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Two close to call

Kammy looks ahead to the end-of-season showdowns

Chris Kamara - Chris Kamara Posted 22nd May 2008 view comments

There is no bigger game in the world than the Championship play-off final.

There are World Cup finals, European Championship finals and Champions League finals but the most valuable one-off game in the world is the Championship play-off final because the rewards are so massive - around £60million according to some estimates.

Who will be celebrating this year?

Who will be celebrating this year?

Often these games are hugely entertaining because there's so much riding on them. I don't think you can be too cagey because you've to go out and win the game; the carrot of getting into the Premier League inspires teams to go out there and go for it.

But while there is a large prize for the winners, the losers will have to come to terms with another season in the Championship - and maybe that's not as damaging as you might think when you look at Tony Mowbray and West Brom.

Leeds struggled in front of a capacity crowd at Elland Road in the first leg of their semi-final, but once the pressure was off and the expectation level had dropped, they were able to perform much better.

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They lost the play-off final last year, but they moved on and won the division this season and Tony will be going into the Premier League with a squad he has assembled himself. But I'm sure the fans heading to Wembley this weekend won't want to contemplate seeing their team lose.

I was disappointed not to get called up to the Sky Sports team to cover the matches this weekend, but I'll definitely be tuning in at home to all three of the games...

Championship play-off final: Bristol City v Hull
2pm, Saturday, Sky Sports 1

At the start of the season you wouldn't have foreseen these two sides getting to Wembley, but it's been evident for the last few months that Hull and Bristol City would not be far away.

City have always been in the mix and were pushing for automatic promotion all the way through a fantastic season, while Hull came through with a late push and only just missed out on a top-two place.

One thing in Hull's favour is that they have more options coming off the bench than Bristol City and that may prove to be a decisive factor.

Perhaps the substitutions will be key - Caleb Folan, Craig Fagan and Nathan Doyle are likely to be held back in reserve by Phil Brown - but it's Frazier Campbell and Dean Windass who you need to be looking out for from the start.

They are a fantastic partnership and Campbell has enjoyed a fantastic start to his footballing education by working alongside Windass.

The two strikers give Hull different options; if the opposition play deep then Windass can destroy teams by coming short but if defenders play too high a line then Campbell can get in behind them.

Looking at the Bristol City team I'd pick out Lee Trundle as a key player. He's taken a while to settle and maybe the price tag was weighing heavily on his shoulders. A lot of supporters weren't enamoured by the club spending too much on him as a 30-year-old.

But thankfully from Gary Johnson's point of view he's shown in the last six weeks that he's good enough at this level. He's come good at a time when they really needed him to.

In contrast, Dele Adebola has arguably been better under Johnson this season as he has at any other time in his career. City fans have seen more top-drawer performances from him than other clubs he's been at.

The game is extremely hard to predict. Looking at the squad of 16 rather than just the starting XI, perhaps Hull have the edge but there are no guarantees that will be the important factor. Everybody has been writing Bristol City off all year, but Gary Johnson has defied the odds all along

League One play-off final: Doncaster v Leeds
2.30pm, Sunday, Sky Sports 2

I reckon 99 per cent of the clubs in League One will be hoping Leeds win this game.

They won't want Leeds to be in that division next year because they know they'd run away with it. Look at how close they got with a 15-point deduction this time around, so imagine what will happen when they start next season level with everybody else.

For me, that means there would only be one automatic place for everybody else to play for.

But that has nothing to do with what's going to happen in this one-off game because Doncaster Rovers showed in the semi-final against Southend what they're capable of.

That 5-1 win proved they had banished the disappointment of missing out on the top two on the final day of the season. That could have been a huge hangover, but they've proved they could handle it.

It will be interesting to see how both teams handle playing front of a full house at Wembley. Leeds struggled in front of a capacity crowd at Elland Road in the first leg of their semi-final, but once the pressure was off and the expectation level had dropped, they were able to perform much better in the away leg at Carlisle.

Leeds have a lot of good footballers, but the club is so big and the expectations are so high that some players might crumble.

Gary McAllister needs to rid that from their thinking and make them believe that they can perform in front of a big crowd.

Sean O'Driscoll will tell his players that they are the underdogs. Nobody expected them to show the form that they did against Southend and he'll want them to go out and show that again.

It will all be about who handles the pressure on the day.

