Assessing the Championship play off contenders

The play-offs are here and Boro’s season will be extended for at least two more matches. At times it felt like this season would never end well, but now there is a chance of glory.

But before that can happen they’ll have to get past two other teams. Can Boro do it? I’ve taken a look at the chances of all the Play-off contenders.

Fulham (3rd, 88 points)

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Why they might go up:

In the second half of the season Fulham have been the best team by far and picked up 11 more points than any other team in the play-offs.

They also scored a formidable 50 goals, 9 more than the next highest. Until the last day, they went a ridiculous 23 games unbeaten.

With an exciting young squad, a passionate manager and the in-form striker in the division, Fulham look unstoppable.

Just to rub it in, they also top a mini table between the play-off teams with 11 points from 6 games.

The team and manager will also be determined to make up for last year’s play-off disappointment.

Why they might not go up:

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Garry Monk’s Birmingham proved at the weekend that this team can be beaten. And that disappointment could have a lasting effect on the players.

They might not have expected to get promoted automatically, but will know they would be up if they had beaten lowly Birmingham.

After playing without fear and expectation for so long, the pressure of being so close could halt their momentum. At least, that’s what the rest of us are hoping.

Aston Villa (4th, 83 points)

Why they might go up:

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After a slow start, Villa have been pretty consistent for most of the season, getting nice and comfortable in the play-off places since January.

While other teams have been busy fighting to get in or out of the play-off places, they’ve been able to focus purely on the playoffs themselves.

There’s a lot of experience in the squad and you would back players like Terry, Snodgrass and Grabban to deliver in the big games.

Then there’s the Steve Bruce factor. Over the years he was won plenty of promotions including a few via the playoffs. With a strong squad you’d back him to add another.

Why they might not go up:

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Villa are a big club with big expectations. A lot of money has been spent in the last two seasons to get promoted back to the Premier League.

Failure to do so will probably cost Steve Bruce his job. Could that added pressure tell in the end?

The fans have been frustrated with the team a few times this season and could get on their backs again if they start poorly against Boro.

Boro (5th, 76 points)

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Why we might go up:

Boro have finished the season strongly, unbeaten in the last 4 and with only 2 defeats in the last 14. In that period, only Fulham have a better record from the play-off teams, and no team has scored more goals.

Having been out of the top 6 for so long, Boro have quietly sneaked in at the end and will feel they have momentum.

Tony Pulis has solidified at the back and got the best out of some of the forwards. You’d back the defence to keep games tight, allowing Traore, Besic or Assombalonga to come up with some magic at the other end.

Why we might not go up:

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The big doubt is that record against the top 6. We’ve taken 5 points from the other play-off teams and sit bottom of that mini league.

Recent victories against Derby, Bristol City and Millwall were encouraging, but could Fulham or Villa be a step too far?

Boro also rely too heavily on one or two players to provide goals and assists. If a team can nullify Traore and defend set pieces, what else do we have?

Pulis has relied on pretty much the same 12 or 13 players in the last few months, and the way they limped over the line on Sunday suggests some of them could be running out of steam.

Derby (6th, 75 points)

Why they might go up:

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Just a couple of weeks ago, Derby looked dead and buried. In the midst of a miserable run, the home defeat to Boro looked like the final nail in the coffin.

Yet they have fought back in style, unbeaten in the last 3 including a win over Cardiff and a draw at Villa. That spirit and strength of character cannot be underestimated.

The squad will now be buoyed by the recent upturn, and will go into the play-offs with renewed confidence.

They have shown this season that they can mix it with the best, so will not be daunted by facing Fulham over two legs. If they can get to the final, anything can happen.

Why they might not go up:

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There’s a reason why they finished 6th, and the recent upturn in form does not undo the absolutely wretched the second half of the season.

The way they collapsed after Christmas suggests some very big problems within the squad which do not magically disappear overnight.

In the second half of the season, Derby have taken a whopping 25 points less than Fulham, so beating them in the semis seems a tall order.

And finally, any team that loses to both Sunderland and Burton does not deserve to be promoted.

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