Tommy M,c looks at the Championship play off final and believes that Norwich can emerge successsful in an entertaining Wembley encounter.
Norwich v Middlesbrough
After a long hard Championship season where both teams have played a gruelling 48 games each, it all comes down to what is dubbed as the richest game in football at Wembley on Monday afternoon to decide who reaches the top tier in English football.
Middlesbrough had the easier of the two play-off semi-finals after they shaded the first leg 2-1 at Griffin Park against Brentford, they comfortably won the second 3-0 at the Riverside giving them a 5-1 aggregate score line.
Norwich had a slightly trickier path to the final against East Anglian rivals Ipswich. The First leg at Portman Road was a close affair and finished 1-1, but Norwich's class came to the fore in the second leg at Carrow Road where they won 3-1 giving them a 4-2 aggregate score line.
Boro have been consistent all season losing only 11 times and were in or around the automatic promotion places for most of it. They are a good side and have a squad made up of a good combination of youth and experience which has served them well all season. Their leading goal scorer Patrick Bamford only played a limited part for them in the semi-finals as he was carrying an injury and manager Aitor Karanka wanted to get him right for the final as I think he will need to have a big game for Boro to win. One weakness I think Boro might have is that they have been better at home than away this season and this could come into play at Wembley. However one plus for them is that they did the league double over Norwich this year; 1-0 at Carrow Road in April and 4-0 at the Riverside in November, although it is worth pointing out that Norwich were a completely different team in the first half of the season to what they are now.
If Norwich had replicated the form they showed in the second half of the season all year they would have ran away with this league. The Canaries have won 15 of their 22 games since the turn of the year taking 49 nine points from them, more than any other side in the league. They just missed out on automatic promotion by three points and I think they are determined not to miss out for a second time and will also have got a massive boost from knocking out their bitter rivals Ipswich in the semi-finals.
Norwich are a good all round side, but their main strength is their attacking prowess and I think this will be the difference in the final. Strikers Grabban, Jerome and Hooper have scored 43 goals between them and Howson, Redmond and especially Johnson have also been prolific from midfield. Although Boro have the best defensive record in the Championship I still think they will be extremely hard to contain.
I am really looking forward to this game as I think it will be highly entertaining with plenty of goals and that is why I'm recommending a bet on over 2.5 goals as well in this one. I have fancied Norwich from the start of the play-offs and although it could be a close game I still think they will come out on top.