There’s still so much to play for on the EFL Final Day and Gab Sutton has looked at all the action and the drama that could unfold.
“It’s likely that Luton will sow up their Play-Off spot by beating Reading, and that Millwall may miss out, so Middlesbrough boss Chris Wilder must ironically hope for the downfall of his beloved Sheffield United. The Blades can secure a top-six berth with a victory, but we don’t quite know what sort of mood champions Fulham will be in.”Gabriel Sutton
Championship Play-Off scramble
With Fulham crowned champions on Monday, Bournemouth tied up the second spot on Tuesday and the relegation places long confirmed, the final piece of the Championship jigsaw is identifying the remaining Play-Off participants.
Nottingham Forest and Huddersfield have extended their season, and joining them will be two of Sheffield United, Luton, Middlesbrough and Millwall.
The Hatters are still in the driving seat for a spot, despite a 7-0 thumping by Fulham that may have rocked their confidence as well as decimating their goal difference.
Nathan Jones’ side will be in the top six regardless of other results if they beat Reading, who have already secured safety, which looks a favourable assignment.
United, meanwhile, must welcome Fulham, hoping the newly-crowned visitors have had one too many glasses of celebratory champagne.
If the Blades are defeated, the team likeliest to taking advantage with a victory is Middlesbrough, because Millwall finishing higher would require a six-goal swing as well as them winning at Bournemouth.
The Lions, therefore, must do their own job and hope that either Paul Heckingbottom’s side fall victim to another Fulham goal glut, or that Luton lose to Reading and Middlesbrough fail to beat Preston North End.
On that basis, it seems reasonable to conclude that Luton should bounce back from that mauling at Craven Cottage by getting the result they need to sow up a top six berth – and that too much would need to happen for Gary Rowett’s side to make the cut.
In that case, we would be looking at one of Sheffield United or Middlesbrough joining Forest, Huddersfield and Luton in the Play-Offs.
In an ironic twist of fate, Boro boss Chris Wilder may well have to hope for the downfall of the club he supports, played for and managed with great success, in order for his current employers to achieve their objective.
If the Blades were to draw with Fulham, then Middlesbrough would need to beat PNE by at least two goals in order to draw level on goal difference, and possibly more depending on the specific score at Bramall Lane.
If Sheffield United draw 1-1, for example, then Middlesbrough winning 2-0 would not be enough because it would put them level on points, goal difference and goals scored, meaning the teams would be separated by results between them.
In that scenario, United’s 4-1 win in the previous meeting would swing it their way, despite the fact they lost 2-0 in the reverse fixture at the Riverside Stadium (the same logic would be applied for the Blades drawing 2-2 and Boro winning 3-1, or 3-3 and 4-2 and so on).
My Thoughts on the game today we were quality I was nervous at the start given the line up but once we scored I thought we were comfortable really and Matty Crooks deserved his 2 goals and Jonny Howson getting in on the act too onto Preston now with still everything to play for.
— THESMOGGIES (@BOROSTEELARMY) April 30, 2022
Middlesbrough, therefore, are left in an odd situation where they do not know if winning the game will be the primary objective, or if it’s about winning by a specific margin – conversely, their own result could be irrelevant.
Wilder’s approach may well be to start by focusing on his own side’s business in the first half, and then re-assess what’s required at the interval and beyond – by that point, fans will know the state of play and that could be communicated to the team as well.
However, the ultimate task for managers in these dramatic final days is to be aware of what’s going on elsewhere to inform the appropriate level of urgency, without getting drawn into the emotion of the occasion.
With a leader like Jonny Howson patrolling the midfield, though, Boro should avoid getting embroiled in a wild goose chase in which tactical and technical details of the challenges right in front of them become secondary.
Middlesbrough to finish in the top six – 7/4
“Bristol Rovers against Scunthorpe could be a cricket score, given that there is likely to be an onus on the hosts to win by a specific margin, which adds a unique layer of intrigue to this final day. Northampton might win at Barrow, but Scunny are so weak defensively that who’s to say the Gas don’t clinch third by hitting six, seven or eight goals if they need to?”Gabriel Sutton
League Two Automatic Promotion Race
On the face of things, Northampton just need to win at Barrow to claim the third automatic promotion spot, joining Exeter and Forest Green in League One. Simples.
