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EFL Championship playoff preview with Hugh Woozencroft

So, the first-leg matchups of the EFL Championship semi-finals weren’t the most entertaining of affairs.

Both games ended 0-0 with all to play for going into the second leg.

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Today’s and tomorrow’s second leg will provide drama and excitement, with both games firmly in the balance.

Before these two games of high significance, I spoke to sports presenter, Hugh Woozencroft, to get the lowdown on the state of play and who he thinks will gain promotion to the Premier League.

About Hugh Woozencroft

Hugh Woozencroft currently hosts the ‘English Football League Highlights’ show on ITV, as well as ‘EFL All Access’ on talkSPORT. So he is clued up when it comes to the Championship.

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Cautious Canaries

It’s been a crazy season for Norwich. And it looked at one moment that manager David Wagner was on the verge of being sacked.

A run of one win in ten games in all competitions took Norwich far away from any promotion hopes, but the board stood with Wagner, and their faith was rewarded.

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They have only lost four league games in 2024, propelling them into sixth place.

Norwich started the final day in fifth place, but moved down a place after a 1-0 defeat against Birmingham, meaning a semi-final clash against Leeds.

Last Saturday’s game was huge for Norwich, as it provided them the chance to go in front in the tie with a capacity Carrow Road cheering them on.

Instead, Wagner’s team will have to go to Elland Road on a level playing field, something Hugh Woozencroft thinks will hinder the East Anglians.

“I was most disappointed with Norwich after last Saturday’s games,” said Woozencroft.

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“I feel like they had to win the first leg because they have to play away at Elland Road next. It’s going to be difficult for Norwich, and even though Leeds aren’t at their best at the moment, I still back them to score a couple of goals at home under the lights.”

Leeds look likely

According to various bookmakers, Leeds are the favourites to progress through the playoffs.

Managed by former Norwich boss Daniel Farke, it’s hard to look past their talented squad.

The Whites amassed 90 points this season, possessing the Championship Player and Young Player of the Season in Crysencio Summerville and Archie Gray.

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It was a three-horse race between Leeds, Leicester and Ipswich for automatic promotion, and Woozencroft agrees with the bookmakers, believing promotion to the Premier League is theirs to lose after a stellar season.

“The Leeds fans are going to be up for it,” said Woozencroft.

“It’s going to be difficult for Norwich, especially if they go a goal down early.

“This means they’ll have to come out of their shell, and with the counter-attacking pace of Summerville and Gnonto, Leeds can exploit them.

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“There’s no doubt Leeds will have to be patient. But this time around, when they get their chances, they have to take them.”

West Brom biding their time

The game following Norwich vs Leeds last Saturday was West Brom vs Southampton, also ending 0-0.

West Brom will be aware of Southampton and the possession-based brand of football they use to suffocate teams.

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With limited resources to work with in transfer windows this season, Baggies boss Carlos Corberán has done an excellent job, keeping his team in the playoff mix for practically all of the season.

The future looks brighter for West Brom in terms of finances, with Florida-based entrepreneur Shilen Patel acquiring an 87.8% stake in the club alongside his dad in February.

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However, will the club be able to splash this cash as a Premier League club?

“Southampton against West Brom is the more intriguing playoff game for me,” said Woozencroft.

“Leeds are heavy favourites against Norwich, but this game looks more even.

“Corberán has a great tactical mind, and his team are one of the best defensive teams in the Championship, especially their set-up without the ball.

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“They had a plan to try and stifle Southampton in the first leg, which worked.

“The only issue for me, and I think it might decide where the tie goes, is that West Brom don’t have that real goal-scoring threat through the middle.

“They’ve got decent wingers, but can they be the sole outlet?”

The Saints stifled last week

As mentioned earlier, Southampton struggled to strike to decisive blow in the Midlands last week.

It was a slow start to the season, with Russell Martin moving from Swansea to Southampton in the summer.

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His style of play wasn’t a hit straight away, losing four games in a row during September.

However, the players adapted, going on a club-record 24-game unbeaten streak from September to February.

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Woozencroft fancies Southampton to progress to Wembley, but believes a tough task awaits.

“Southampton will have most of the possession. We know that. But will they create the chances? And will they have the strikers fit to put chances away?

“We’re not sure if Che Adams will be back. Ross Stewart has just come back from a long injury and hasn’t had that rhythm. He missed that big chance in the first leg, so will that be playing on his mind?

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“Russell Martin has a great philosophy, it’s just about whether they can make their chances count on the day.”

Hugh’s final predictions

Semi-finals

Leeds (W) vs Norwich

Southampton (W) vs West Brom

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Author

  • Sam Sheppey

    Sam is a 22-year-old award-winning sports journalist from Hertfordshire with experience writing for club media with Stevenage Football Club, magazine articles with Greenways Publishing, and podcasting for talkSPORT and Birmingham City fan channel Blues Focus. Link to portfolio: https://muckrack.com/sam-sheppey/portfolio