Grayson and McCarthy must put previous play-off pain behind them

With the regular Football League season now at an end, attentions turn to the lethal lotteries that are the play-offs.

Coral’s football expert preview these competitions for the Championship and League One with some big names and big games coming up en route to Wembley.

Championship play-offs
Norwich City have only experienced this extended season once, back in 2002 when they lost in the final to Birmingham City on penalties.

Young Canaries coach Alex Neil knows no fear, however, and has goals galore coming from top scorer Cameron Jerome, backup strikers Gary Hooper and Lewis Grabban, and in-form box-to-box midfielder Bradley Johnson (pictured below).

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Derby County v Norwich City - iPro Stadium

Norfolk outfit Norwich are worthy 15/8 promotion favourites because of this, and being the side with the most number of regular season goals contesting the play-offs.

The Canaries encounter East Anglia rivals Ipswich Town in the semis, and have already done the double over the Suffolk side this term. Couple this with Tractor Boys boss Mick McCarthy failing to win a play-off tie throughout his managerial career, and it’s plain to see why Ipswich are 4/1 outsiders to go up.

Losing semi-finalists on six occasions, the Tractor Boys did win the play-offs the one time they reached Wembley in 2000. If they are to do so again, then Championship leading marksman Daryl Murphy (pictured below) must add to his 27 league goals.

Soccer - Sky Bet League Championship - Fulham v Ipswich Town - Craven Cottage

Brentford are preparing for a first-ever second-tier play-off campaign, having lost three finals in the division below. Mark Warburton would love to lead the Bees to Premier League promotion (4/1), despite him leaving Griffin Park whatever happens.

While those who fancy the west London outfit will look to attacking quartet Andre Gray, Jota, Alan Judge, and Spurs loanee Alex Pritchard, Brentford are facing the best Championship defence in their semi with Middlesbrough.

Aitor Karanka’s Teesside team are tasty 2/1 chances to return to the top-flight. The Riverside club have a 50 per cent play-off success rate, winning in 1988 but losing at this initial stage in 1991.

They may be the lowest scorers of this term’s Championship top eight, but Boro boast divisional Player of the Year, Patrick Bamford, in their ranks. Greek goalie Dimitrios Konstantopoulos has more clean sheets than any other second-tier keeper, and left back George Friend (pictured below with Bamford) got in the PFA Team of the Year alongside skipper Grant Leadbitter.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Wigan Athletic v Middlesborough - DW Stadium

Like Norwich have against Ipswich, Middlesbrough did a regular season league double over the Bees with central midfielder Leadbitter scoring in both contests, which were wins to nil.

League One play-offs
Preston North End boss Simon Grayson has got two of the three other clubs (Blackpool and Huddersfield Town) he has managed at this level up via this method. Punters may recall how the Deepdale outfit lost to Rotherham United in the semis last term, but that pain can be erased one year on.

Grayson is a strong 7/4 favourite to steer Preston out of League One this time around, despite the club’s unparalleled nine play-off failures and missing out on automatic promotion at the death to MK Dons.

North End play plucky Chesterfield (9/2 promotion outsiders), who they are unbeaten against this term. This tie is a classic underdog outfit playing an established contender, but the difference could be the Spireites’ inability to keep hold of top scorer Eoin Doyle.

Chesterfield chose to cash in on the Irishman when Cardiff City came calling during the winter window, while Preston have retained League One leading marksman Joe Garner.

Soccer - Sky Bet League One - Preston North End v Swindon Town - Deepdale

North End gaffer Grayson has also supplemented him nicely with in-form strike partner Jermaine Beckford (pictured above), assists machine Paul Gallagher and all-action midfielder Daniel Johnson.

Second only to Preston in painful play-off experiences are Sheffield United with seven unsuccessful attempts at promotion this way. Nigel Clough, who has enjoyed cup runs aplenty since becoming Blades boss, is 13/5 to address this and make the eighth time the charm.

Opponents Swindon Town were stuck in a sort of limbo for the final few matches of the regular season. Mark Cooper’s men could not keep up pace with Preston and MK Dons in the automatic promotion race, but nor could they be caught by the Steel City side or anyone else either.

At 11/4 to go up, and even their play-off record out at four successes and four failures, Swindon must belie stuttering form of one win in six (and two in nine since Easter).