We’ve had a topsy-turvy 45 games and for every division, it all comes down to this: EFL pundit Gab Sutton predicts the final day in his EFL Final Weekend Preview.
The Championship has gifted us neutrals a final day reminiscent of the last game of the 2004-05 Premier League season, when no team was mathematically relegated before kick-off.
What’s more, no team can afford to settle for a draw.
Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday must win to give themselves a chance of staying up, but the Owls face Derby County, who are also in danger after six straight defeats.
A point is no good to Wayne Rooney’s side if the Millers beat Cardiff to go level on points with a superior goal difference. Got it?
While we’re at it, Wycombe Wanderers are not mathematically down yet and will be trying to put at least 14 goals past Middlesbrough whilst hoping other results go their way, which should provide entertainment value if nothing else.
Middlesbrough to win and over 6.5 goals
Middlesbrough v Wycombe Wanderers
The chances of Blade-by-birth Neil Warnock starting Jonny Howson in goal and Jordan Archer up top while asking 5’7” Neeskens Kebano to man mark target man Uche Ikpeazu amid a group of second stringers from the youth team – setting his team up to ship 14 and relegate his boyhood foes – are very slim.
That said, Gareth Ainsworth likes to get his players believing in the impossible and he is not the type of manager to accept defeat before time, so this match could have something of a wacky, “Roy of the Rovers” feel.
Wycombe have plenty of spirit too, after toppling Play-Off participants Bournemouth at Adams Park last week, thanks to the brilliance of Ikpeazu, who has enjoyed a fantastic individual campaign.
Everton loanee Dennis Adeniran and stalwart Curtis Thompson have built a solid partnership in the middle for The Chairboys – two aggressive ball-winners who will both look to steal the ball high up here.
On the one hand, Wanderers have players in Admiral Muskwe, Anis Mehmeti and Garath McCleary who could carve their hosts open in transition after stealing the ball high up.
Equally, the visitors may at times get punished for the high press, especially if left-sided centre-back Joe Jacobson gets exposed to the pace of Kebano, Duncan Watmore or Yannick Bolasie, let alone the trio simultaneously.
"We'll be back one day."
— Wycombe Wanderers (@wwfcofficial) May 6, 2021
No Championship game has ever had more than 10 goals scored – there were two 5-5s in 2018 between Bristol City and Hull then Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest respectively – it would not be a huge surprise if this encounter gets close to that record.Gabriel Sutton
Cardiff to win
Cardiff City v Rotherham United
The permutations of this match, one would think, will have a bearing on the outcome.
Cardiff playing Rotherham on the final day, when the visitors must win to have a chance of beating the drop and the hosts knowing their upper-midtable fate, is not the same thing as this fixture taking place in February, when the Bluebirds were on a six-game winning streak and in the Play-Off places.
That said, similar logic could have been applied to many of the Millers recent encounters and yet they have taken six points from their previous 11 games.
Performances have not been horrendous, as such, in all those matches and in some of them, it has been poor finishing that has primarily let them down.
At the same time, it’s hard to escape the sense that the South Yorkshire outfit create more chances with a style of build-up play that is completely at odds with the style their manager imposes.
Daniel Barlaser and Ben Wiles are tidy midfielders who want the ball to feet, but Paul Warne’s style is to go long from deep which means Rotherham can give the ball away cheaply.
Cardiff possess an aerial specialist in Aiden Flint, as well as a dominant defender in Curtis Nelson, so the smart money is on Mick McCarthy’s side having the wherewithal to gobble up the aerial duels, then have enough quality to make them pay at the other end.
Jonny Williams on Kieffer Moore: ‘He’s a top player. He’s improved so much since I saw him at Ipswich. He didn't play much under Mick at Ipswich at all. He was big, but he was not as big as he is now! We do call him Zlatan!’ Elis James’ Feast of Football podcast pic.twitter.com/iFtiO5THCs
— View From The Ninian (@VFTNinian) April 28, 2021
Kieffer Moore is one of the best strikers in the division while Harry Wilson scored a spectacular hat-trick at Birmingham last week. Rotherham have more to play for but that’s been the case in most of their recent games and it has not made much of a difference.Gabriel Sutton
Derby to win
Derby County v Sheffield Wednesday
There is pressure on both teams this weekend but in different ways.
For Wednesday, the situation is win or bust and even with three points they may not beat the drop, whereas Derby can mathematically confirm survival with a victory but would be safe with a point if Rotherham fail to win.
This match, therefore, will be dictated to some extent by events in Cardiff.
If Rotherham are winning comfortably at one stage, then Derby will frantically search for the victory while despondency may creep in for the visitors, but if the Millers are losing heavily, then Wednesday will chase the win that would keep them up while their hosts will be clinging on.
