How the Championship playoff semi-finalists can improve their chances of reaching Wembley

21 May 2021 09:45

We're not going to sit here and butter this up; the first legs of the Championship playoff semi-finals were absolutely crap.

That being said, we can't really blame the four sides involved for not sprinting out of the traps and giving us nine-goal barnstormers that we'll never forget.

With so much money on the table for the winners, the first legs were bound to be cagey affairs, with the two respective away sides trying desperately to still be in the tie come the second leg and the two home sides eager to not concede an away goal - it's a wonder why we all love the playoffs so much when you think of it like that.

But never fear. The reason we all love the playoffs is because we're in for an absolute treat when the sides meet for the second legs this Saturday. All four teams know they're either 90 minutes away from Wembley or the realisation that all their hard work has got them absolutely nowhere.

Bournemouth face a nervy trip to Brentford as they look to defend their one-goal lead, before Barnsley travel to Swansea looking to overturn a first-leg deficit.

Ahead of the second legs, we've taken a look at the lessons all four teams can learn from their first-leg meetings before assessing how they can improve their chances of booking their place at Wembley for the final.

1. Brentford

Ivan Toney's side trail at the halfway point in their tie | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Isn't it a bit early for Brentford to be bottling it? C'mon lads, it's Wembley where you don't show up, remember?

Many Bees fans will get their first taste of life in their new stadium on Saturday and we can't underestimate how crucial they could be to their side's chances of mounting a comeback.

With the emphasis on Brentford to break down Bournemouth's backline, the likes of the returning Rico Henry could play a massive part in getting behind the visitors' full-backs.

The former Walsall man found himself in some good positions in the first leg after coming off the bench but was uncharacteristically sloppy with his distribution - something he'll need to improve if he starts from the off.

The loss of Josh Dasilva earlier this season through injury has seen Ivan Toney's goalscoring stats dip a little, and Brentford really miss his guile in midfield. If Mathias Jensen can produce some of his best football then Toney is likely to be given the service he needs.

2. Bournemouth

Bournemouth take a 1-0 lead into the second leg | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

You'd think Jonathan Woodgate's side could look back on their 1-0 win at the Vitality Stadium last Monday and consider it a job well done, though at the same time it also seems like a bit of a missed opportunity.

Brentford were pretty hopeless on the night and while we're not going to overlook the fact it was the Cherries' fine display that aided Thomas Frank's side's poor performance, a 1-0 lead may not be enough heading into the second leg.

Mind you, Bryan Mbeumo missed an absolute sitter for the visitors so maybe a one-goal lead isn't all that bad.

Key to Bournemouth's hopes of reaching the final is likely to be Dominic Solanke. The frontman has looked much more impressive in the second tier than he did in the Premier League, and his ability to run the channels and keep hold of the ball will be crucial with the home side likely to mount considerable pressure.

David Brooks and Arnaut Danjuma will also have a big role to play on the break, and if Philip Billing can win his midfield battle you'd really fancy Woodgate's side to progress.

3. Swansea

Andre Ayew's goal has given Swansea a 1-0 lead heading into the second leg | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

If you're expecting Swansea to make home advantage pay by starting on the front foot and putting the game to bed before half-time then you've obviously not watched them under Steve Cooper.

The Swans were the lowest scorers of the top nine teams in this season's Championship, mustering three goals in a single game on just two occasions.

Cooper's men do, however, boast one of the tightest defences in the second tier and so they're likely to rely heavily on their backline yet again on Saturday.

Another solid display from Marc Guehi and Ben Cabango will surely seal the Swans' place in the final, while Jamal Lowe's ability on the counter will be key to relieving pressure.

4. Barnsley

Barnsley are still in with a shot of reaching the final | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

We can sit here and bang on about how brilliant it is for Barnsley to have even got this far blah blah blah, but the fact is they're hear now and they can't afford to just let this opportunity slip through their hands.

It all feels a little bit disrespectful the way people are making out as though Valerien Ismael's side should just be happy to have finished in the top six - they finished there because they were brilliant.

However, at home to Swansea in the first leg they really didn't give a good account of themselves and big improvements are needed.

One of the biggest factors behind their upturn in form in the second half of the season was the arrival of Daryl Dike, though the American loanee was completely stifled by the Swans' backline at Oakwell.

Once Carlton Morris was introduced at half-time they looked much more effective, and starting the former Norwich man alongside Dike could be the key to preoccupying the Swansea defence a little more and allowing Dike to flex his considerable muscle.

Source: 90min