League Two play-off final: Rochdale v Stockport
2.30pm, Monday, Sky Sports 2

It's a shame that Jim Gannon isn't talking to Sky Sports in the build-up to this play-off final because he has a problem with his satellite reception at home.

I think it's absolute nonsense for him to take that out on the football department and I don't think he's doing himself any favours.

I like Jim, he's a nice fellow, but I think he's being silly by turning this issue into a crusade. I hope the affair doesn't take away from Stockport's efforts and his own profile; let's hope he talks to us if they get the victory on Monday afternoon.

Jim is progressing as a manager and has improved the club every season. In his first year they avoided relegation, last season they just missed the play-offs and this time they've made it. He'll be hoping to go one further.

On the pitch I think Liam Dickinson has been in a rich vein of form and he's done very well for Stockport of late, so he will be worth keeping an eye on.

As for Rochdale, it has been a wonderful achievement for Keith Hill to get the team into the play-offs and the town is alive right now. His record at winning football matches is second-to-none and he must think the game's easy since taking over as manager.

They sold their best player, Glenn Murray, to Brighton in January but the team have pulled together, got stronger and full credit to them.

It's a shame this game is being played on the Monday and I hope the interest hasn't died down after the Championship and League One finals.

Once we knew none of the home nations would be playing in the European Championships, perhaps they should have reverted back to the traditional format with the Championship final on the Monday.

But these two teams are full of confidence and both managers will be delighted with the way they're playing, so we should see a good game.

Once again there's not a lot between the two sides and we'll so two quality managers who've improved their teams no end.

Comments (6)

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Chris Towle (Hull City fan) says...

Phil Brown and Gary Johnson are two really good managers but hopefully Brownie will get the better of him on the day. As a Hull fan I'm surprised at the speed of our progress this year and am praying we can make it over one last hurdle. Since we've moved to the KC stadium the mentality of the club has been so positive and professional that I don't remember us bottling it on the big occasion for some years now. However, this is the biggest occasion of all and just hope our experience shows on the day. Best of luck to Bristol City (after the match) who have had an equally great season. I'm quietly confident but nervous as hell.

Posted 12:02 23rd May 2008

Chris West (Liverpool fan) says...

i would like Hull City, Doncaster Rovers and Rochdale all win their play offs and be promoted...they all deserve it!

Posted 11:46 23rd May 2008

Nick Green (Leicester City fan) says...

I agree with Kammy on the most part, i'd put Doncaster as favourites to go up from League one mainly due to the big pressure factor, while Doncasters 5-1 victory will boost their confidence. Hull would be my favourites, playing exceptionally well towards the end of the season, although i didnt fancy Bristol to come through against Palace but they still managed it, so Johnson may well defy the odds again, and why not? Just a little point though,if they stay down, Leeds to run away with it next year? you're forgetting Leicester will be down there, if they keep their playing squad, surely their favourites for the title?

Posted 02:33 23rd May 2008

Daniel Fieldhouse (Leeds United fan) says...

15 point deduction. our two top goalscorers both get sent off in the same game after a long unbeaten run. Doncaster only sell 24000 tickets but the FL won't give Leeds anymore tickets. The football league can throw what they like at us but we are Leeds United and i'm so proud to be a Leeds United fan. most people thought we'd go down but look at us now, in the play off final. I hope so much we go up and prove EVERYBODY wrong. Lets hope when we go up the FL give us another 15 point deductuion and we prove them wrong again. Marching on together. Forever.

Posted 21:38 22nd May 2008

Michael Castle (West Bromwich Albion fan) says...

I'm really looking forward to the Championship play-off between 2 teams that have played some quality football this season. My heart and support favours Bristol as years ago I lived there and watched a lot of City games, so it'll be great to see them promoted. But my head says Hull, who are a fine club in a city that should have a premier team. Good luck to both. Can't understand why your not part of the Sky coverage, surely it's part of your remit!

Posted 15:59 22nd May 2008

Terry Flynn (Liverpool fan) says...

I havent really watched much championship football until this season, but now i find it throughly entertaining. I've found it to be just as bigger spectacle as the premiership and really enjoyed watching the play off semi's. Theres been alot of drama and a couple of world class goals, and i really think either of these teams will bring something good to the prem, but would like to see the tigers do it. im sure that all the teams going up are going to be alot more exciting to watch than the likes of Derby, although watching teams play against county was pretty fun to say the least

Posted 15:36 22nd May 2008

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