EFL WATCH: LEAGUE ONE PLAY-OFF PREVIEW
Oxford United vs Blackpool
1st Leg: 18th May – KO 6pm
2nd Leg: 21st May – KO 7:45pm
Oxford United did not start the 20/21 season well at all. After losing out on promotion to the Championship in the play-off final against Wycombe Wanderers, Karl Robinson’s side looked like they were set for an unexpected relegation battle, as they spent some time in the bottom four of the league. However, form improved, and Oxford built their way back into the play-off picture in 2021. Three straight wins allowed the U’s to steal the final play-off spot from Portsmouth on the final day and they come into this semi-final in great form. Scoring 10 in their last three game, Oxford’s attack has played a pivotal part in their rise to the top 6. The form of both Elliot Lee and Matt Taylor will be crucial to Oxford’s chances of making Wembley for the second straight season.
In his first season as a senior manager, Neil Critchley has done a superb job in guiding his team into third place. Not expected to be in the play-off picture, Blackpool started poorly, with only one win in their first six games, but a turnaround in form saw the Seasiders rise into the play-off spots and in turn making themselves one of the toughest teams to beat in League One. After two poor defeats to Rochdale and Shrewsbury Town, Blackpool won their last four games without conceding a goal. The form of attacking players like Jerry Yates and Ellis Simms, as well as the form of Elliot Embleton and Kenny Dougall will be important to Critchley’s sides chances in this game.
Both of their earlier games have been even encounters, although Blackpool hold the upper hand, having not conceded against the U’s with a 2-0 win being their most recent game. Both sides come into this one on good form, and it will be an intense two legged affair between these two sides.
Lincoln City vs Sunderland
1st Leg: 19th May – KO 6pm
2nd Leg: 22nd May – KO 3:30pm
With a look to building a team based around young players, Michael Appleton’s Lincoln City started this season well and placed themselves firmly in the automatic promotion race. With the likes of Lewis Montsma and Brennan Johnson leading the Imps to this great start, Lincoln looked like they could find themselves in the top 2 come the end of the season. However, since the start of 2021, Lincoln have been in inconsistent form, which has seem them drop slightly down from the automatic promotion race to being a certain for the play-offs. Their hit and miss form is best summed up by their end of the season, as before their last three games they won four out of five, but in those last three, they have not won, although they have faced Peterborough and Charlton who are tough opponents.
After winning the Papa Johns Trophy and being in an all-round good run of form, automatic promotion looked like a realistic ambition for Lee Johnson’s Sunderland. Aiden McGeady and Charlie Wyke were arguably the two most dangerous players in the league, but unfortunately for the Black Cats, Sunderland’s recent form has not been so encouraging. Having won one of their last eight, Lee Johnson will need his side to get back to the form that saw them rise into the automatic promotion race earlier in the year. The loss of Dion Sanderson has not helped Sunderland, and they will need Luke O’Nien and Bailey Wright to keep Sunderland solid against Lincoln’s exciting attack.
Both sides have not had a strong end to the season, but will be hoping to change that in time for their first leg. With each side possessing some of the best attackers in the league, this game has the potential to be one of the more enthralling play-off games and drama usually follows Sunderland wherever they go, so hopefully this two-legged affair will possess plenty.