Championship play-off final: Boro and Norwich may be evenly matched
Despite failing to score during the regular season against Middlesbrough, and losing those two clashes by a total result of 5-0, Coral make Norwich City 6/4 favourites to win the Championship play-off final in 90 minutes.
This means Boro, 11/10 to grace the Premier League again next term, are good value at 9/5 for victory in normal time. Club captain Jonathan Woodgate has no problem being billed as underdogs either.
“They’re going to be favourites, let’s be honest,” ex-England and Real Madrid defender Woodgate said of Alex Neil’s Canaries. “Every single one of them played in the Premier League last year, more or less.
“The onus is on them. The pressure will be on them more because they’re bigger players than us in my opinion.”
With a draw priced at 9/4, which would mean extra time and possibly penalties (a 6/1 shot in a matchday special which you can stake a maximum of £20 on), this has only happened once since Norwich lost on their only previous play-off final appearance.
Middlesbrough are certainly getting goals from all sources going into this crunch clash for young coach Aitor Karanka, with seven of their last eight strikes having different names beside them on the scoresheet.
In the Teesside team’s ranks is one Patrick Bamford, whose season may still continue as he could be set to represent his country in the Czech Republic with England bidding to become European champions at Under-21 level.
Another bright young thing connected with Chelsea, Jose Mourinho has let protege Karanka take Bamford on loan to the Riverside, and whilst there he was voted the Championship’s Player of the Season following 17 strikes.
Already with a goal to his name against the Norfolk club, Bamford features in a matchday special wincast at 5/1, which requires Boro to win in 90 minutes and him to score. Punters can stake a max of £20 on this tasty enhanced price, and it is well worth taking to better anytime odds of 7/4.
Karanka must choose who he goes with as well as Bamford in attack; Middlesbrough men Albert Adomah (11/2 in the same market), Kike (2/1), Lee Tomlin and Jelle Vossen (both 11/4) all scored during the semi-finals against Brentford, so it’s a nice problem for the Spaniard to have.
Bamford’s potential Young Lions tournament teammate Nathan Redmond has emerged as a key player for Canaries coach Alex Neil, and has two in three games coming into the final. He is a fabulous 5/1 anytime chance to continue his form from an ensemble cast supporting leading scorer Cameron Jerome.
With 20 goals under his belt during a debut season at Carrow Road, hard-working Norwich frontman Jerome is an attractive alternative to punters as an enhanced 9/2 wincast, again with a maximum stake of £20 allowed.
Journeyman Jerome scored last against East Anglian rivals Ipswich Town to seal a 4-2 aggregate victory, so is 11/2 to repeat that feat at Wembley.
Neil is targeting a second successive promotion to a British top-flight, having taken Hamilton Academicals into the Scottish Premiership this time last year. Midfield goals and guile will be key if he is to replicate in England what he did in Scotland.
Up against Boro’s stand-in skipper Grant Leadbitter (a 7/2 anytime chance), who leads the team as veteran Woodgate’s fitness record is checkered at best, will be former Leeds United pair Jonny Howson and Bradley Johnson.
Both these players know play-off pain from their days at Elland Road, but will want to erase those memories. Howson grabbed the opener in the first leg of the Canaries’ semi, and a 4/1 to strike again anytime.
Johnson, meanwhile, has offer a brilliant box-to-box threat tucked in from a nominal left-wing berth. His 15 goals from various midfield roles eclipses Leadbitter, and we picked both men to be our engine room in Coral’s Championship Team of the Season.
With West Bromwich Albion loanee Graham Dorrans and long-serving Wes Hoolahan competing for the supporting spot behind Jerome, Johnson can exploit space and is a tasty 10/3 to turn such opportunities into a goal anytime.
Still a relative coaching novice at 33, Neil, who still needs to complete his UEFA Licence, also has Lewis Grabban (6/4 in that market) back from a ban, but Gary Hooper (better at 7/4) has also failed to dislodge Jerome during this time.
All these attacking outlets will be trying to breach Boro’s best in the division defence and, despite failing to do so during the regular season, the nifty Norfolk outfit are more than capable of doing it.
Of all the play-off finals at Wembley, this is the toughest to call. Don’t rule out Norwich and Middlesbrough going to penalties!
Coral betting tip: This should be a classic, so we recommend goals galore with the match total to be three or four or more available at the same price of 13/4.