The EFL Championship Playoffs are some of the most popular and dramatic games in the English footballing calendar, providing second-tier teams a shot at Premier League action.
Over the years, the playoffs have produced some unforgettable games and moments, not least the jaw-dropping conclusion to the play-off semi-final between Watford and Leicester in 2013.
With just 60 seconds on the clock and the game tied at 2-2 on aggregate, the Foxes missed a penalty and were punished by a last-gasp goal from Troy Deeney on the counterattack. If anyone wants an encapsulation of the drama of the playoffs, they should just watch that minute-and-a-half or so of footage.
The 1998 play-off final between Charlton and Sunderland was another spectacle to behold, providing a rollercoaster of emotion to end 4-4 after extra-time, with Charlton ultimately prevailing on penalties.
The playoffs are played by those teams who place third, fourth, fifth and sixth in the Championship, with the teams coming first and second earning automatic promotion to the Premier League.
This year’s playoff final will be held at Wembley Stadium on May 29, with the semi-finals expected to take place a week after the regular season ends on May 8.
Norwich City and Watford have already confirmed their promotion to top-flight football, while Brentford have qualified for the playoffs. That leaves three more playoff spots up for grabs.
Betting odds convey that Bournemouth and Swansea are the favourites to make this year’s playoff final, however football can be an unpredictable game and fans should be prepared for anything.
Bournemouth began the season with former assistant manager Jason Tindall at the helm, but after a rocky start to the season they parted ways and Jonathan Woodgate – who had been brought into the backroom staff by Tindall – stepped into his shoes.
Since then, the Cherries found a terrific run of form and earned wins over both Watford and Norwich, stringing together six consecutive victories throughout April.
Arnaut Danjuma has been one of Bournemouth’s standout players of the campaign, picking up 15 goals in 32 Championship appearances at the time of writing. Add to that his seven assists and it’s clear to see why he’s a fan favourite.
Dominic Solanke matches Danjuma’s goal tally, with 11 assists to his name in 39 appearances. The pair have been crucial to Bournemouth’s success this season.
Swansea suffered a 3-0 defeat to the Cherries back in March, prompting a four-game losing streak that ended their hopes of automatic promotion. However, they snapped that spell with two impressive wins on the road against Millwall and Sheffield Wednesday, offering them breathing space in the race to the playoffs.
Their main issue this season has been finding the back of the net, notching the least amount of goals in the Championship’s top eight teams as things stand. However, they’ve only conceded 34, the least of any club outside the top two.
Andre Ayew and Jamal Lowe have been their only real goalscoring options this season, with Marc Guehi and Conor Hourihane also proving themselves important members of the squad.
Swansea’s form has been alarming at times this season and it’s surprising to see them struggling in the fight for the playoffs, but the sheer talent in their squad makes them one of the clear contenders to return to the Premier League.
Brentford had previously been right in the mix for automatic promotion before a string of draws set them back, however they have not lost a game since the beginning of March.
Having lost out to Fulham in last year’s playoff final, the Bees are once again striving for top-flight football and have already secured their place in this year’s playoffs.
Their 1-0 away win over Bournemouth in late April was a crucial victory, catapulting them above their playoff rivals and helping them confirm their qualification.
Ivan Toney has been prolific for the Bees, picking up 29 goals to make him the league’s leading scorer as things stand. His prowess in front of goal, coupled with Brentford’s consistent form this season, make them a dangerous side to face in the playoffs.
Barnsley have been one of the true surprise packages of this Championship season, regularly grinding out victories to keep their playoff hopes alive, despite a poor start to the season which saw them without a win in their first seven games.
New manager Valerian Ismael put his trust in young players like Jack Walton and Callum Styles, who have seized their chance and worked extremely well with the likes of Barnsley stalwarts Alex Mowatt and Cauley Woodrow.
Barnsley have proven themselves a difficult side to beat, having only lost three times since the start of February and stringing together seven wins on the bounce in that period.
The race to the playoffs has so far been a fascinating one, with plenty of surprises along the way. Though neither were the first to secure their qualification for the playoffs, Bournemouth and Swansea remain the leading favourites to earn promotion to the Premier League alongside Watford and Norwich.
However, both Barnsley and Brentford have proven time and again this season that they are also serious contenders for promotion, making this year’s playoffs a tantalising prospect.