Who will snatch football's £135M golden ticket for a top flight spot?
So, who will snatch football’s £135MILLION golden ticket? Sportsmail assesses Brentford, Swansea, Bournemouth and Barnsley as the four contenders fight it out for a place in next season’s Premier League
- Brentford, Swansea, Bournemouth and Barnsley are all pushing for promotion
- The Championship play-off race is very tight heading into the end of the season
- Sportsmail looks at the strengths and weaknesses of each, as well as a key man
With the prize of promotion to the Premier League valued at £135million, no wonder winning the Championship play-offs is seen as a golden ticket.
Later this month, Brentford, Swansea, Bournemouth and Barnsley will fight it out to join Norwich and Watford in the top flight.
Sportsmail assesses their strengths and weaknesses…
Last time in top division: 1946-47
Form: Brentford have all the momentum — Saturday’s 2-0 home win over Watford was their third straight victory and they are unbeaten in 11 games.
Their tally of 84 points (with one match remaining) would have been enough for promotion last season.
The Bees are also desperate to atone for an agonising extra-time defeat by Fulham in last year’s play-off final.
Strengths: The ability to score goals and plenty of them. Brentford are the Championship’s highest scorers and on their day can take the breath away with slick, attacking football.
Thomas Frank’s side are the top scorers in the Championship and are once again a real force
They boast the league’s leading goalscorer in Ivan Toney, who hit his 30th of the season against Watford, as well as creative dynamos Sergi Canos and Bryan Mbeumo.
Thomas Frank’s team also have the benefit of experience and motivation from their play-off heartbreak last season.
Weaknesses: They have squandered too many chances and drawn games when they should have won comfortably. Between mid-March and mid-April, they drew six out of seven matches and that meant they couldn’t catch Norwich and Watford.
They are vulnerable at the back and switch off at key moments, or play themselves into trouble by passing out from the keeper.
Key man: It has to be Toney. The striker, who cost £5million from Peterborough last summer, has more than compensated for the sale of Ollie Watkins to Aston Villa.
With 30 goals and 10 assists to date, he will surely be a Premier League player next season one way or another.
Ivan Toney is the Championship’s top scorer and is the man any side would want at this stage
Last time in top division: 2017-18
Form: Patchy in recent weeks as their automatic promotion hopes faded away.
Lost four games without scoring in late March and early April, which reduced the pressure on the top two.
They haven’t been too convincing in recent weeks but came from behind to beat Derby 2-1 on Saturday to generate some momentum.
Strengths: Steve Cooper’s squad has a nice balance of experienced heads and youthful energy.
Steve Cooper’s side saw their form go patchy as hopes of an automatic spot quickly faded
They rarely rack up huge scorelines but don’t leak too many goals and have shown consistency for most of the season.
Attacking threats Andre Ayew and Jamal Lowe could cause a headache to any defence.
Weaknesses: Swansea hope they haven’t peaked. They are limping into the play-offs and need to dig deep to find some form.
Conceding late goals has become an issue, with Cooper admitting how pleased he was they saw out the win against Derby. They must stay switched on until the final whistle.
Key man: There is relief that Ayew has overcome his hamstring injury. With 16 goals, the Ghanaian brings a sharper edge to their forward line and their chances of going up improve immeasurably with him.
Andre Ayew has overcome injury to be fit at just the right time as he holds Swansea’s hopes
Last time in top division: 2019-20
Form: A run of six straight wins in April sealed Bournemouth’s play-off spot and kept alive hopes of an immediate return to the Premier League. But back-to-back defeats have checked their momentum. They lost 1-0 to Brentford a fortnight ago despite having a man advantage for 40 minutes and 1-0 at Wycombe on Saturday.
Strengths: An abundance of talent in attack that can take the game away from any opponent quickly when things click. Arnaut Danjuma, Dominic Solanke and Junior Stanislas are all in double figures in the scoring charts and their speed and incision on the counter-attack cause trouble.
Weaknesses: Susceptible to off-days in which nothing gels and they don’t create a great deal of opportunities despite their creative talents. They have conceded some frustrating goals from set-pieces and from headers, including in their home defeat by Barnsley in March.
Key man: Danjuma has impressed during the second half of the season and has 15 goals and seven assists. The Dutch winger is quick, skilful and blessed with that ability to make something happen out of nothing.
Back-to-back defeats checked Bournemouth’s promotion hopes and have grounded the side
Last time in top division: 1997-98
Form: The team nobody expected to be in the play-offs! The turnaround in their fortunes since Valerien Ismael replaced Gerhard Struber as manager in October has been astonishing, despite Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at Preston.
Strengths: Direct, relentless and robust. Their long ball approach and hard pressing hasn’t won them friends but has proved effective because many teams have forgotten how to deal with it. What’s more, there is no weight of expectation.
Weaknesses: They don’t measure up to some of their potential play-off opponents as an attacking force which could ultimately cost them but their goals are spread around the team. Although the team collective isn’t in doubt, Barnsley lack someone who can provide that X-factor to inspire them to victory in the crunch games.
Key man: Skipper Alex Mowatt has been excellent this season, not only for his leadership and drive from midfield but his ability to get into scoring positions. Eight goals and seven assists in the Championship have earned his team some precious points. The 26-year-old is out of contract in June and there is bound to be plenty of interest.
Valerien Ismael transformed Barnsley after he took over from Gerhard Struber in October
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