For that reason, it is difficult to decipher what the dynamics of this contest will be, but what we do know is that there will always be one team that has to score and it is likely that, more often than not, that team will be the visitors.
Darren Moore’s side, though, have tended to carry a threat by playing early balls in behind for forwards to chase, chiefly the lively Josh Windass, who has been such a key performer in recent weeks.
Windass, along with wide speedsters Andre Green and Kadeem Harris, might thrive when Derby are throwing men forward but are less likely to do so if Wednesday are pumping balls into packed penalty areas.
Derby, meanwhile, have players in wide poacher Martyn Waghorn, skill merchant Tom Lawrence, experienced focal point Colin Kazim-Richards and athlete Jason Knight who can cause problems on their day, not to mention Louis Sibley and Patrick Roberts as options in reserve.
💷 “Erik Alonso may try [to lower] the price from Mel Morris.”
🤝 “I do not think [relegation] stops the purchase of Derby.”
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) May 5, 2021
Sheffield Wednesday carry a threat on the counter-attack but, if the pressure is primarily on them rather than Derby to score, I don’t see their forwards getting the space they want to run in behind.Gabriel Sutton
League One Play-Off Scramble
With the automatic promotion, the title, relegation and three Play-Off spots wrapped up, the only key matter remaining in League One is the scramble for sixth place.
Portsmouth are in pole position to extend their campaign and will do just that if, against Accrington Stanley, they match or better the results of their two rivals, Oxford and Charlton.
The Yellows can secure a second successive Play-Off campaign if they better Pompey’s result when they host Burton, whereas the situation is more complex for Nigel Adkins’ side.
The South Londoners can reach the top six if they draw with Hull and Oxford lose while Portsmouth are defeated by at least two goals, but realistically they need to win and hope their two competitors fail to do so.
Charlton to win
Charlton Athletic v Hull City
Nigel Adkins faces his old club this weekend but the Charlton boss has more important things on his mind, hoping his side can beat the newly crowned League One champions and see other results go their way.
The Addicks have quality in attack in target man Jayden Stockley, individualistic Liverpool loanee Liam Millar and mobile forward Chuks Aneke, who all contributed to the midweek 3-1 win over Lincoln.
The Londoners have an appealing midfield blend, too, with the control and discipline of Ben Watson supported by the effervescent energy of Alex Gilbey and Jake Forster-Caskey’s sublime left-footed deliveries.
Hull have completed their own mission, so it would not be a huge surprise if Grant McCann sees a need to rotate to maintain freshness and motivation.
💬 "The object was to go and get the win. We did that. It makes it interesting for the final one now…"
Watch Nigel Adkins' full post-match interview with CharltonTV following this evening's victory over Lincoln City…
— Charlton Athletic FC (@CAFCofficial) May 4, 2021
Charlton need other results to go their way to extend their season but, after an impressive win over Lincoln in midweek, I think they’ll hold their side of the bargain.Gabriel Sutton
Oxford to win
Oxford United v Burton Albion
Karl Robinson’s side kept their season alive last Saturday by coming from behind to win 3-2 at Shrewsbury.
Late substitute Daniel Agyei has the raw athleticism to cause problems for tiring defences, which makes the former Coventry forward the perfect option from the bench, even if Robinson likes more intelligent operators like James Henry, Elliot Lee and Brandon Barker from the outset.
Cameron Brannagan, though, will look to run the show at the Kassam because, having been a dynamic, box-to-box man previously, the Liverpool academy graduate undertook a deeper, controlling role in the absence of Alex Gorrin, who now struggles to get into the XI – such is the range of options available to Robinson.
BREAKING: Marcus McGuane has left Nottingham Forest and joined Oxford United for an undisclosed fee. #NFFC
— George Harbey (@georgeharbey) May 6, 2021
Oxford have strength in depth and, with Burton already safe, should get the win they need to both deny Charlton a Play-Off spot and put the heat on Portsmouth.Gabriel Sutton
Portsmouth to win
Portsmouth v Accrington Stanley
Danny Cowley is the ultimate pragmatist who is extremely accomplished at quickly putting together teams that suit the personnel available.
Cowley experimented briefly with 3-5-2 but, for the 3-1 win at AFC Wimbledon last time out, reverted to the 4-2-3-1 his predecessor at Portsmouth preferred.
The difference, though, is that left-back Lee Brown, so often perceived as a solid, reliable left-back that will not offer much beyond the half-way line, drove beyond wing-partner Ronan Curtis last week and scored two goals.
Cowley does not see players merely as they are, but how they can be improved: it’s one thing to take an 18-year-old on another level, but to find new dimension’s in a 30-year-old’s game is quite some going.
Pompey only offered the Cowley brothers a contract until the end of the season initially, but must surely extend that deal – regardless of whether they finish in the Play-Offs.
