Tommy Mc looks ahead to the weekend Championship playoff matches and is predicting a win for Brentford and a draw at Portman Road between Ipswich and Norwich.
Brentford to beat Middlesbrough
Brentford snuck in through the back door of the play-offs at the expense of Derby with a comprehensive 3-0 win over Wigan at Griffin Park last Saturday. The Rams only needed a draw at home with lowly Reading however they somehow managed to lose 3-0 and this moved the Bee's up to 5th by virtue of a point.
Middlesbrough finished up in 4th after a 0-0 draw at the Riverside with Brighton last Saturday. Boro finished one place and seven points above their opponents Brentford and had their play-off place guaranteed a few weeks before the end of the season.
Both of these semi-finals will be close affairs and should be very entertaining as there is not much between these four sides. This first semi pits two sides with strong home form together and I think both Brentford and Boro will need to take advantage of their home legs. Boro have been consistent all season and up until a few weeks ago they were still in with a shout of automatic promotion. Aitor Karanka has them well organised and they have a top class striker in the shape of Patrick Bamford who is on loan from Chelsea and will be vitally important for them in these two games. Brentford have had an amazing return to the Championship this year after coming up from League One and have surprised a lot of people with their promotion push. They are also well organised and are a side who all fight for each other and play together as a team with hard workers like Jonathan Douglas in midfield chipping in with goals. Their main threat up front is Andre Gray who has scored 16 goals so far and is attracting interest form the Premier League.
Brentford have been strong at Griffin Park this season and I would expect them to be going all out to win this game and give themselves a cushion going into the second leg. Boro are no pushovers, but I think Brentford will win this first leg and try to hold on in the second.
Ipswich v Norwich
Ipswich had a nervy end to the season last Saturday and like Derby just needed a draw to make the play-offs however they couldn't manage that as they lost 3-2 away to Blackburn at Ewood Park and luckily for them Derby lost as well therefore guaranteeing them the final play-off spot.
Norwich ended the season in style last Saturday when they beat Fulham 4-2 at Carrow Road. The Canaries finished up in 3rd place; just three points shy of automatic promotion which was a great achievement considering they were languishing in mid-table at the turn of the year.
This second semi should be a cracking affair as both of these sides are fierce rivals in East Anglia. Norwich won both league games against Ipswich this season as did Middlesbrough against Brentford however when it comes to the play-offs I wouldn't put too much emphasis on the head-to-head records. Ipswich have had a good season and like Brentford are a hard working side with decent players who scrap for each other week in, week out. Their two main strengths are their very experienced manager Mick McCarthy and their talisman Daryl Murphy who has scored 27 goals so far this season and will need to be on song for Ipswich to have any chance of making the final.
Norwich are looking to make an immediate return to the Premier League and I think they will as I fancy them strongly to win the play-offs. Had the Canaries outstanding run started a month earlier they would've won the league no problem as they have been one of the most entertaining sides in the second half of the season. Unlike Ipswich, Norwich are blessed with strikers with Lewis Grabban, Cameroon Jerome and Gary Hooper scoring 42 goals between them and also Bradley Johnson chipping in with 15 goals from midfield. I think this will be the difference in these two legs, especially at Carrow Road.
I think Norwich will be patient in the first leg as they know they are well capable of beating Ipswich at home in the second, so I think they would be happy to take a draw from Portman Road on Saturday morning.