The EFL Play-Off Finals are on this weekend and pundit Gab Sutton gives us his tasty treble…
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Coventry to beat Luton – 2/1
Emotion can play a huge part in high-stakes games, and the fact Mark Robins has had six very happy years in his second spell as Coventry boss, making him a bona fide club legend, could have a huge sway.
Rob Edwards has done an extraordinary job at Luton, after taking over from Nathan Jones in November, he deserves immense credit, and may have the greater long-term potential of the two managers.
As brilliant as Edwards is, however, both as a coach and a motivator, it’s impossible to be quite as emotionally invested in playing for him as a leader as Coventry players will be for Mark Robins.
Eight of the Sky Blues XI that beat Middlesbrough 1-0 in the second leg had played for Robins for two seasons or more, with midfielder Liam Kelly having been part of the journey from League Two.
That sense of loyalty could count for a lot, as the Midlanders intend to get over the line in the do-or-die moments.
That was certainly the case at the Riverside Stadium, where Luke McNally, Kyle McFadzean and Callum Doyle defended the box superbly, meaning for all the pressure their hosts applied, goalkeeper Ben Wilson was only tested once.
Luton will feel they can apply similar pressure, but while Carlton Morris needs crosses into the box to be effective, Viktor Gyokeres can threaten individualistically, and that could be the difference between the two sides.
The Hatters will have to perform close to their best in order to give Morris the tailored service he needs, and therefore give themselves a good chance of winning, whereas Coventry don’t, because of how effectively Gyokeres can carry them in transition – and how well they defend under pressure.
Morris has had a fantastic season and will pose a serious aerial and physical threat, but Gyokeres could be the one who grabs the headlines.
Barnsley to beat Sheffield Wednesday – 12/5
Sheffield Wednesday achieved one of the greatest comebacks in EFL Play-Off history in their Semi-Final second leg, overturning a four-goal aggregate deficit to go through on penalties.
On the one hand, the Owls displayed incredible strength of character to come back when many had written them off, testament to manager Darren Moore.
On the other, there has to be a question over how they got themselves into that situation in the first place.
It was proven that Wednesday could afford to put themselves in that position against Peterborough, who are a little erratic, inconsistent and prone to the odd no-show, but there’s no room for error against a side as consistently reliable as Barnsley.
The Reds have won 21 of their last 33 League One encounters – almost two in three – with the vast majority of those victories bar Wycombe away coming via a convincing margin, and/or dominant in performance.
Concerns over the fitness of Mads Andersen, before the Play-Offs, have been assuaged and with their best XI ready, it looks hopeful for the Reds.
Tarn are brilliantly coached by Michael Duff, they have a striker in James Norwood who has displayed an astonishing work ethic this season and will press from the front relentlessly, not to mention the best midfielder in the league in Luca Connell.
Wednesday have a fine technician themselves in Barry Bannan, and a solid midfielder in Will Vaulks, but since the energetic George Byers got injured in March, they’ve only won six in 14, conceding 20 goals in that time.
Meanwhile, they face a Barnsley side who only conceded once in their Semi-Final with Bolton and will feel their back-three is a different proposition with Mads Andersen in it.
Duff had to try less than optimal solutions when the stalwart missed the final two games of the regular league season, resulting in seven goals shipped to MK Dons and Ipswich, but they’ve kept three clean sheets in the last four Andersen has started.
Plus, Barnsley have done the double over Wednesday this season – they just need to repeat the trick when it really matters.
Carlisle to beat Stockport – 19/10
Paul Simpson inspired Carlisle to a stunning revival in his first spell as manager, leading the Cumbrians to respond to their Football League exit in 2004 with back-to-back promotions, before leaving for Preston North End.
That stint, alone, made ‘Simmo’ a bona fide club legend, and he’s done a similar job in his second stint, comfortably saving the club from relegation last season before guiding them into promotion contention this year – if he completes this mission, he’ll become something of a deity at Brunton Park!
Similarly to Mark Robins with Coventry, there is an emotional connection to Simpson based on his history with the club which could be significant to the dynamics of the game at high-stakes moments.
Plus, opponents Stockport are missing key target man Kyle Wootton, who is important to the way they play.
The Hatters aren’t a long ball team, but they do look to play forward early where they can, and it massively helps them having a strong, aerially accomplished centre-forward, who likes to play with their back to goal.
Isaac Olaofe is strong, but he does his best work feeding off a focal point and facing goal, while the same can be said of willing runner Jack Stretton and link-up man and poacher Paddy Madden.
It’s possible, therefore, that the experienced Paul Huntington gobbles up a lot of Stockport’s longer passes from the back, allowing Owen Moxon to run the show in midfield to cap off a stunning individual campaign.
Moxon brings boundless energy and outstanding vision, which could see him thrive on the Wembley turf, especially with Omari Patrick to pick out, while poacher Krystian Dennis comes alive in the box.
- Coventry to beat Luton – 2/1
- Barnsley to beat Sheffield Wednesday – 12/5
- Carlisle to beat Stockport – 19/10
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