A single spot in the big time is up for grabs as the Sky Bet Championship enters the play-offs. Liam Kelly looks at the four teams involved, selecting his best bets before Friday’s kick-off.
4pts Nottingham Forest to be promoted at 9/5 (SBK)
2pts Huddersfield & Forest both to make the play-off final at 15/8 (Sky Bet)
With 90 minutes completed on the final day, the four play-off teams were already confirmed. Huddersfield, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield United and Luton would fight it out for a place in the Premier League.
Still, in the few stoppage-time minutes played on Saturday, goals changed the picture of this season's Sky Bet Championship play-offs.
Hull's immediate response to make it 1-1 after Forest took a late lead has given the picture a lopsided look, even in the 3v6, 4v5 format. Indeed, the two favourites for promotion face each other in the semi-final as a result.
Perhaps the bracket is better for the neutral, if not for the teams involved.
All matches broadcast on Sky Sports.
Two meetings between Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United is certainly something to savour, a pair that have cut through the Championship competition after early managerial moves in the 2021/22 campaign.
Forest boss Steve Cooper arrived in September with the club bottom of the table. Come May, they were battling Bournemouth for an automatic promotion spot.
Without doubt, Forest are the form team of the four remaining, despite the disappointment of just missing out on a direct route to the top tier — they created the better chances when visiting both Bournemouth (xG: BOU 0.47 - 1.34 FOR) and Hull (xG: HUL 1.18 - 2.51 FOR).
Their 10-match rolling expected goals for (xGF) and against (xGA) trendlines portray a prolonged spell of excellent displays and results since Cooper took charge.
Forest have averaged 1.68 xGF and 1.19 xGA per game across the 38 league games in Cooper's tenure. Mix in the experience of a fantastic FA Cup run and the Tricky Trees make the play-off 'lottery' a little less tricky.
Such consistency makes me wonder whether it is preferable that Forest face the tougher assignment over two legs, especially with the second taking place at the City Ground.
Consequently, a general price of 7/4 doesn't deter me from picking NOTTINGHAM FOREST TO BE PROMOTED through the play-offs, and especially not a best price of 9/5.
They've been capable of dealing with absentees in attack to uphold an incredibly high standard. There's little reason to believe that won't continue.
Odds correct at 1700 (11/05/22)
Semi-final opponents Sheffield United have undergone their own transformation with a new manager, albeit at a slightly less impressive level.
Paul Heckingbottom led his side to 52 points from 27 games, bursting into the play-off places after a very slow start to the season under Slaviša Jokanović.
Averaging 1.53 xGF and 0.95 xGA per game over that time should fill the Blades fans with confidence, but they stumbled a little before three wins in the final three secured a chance to bounce back to the Premier League.
Injuries are an issue for Sheffield United too, though. They've also been without numerous players in attacking areas for a prolonged period, a weakness that could bite against Forest more than the other teams involved.
Without wanting to unfairly dismiss the other side of the bracket, it's clear — at least from a data perspective — that Huddersfield and Luton are a step below both Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United.
Huddersfield deserve nothing but praise for finishing third and earning themselves a match-up with Luton to make it to Wembley, overachieving in almost every Championship category imaginable this term.
Granted, a distinctly average expected goal difference (xGD) of +0.7 over the course of the season makes it difficult to have the confidence in Carlos Corberan's side being strong enough to advance to the top tier, but they enter the play-offs in excellent nick, losing just twice in their last 26 league matches.
Recording an actual goal difference of +17 indicates a healthy blend of outstanding game management and a little bit of luck, but the in-form team should be backed to advance past Luton, winning their last four fixtures in a more convincing fashion than they have all season.
Indeed, HUDDERSFIELD & NOTTINGHAM FOREST BOTH TO MAKE THE PLAY-OFF FINAL makes appeal at a standout 15/8 with Sky Bet.
After all, Luton might be an even bigger overachiever than Huddersfield.
However, the Hatters were most certainly a top-six team for at least the first half of the campaign.
Although they've held onto a play-off spot, you would have to be concerned with Luton's ability to make a mark in this final four considering the sheer amount of injuries they have endured.
With personnel numbers dwindling, Luton's attacking process has suffered as a result. In winning just three of their last eight fixtures, Nathan Jones' side have scored only seven goals, averaging 0.99 xGF per game.
Their solid defensive structure may well keep them in it, but in a 2021/22 'mini-league' that includes this season's play-off contenders, Luton have scored one goal and won one game.
This step, as impressive as it is, should be one too far.
Odds correct at 1200 BST (11/05/22)
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