Championship play-off final: Prepare yourself for the richest game in sport
We are now just a few days away from the richest game in sport. It is quite ridiculous to think
that a second tier contest can hold such a billing, but this is quite clearly no ordinary football
With upwards of £120 million at stake for the victors, securing Premier League status has
never been so rewarding.
Middlesbrough and Norwich City are the chosen ones in 2014/15, with both sides having
negotiated the treacherous waters of the Championship and the lottery of the play-off semi-
finals to position themselves within one outing of the top-flight and the lavish riches it has to
Those lucky enough to have secured themselves a seat at Wembley Stadium on Bank Holiday
Monday will already be dreaming of trips to Old Trafford and the Emirates, rather than
Griffin Park and the Valley.
There can only be one winner, though, and history suggests that 90, possibly 120, minutes of
nerve-shredding, nail-biting tension lie in wait for followers and employers of the Boro and
Occasionally such encounters are one-sided affairs, with the pressure too much for some to
handle as they wilt under the brightest of spotlights and with the biggest of prizes at stake.
Normally, though, there is not much in it, with the dividing line between success and failure
often difficult to distinguish.
One moment of brilliance, one lapse in concentration, one inspired substitution or one
goalkeeping howler could be all that separates the hopefuls from the hopeless.
For anyone considering a flutter on Championship betting markets for this most enthralling of
fixtures, backing a low-scoring affair – under 2.5 goals – would appear to be the way
Seven of the last 11 finals, including the last two, have ended with 1-0 scorelines.
That tells you all you need to know about how cagey these games are and the mindset of
those at the centre of the action – with a containing, we must not lose approach favoured over
a flamboyant, let’s put on a show philosophy.
To their credit, both Boro and Norwich have provided plenty of entertainment this season,
with 48 testing examinations passed to carry them to this point.
Aitor Karanka’s men have, however, built their success on the sturdiest of foundations –
boasting the best defensive record in the division – and will set up at the national stadium
looking to keep things tight once again.
They took six points off their rivals from Norfolk during the regular season without
conceding, with a 4-0 home success followed a narrow 1-0 victory on the road.
Given that another clean sheet would leave them needing just the one goal at the other end to
book their ticket back to the big time, expect the North East outfit to play to their strengths
against a Norwich side blessed with plenty of creativity and attacking talent.
Championship Player of the Year Patrick Bamford is a sound bet for anyone looking for a
hero on the day, given his exploits during an eye-catching loan spell at the Riverside, but
Alex Neil will have goals and experience galore at his disposal in the shape of Cameron
Jerome, Lewis Grabban, Gary Hooper and Nathan Redmond.
Boro and Norwich won’t care who gets the business done, though, just as long as someone in
red or yellow produces that all-important spark and picks the lock of the door that leads to the
Promised Land and a multi-million adventure among English football’s elite.