#Pompey have won their last two league games on just two occasions this century.
Both occasions we were promoted.
2002/2003 and 2016/17.
What an omen!! pic.twitter.com/7Ry6DQalKN
— Wayne Harris (@wayneharrispfc) April 29, 2021
Accrington Stanley have enjoyed an excellent season and have secured a fourth at this level, which is a great achievement for a club small in numbers but huge in heart. I see Portsmouth winning this one, though and securing a Play-Off spot.Gabriel Sutton
League Two Automatic Promotion and Title
League Two is unquestionably the most exciting division going into the final day of the EFL season, even if Grimsby and Southend are already down while Cheltenham have secured promotion to League One.
As many as eight teams kick-off on Saturday not knowing their fate as two automatic spots are up for grabs.
Cambridge, Bolton and Morecambe will compete for those and the U’s will be promoted unless they lose to Grimsby while Bolton and Morecambe win, which is an unlikely series of events.
More at risk are Ian Evatt’s Bolton side, who at Crawley must match or better Morecambe’s result against Bradford – if the Shrimps gain so much as a point on the current incumbents of third place, they will go up by virtue of goal difference.
The title race is also still in play and while securing top spot will not be at the forefront of Cambridge’s mind after successive defeats, they would be crowned champions if they are victorious and Cheltenham fail to beat Harrogate, who stunned the U’s in a nine-goal thriller last Friday.
Cambridge to win -1 handicap
Cambridge United v Grimsby Town
In that 5-4 defeat in North Yorkshire, Cambridge were minutes away from effectively securing League One football for the first time in 19 years, before being denied by Kevin Lokko’s winner.
It is a credit to Mark Bonner, though, that after two failed attempts to secure promotion, having lost to Stevenage the previous Saturday, he still had the courage to feature on the EFL highlights show as agreed on Saturday night, where many in his position would have gone back on their word.
Bonner is a man of integrity and somebody the modern footballer enjoys working for, which is a big factor in him achieving what looks set to be an outstanding first full season in management.
Paul Mullin and Wes Hoolahan have grabbed all the headlines but athletic right-back Kyle Knoyle, anchor man Paul Digby and dynamic midfielder Hiram Boateng and hardworking striker Joe Ironside are the unsung heroes who should be celebrated in equal measure if Cambridge do the job.
3⃣0⃣+ league goals in a season fr. 10/11 (t4t; inc. P/Os):
20/21: 🔥TONEY, 🔥CLARKE-HARRIS, 🔥MULLIN
17/18: Salah, Kane
12/13: Murray, Pope
11/12: RVP, Rhodes
10/11: Mackail-Smith#BrentfordFC #PUFC #CamUTD pic.twitter.com/naOFRLGjTK
— playmakerstats (@playmaker_EN) May 4, 2021
I expect Cambridge to be celebrating come 5pm but, in an additional note, it’s great to see Grimsby get new ownership. Jason Stockwood and Andrew Pettit have the money, the passion and the leadership qualities to take the Mariners forward so, although they’re going down for now, I look forward to seeing such a grand old club back in the EFL very soon.”Gabriel Sutton
Brendan Kiernan to score anytime
Cheltenham Town v Harrogate Town
Neutrals might have been expecting to discuss Cambridge’s historic promotion to the third tier last Friday but instead, Brendan Kiernan grabbed the headlines.
The 28-year-old has made 15 substitute appearances this season in contrast with 14 starts, while the games he has played from the outset have come in various different positions; either side of a four-man midfield or wide of a main striker.
Against the U’s, though, Kiernan himself played down the middle as the strike-partner to target man Mark Beck and unleashed chaos with his direct running.
— Harrogate Town AFC (@HarrogateTown) May 5, 2021
Cheltenham must win to secure the title unless Cambridge fail to beat Grimsby, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brendan Kiernan start to exploit the space in behind with his pace and power, playing the role of party pooper once again.Gabriel Sutton
Bolton to win
Crawley Town v Bolton Wanderers
Bolton fans congregated outside the University of Bolton Stadium last Saturday, expecting to celebrate promotion after Gethin Jones put them ahead against Exeter early on.
Instead, Wanderers lost 2-1 to the Grecians due to a 96th-minute goal while Morecambe applied the heat with victory at Walsall, forcing natives to trudge home crestfallen.
The Trotters have accrued a remarkable 48 points from their last 21 games, though, and have key man Antoni Sarcevic back to support the likes of Eoin Doyle and Oladapo Afolayan in attack.
New week, huge game. Still in our hands. COYWM! 🙏 #bwfc
— Bolton Wanderers Fans (@BwfcFans) May 3, 2021
Evatt’s troops should have enough to see off Crawley, who have produced some languid displays against Carlisle, Oldham and Newport since their Play-Off dreams died.Gabriel Sutton
League Two Play-Off Scramble
One of Cambridge, Bolton and Morecambe will miss out on automatic promotion and thus feature in the Play-Offs, but there are still three spots up for grabs.
