|Newport County vs Tranmere Rovers - Newport to win||2/1||Bet365|
|Charlton Athletic vs Sunderland - Under 2.5 goals||4/5||Coral|
|Aston Villa vs Derby County - Both teams to score||8/11||Ladbrokes|
Newport County vs Tranmere Rovers (League Two, Saturday)
The play-off weekend kicks off in the fourth tier, where the two lowest finishers of the division’s four participants will contest the final. Newport ended the regular campaign in seventh spot thanks largely to a brilliant end-of-season run which saw them go undefeated in their final 10 games to lift themselves from the bottom half of the table into the promotion picture. That positive momentum continued in the semi-finals, where the Welsh outfit overcame Mansfield Town on penalties following a 1-1 draw on aggregate. Confidence in the camp will be sky-high as Mike Flynn prepares his team for the biggest game in the club’s recent history.
Whereas Newport has not been as high as the third tier since 1987, Tranmere are bidding to return for the first time since their relegation to League Two five years ago. They also have momentum on their side after finishing sixth in their first campaign back in the Football League following a National League playoff triumph last season, which itself followed play-off heartache in 2017. The fact that Rovers have experienced this type of occasion in each of the last two seasons could be beneficial, although that could be offset by a stretch of just one victory in six games – although that sole success did admittedly come in the highly pressurised environment of the play-off semi-final first leg against Forest Green, which helped Tranmere seal a 2-1 aggregate triumph.
It is Newport, though, who will feel like destiny is on their side after sneaking into the top seven late in the day. Back Flynn’s men to get over the line at Wembley.
Charlton Athletic vs Sunderland (League One, Sunday)
Sunday’s showpiece will evoke memories of the most entertaining playoff final in Football League history. It was Charlton who eventually won promotion to the top tier in 1998, beating Sunderland 7-6 on penalties following a 4-4 draw after extra time. A repeat of that this weekend would be welcomed by Addicks supporters – although perhaps not by local cardiologists.
Charlton, who occupied a top-six spot from the middle of December onwards, required spot-kicks to edge out Doncaster Rovers in the semi-finals. Their 2-1 win in the first leg in Yorkshire means Lee Bowyer’s charges have now lost just one of their last eight matches away from The Valley, which bodes well for this weekend’s Wembley showdown. Charlton will look to draw on their defensive strength – only Barnsley conceded fewer goals in the regular campaign – while they will also take hope from the fact they have scored in each of their last 10 encounters.
Sunderland somewhat stumbled into their play-off campaign, winning only one of their final seven League One matches to slump to a fifth-place finish having been in the top two as recently as mid-April. A tight and nervy two-legged semi-final against Portsmouth was settled in their favour by Chris Maguire, scorer of the only goal in 180 minutes of action, but it is difficult to discount the flat way in which they ended the campaign.
Rather than picking a winner, though, we recommend under 2.5 goals – both of these big clubs will be desperate to return to the Championship, and that could produce a cagey contest.
Aston Villa vs Derby County (Championship, Monday)
No team in the Championship has received as much attention as Leeds this term, but Marcelo Bielsa’s men saw their chances of promotion ended by Derby last week. The Rams were 2-0 down in the tie and staring defeat in the face in the second leg at Elland Road, but a fantastic comeback means Frank Lampard is now just one win away from a return to the Premier League.
So too are Aston Villa, led by Dean Smith and assisted by Lampard’s former Chelsea and England team-mate, John Terry. Many people’s favourites to go up after a 10-game winning run towards the end of the campaign lifted them from 11th to fifth, the West Midlanders squeezed past local rivals West Bromwich Albion on spot-kicks in the semi-finals. They will hope that last year’s experience of losing to Fulham in the Wembley showpiece will serve them well.
Derby have been there or thereabouts in the playoff mix for several seasons, and a failure to win promotion this term could result in cutbacks in the summer (the same is reportedly true for their opponents). This is a young side who seem to relish pressure, though, and the manner of their comeback against Leeds will inspire confidence ahead of what is the biggest game of many Derby players’ burgeoning careers.
Villa have already beaten the Rams 3-0 and 4-0 this season, but this should be a much closer affair. With both teams possessing excellent attacking options, we recommend backing goals at each end.