looked under real pressure and uneasy with their 'favourites' tag for promotion from this division - all of a sudden though they've threatened to save their best until last.
A solid experienced defence and former England goalkeeper behind them, they at times operated with a mantra of minimum effort but maximum effect. Master of the 1-0 win early on in the season, with talisman Charlie Austin their match winner. He's back from injury, and back on the score sheet and played a huge part in the 2-0 win over Uwe Rosler's impressive Wigan Athletic. They have big occasion experience and are packed with internationals, and a manager who, after off-loading nearly 20 players, has still managed to secure a play-off final place.
Harry, I feel, has been unfairly criticised this season. He's refused to steer clear of the dug out this season despite the major operation himself he has gone through the pain barrier both mentally and physically and is always aware of the poor record of the relegated sides from the Premier League have in securing an instant return.
Will QPR's mix of experience help them succeed? Or will it be Charlie Austin's right boot that delivers a devastating blow to Derby's desires to once again grace the top tier of English football? OR will Steve McClaren's Derby hit the attacking heights that put a similarly resolute Brighton side to the sword 6-2 on aggregate. Can they play without fear in their usual expansive style and make their undoubted extra flair and individuality count - a question I can't wait to see the answer to.
My instinct tells me as much that if it's a high scoring game then Derby will be victorious, but if it's a cagey affair you have fancy QPR to nick it, much the same as West Ham did a few years ago.
LEAGUE ONE - Leyton Orient v Rotherham
This really could end up 3-3 and go to extra time and penalties. These are two managers who love their team to go forward at pace with numbers, and also operate with plenty of width - something they'll find in abundance on the Wembley stage.
Rotherham's Steve Evans has done a brilliant job but even must doff his cap to the manager in the opposite dugout at Wembley on Sunday.
Russell Slade has built his team/squad over a couple of seasons finishing brilliantly last year and going one better this. Their front four are capable of producing moments of magic; Dean Cox the pocket rocket who's goals and assists are almost matched by the pace and trickery of young starlet Moses Odubajo on the opposite flank. They supply the prolific David Mooney and evergreen Kevin Lisbie who, invariably, finish those chances off.
I expect the most entertaining of the three play-off games to be this one so don't blink because you may miss something. If both starting XIs run out of ideas there is a plethora of talent on both benches to provide the missing spark.
LEAGUE TWO - Burton Albion v Fleetwood Town
Our third helping of play-off action on Monday pitched Fleetwood Town against Burton Albion; two relative newcomers to the Football League with two young managers pitting their wits against each other and seeking any tiny advantage.
Fleetwood are big favourites going toe-to-toe with the three automatically promoted teams 'til the end of the season, you could sense their disappointment, but had to impressed with their response in the two hard-fought games against York City.
Burton's epic two-legged victory over Southend was every bit as impressive, and proves they have recovered from the heartbreak of semi-final failure last season against eventually promoted Bradford City. Don't underestimate Burton, and in particular Billy Kee who, although injured, answered the calling and came off the bench to inspire his team to victory. His partnership with the quicksilver Adam McGurk is pivotal to Burton's success.
That all said, Fleetwood are the, as I said, clear favourites of all the finalists. Graham Alexander has used his greater budget well, and in the first leg against York there was almost 30 goals, between three strikers, left on the bench; luxury indeed at this level. The two centre-halfs - Mark Roberts and Nathan Pond - attack the ball brilliantly in both boxes so set pieces could also feature and provide a threat to the alltogether less statuesque Burton outfit, who are missing their suspended giant centre-half Ian Sharps, who was harshly sent off for two bookings in Burton's first leg against Southend.
Not exactly David v Goliath, but it would be classed as an upset if Burton prevails. Remember this is the Football League, so on any given Monday anything is possible.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS...
Derby, Rotherham and Fleetwood are the fancied victors speaking to many, many people across the football fraternity. But pressure does funny things to players; it saps their energy and majorly affects their decision making. These three teams have more potential match-winners than their opponents but can these individuals perform to their optimum? We'll soon have the answers and I'm ridiculously excited to watch it unfold on Sky Sports and feel privileged to be covering all three finals over this brilliant bank holiday weekend. If you can't get there make sure you strap yourself in and hold on tight to the rollercoaster of emotions that is the Football League Play-Off Finals.