Newport and Tranmere are in pole positions to secure two of them and can do so by avoiding defeat in their respective fixtures with Southend and Colchester.
Those two sides know their respective fates and are unlikely to threaten, so this blog will work on the assumption that Michael Flynn and Keith Hill will see their sides secure a top seven berth – they could meet one another for a Play-Off Semi-Final later this month.
In that scenario, we have a scramble between Forest Green, Exeter and Salford for the final Play-Off spot.
Away to Oldham, Forest Green must match or better Exeter’s result against Barrow whilst ensuring Salford do not gain more than one point on them.
The Grecians, meanwhile, can attain seventh place if they better Forest Green’s result and if Salford do not gain more than one point on them.
Gary Bowyer’s side are in the weakest position, needing to beat Leyton Orient and hope that both Forest Green and Exeter fail to win.
Exeter to win
Exeter City v Barrow
Exeter would have been consigned to another season in League Two had they lost to Bolton last week, while even a draw would have left them in a tight spot.
Their craving for all three points was epitomised by the fact that, when they won a wide free-kick in the 96th-minute with the scores tied, manager Matt Taylor sent forward goalkeeper Jokull Andresson.
The Reading loanee might not have scored, but he did cause confusion that allowed Pierce Sweeney to head home at the back-post. Just reward for a spirited second half.
The Grecians looked nervy early on but, after going behind, centre-backs Sweeney and Alex Hartridge worked well together and that gave the Devoners a platform to grow into the game in the second half.
Taylor has often been criticised for not always being brave enough in-game, but as well as bringing on tenacious ball-winner Nigel Atangana and attacking left-back Jack Sparkes who influenced the game, he was also happy to finish the game with four forwards.
Raw runner Ben Seymour and the physical Alex Fisher replaced midfielder Jake Taylor and right-back Josh Key to go up top, joining usual talisman Ryan Bowman and Matt Jay.
Exeter’s sense of adventure is bad news for Salford and Forest Green – they will surely give the latter no room for error.
💬 “In a time when football club ownership and the relationship between fans and their clubs is under scrutiny following the Super League proposals, we are proud to be a supporter-owned club, with our fans at the heart of everything we do."
– Nick Hawker and Julian Tagg pic.twitter.com/GZ4NXYxBed
— Exeter City (@OfficialECFC) May 5, 2021
Pierce Sweeney’s injury-time winner was a crucial moment in Exeter’s season. The Grecians need to back-up that iconic victory at Bolton with three points against lower-placed opposition and I think they’ll do that.Gabriel Sutton
Oldham to win and Both Teams to Score
Oldham Athletic v Forest Green Rovers
Forest Green have accrued eight points from five games since Jimmy Ball took charge and performances have been positive, especially given that they battled to victory over fellow promotion competitors Tranmere last time out with 10 men.
They are, though, still missing a cutting edge up top in the absence of Jamille Matt and, against an Oldham side possessing the likes of Dylan Bahamboula and Conor McAleny, could come unstuck and give Exeter a chance to leapfrog them into the top seven.
Dylan Bahamboula- Seriously impressive season and arguably the best player in League 2. Above average in a lot of metrics. He looks a level above L2 if not a couple of levels above. #EFL #OAFC pic.twitter.com/yOaLqZ2f7k
— Chris Kearney (@AnalyticsForest) April 23, 2021
If Exeter’s game goes as expected, Forest Green will need to win – but I can see Bahamboula and McAleny working their magic for Keith Curle’s side.Gabriel Sutton
Leyton Orient to win
Salford City v Leyton Orient
Salford have enjoyed some solid performances under Gary Bowyer’s guidance, keeping five clean sheets in 10.
The other side of that coin, though, is that the Ammies have not shown too much ambition going forward and mustered only one, off-target, shot at goal in the 1-0 defeat at Colchester last time out.
Granted, the dismissal of Di’Shon Bernard just after the half-hour mark hindered Bowyer’s plan in Essex – and Ashley Hunter was also sent off in injury-time.
With Forest Green winning, they had little to lose and have now gone from being in pole position to being two points off the Play-Offs, needing a significant sequence of results to extend their season.
Jobi McAnuff a brilliant servent for Orient for the last few years. Will be interesting to see if he is still with us in some capacity next year #lofc
— Neil (@N_m_93) May 1, 2021
Leyton Orient’s interim head coach, Jobi McAnuff, is playing for the permanent gig and, given that he appears well-respected by his players, it would not be a huge surprise to see the visitors deliver a performance.Gabriel Sutton