And, if Bristol Rovers had any other final day opponent, that would be the accepted logic, with the Cobblers having a superior goal difference by +5.
As it happens, though, the Gas are at home to relegated Scunthorpe, who have shipped a whopping 83 goals this season and lost 27 times in 45 league games.
I still can’t process this from a golf course in Spain, my golf was rank but did I care 🤷🏼♂️
— Seamus Brennan (@shay1808b) May 1, 2022
If Joey Barton’s side attack this game with the mindset of trying to score six or more goals, they might well get them against what looks a rudderless ship.
Iron boss Keith Hill has been giving youngsters like Dan Gallimore, Harry Lewis and Jack Moore-Billam their opportunities in the closing weeks of the campaign, because he wants to get a look at players who may be part of the first team squad in the National League next season and almost all out of contract senior players will be released.
Consequently, the visitors could struggle to stem the flow against a high Rovers defensive line and relentless attacks.
With that in mind, one plausible scenario is that Joey Barton’s side end up in a race to get ahead of Northampton on goal difference.
The Cobblers are the lowest scorers in the top seven – they have scored fewer than 17th-placed Harrogate, in fact – and have tended to edge out low-scoring encounters through set pieces and individual Mitch Pinnock magic.
Although, that has changed more recently, with 3-0 and 4-2 victories over Harrogate and Leyton Orient respectively.
However, Rovers have quality in Elliot Anderson, Aaron Collins and Antony Evans, while Sam Finley brings relentless energy in midfield and whenever they show the urgency to score against Scunthorpe, it is likely they will not be too far off doing so.
There is a scenario, therefore, whereby the unique circumstances mean Rovers end up winning by eight or more goals, and record the biggest league victory in the club’s history – incidentally, 8-0 is available at a speculative poke of 66/1.
Realistically, it’s between Northampton and Bristol Rovers for third spot, because the chances of neither side being victorious are very slim.
In that scenario, though, Mansfield would win automatic promotion by beating Forest Green and if they, too, were to fail to win, then Port Vale could go up by beating Exeter – so mathematically speaking we go into the final day with four teams having a chance, which in itself is extraordinary.
Our prediction, though, is that a goal glut at the Mem swings it towards Bristol Rovers.
Bristol Rovers to finish in the top three – 6/4
“Sutton have been in the top seven for several weeks, but they enter the final day with their Play-Off hopes outside their control. Port Vale have dropped off at the wrong time, though, and if they lose to crown Exeter champions, Matt Gray’s side can extend their season with a victory regardless of Swindon’s result."Gabriel Sutton
Sutton can reach the Play-Offs if they win and either Swindon fail to do so, or Port Vale lose.
The bad news for Matt Gray’s side is that Swindon are at midtable Walsall, who have long known their fate lies in League Two next season, and an away win in the Black Country is likely.
The good news is that Vale face leaders Exeter, who would secure the title with a victory.
The Grecians have not led League Two at any point prior to last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Northampton and, with Forest Green losing to Harrogate, they now go into the final day in the box seat for top honours.
The Valiants have suffered from injuries in midfield to Brad Walker and others and, having been five points clear in the automatic promotion race barely a fortnight ago, they may go into the final day with a sense of having blown an old opportunity as opposed to embracing a new one.
If Darrell Clarke’s side suffer a fourth consecutive defeat, Sutton can secure a Play-Off berth by winning at Harrogate, which would be a remarkable achievement for their first ever season in the EFL, having only just turned full-time in the summer.
— Sutton United FC (@suttonunited) April 30, 2022
The Amber & Chocolates, however, require a performance drastically improved from the one that saw them defeated 4-1 by Bradford last time out, but it’s not hard to envisage an intense, spirited showing from the South Londoners.
Gray is hoping to bring midfield general Craig Eastmond back into the side, which could make a huge difference given his leadership qualities, and striker Omar Bugiel coming into the XI is more than capable of influencing the game too.
Bugiel is not only a key reference point for Sutton, he is also fantastic at link-up play which is perfect for bringing the likes of Donovan Wilson, David Ajiboye and Will Randall into the game.
Harrogate might come into the game off the back of successive wins, including knocking Forest Green off top spot, but their defence is there to be got at: 73 shipped in 45.
Sutton look the value play here at 11/8 and we predict they will secure a Play-Off spot with Swindon, while Port Vale drop out.
Suton to finish in the top seven – 11/8