Today’s article was supposed to focus on the success stories from League Two over the last year, but following two dramatic play-off ties in the Championship, it would be criminal to talk about anything else.
For Nottingham Forest and Leicester, the dream is over for the season. On Saturday, 22nd May, Cardiff City will meet Blackpool at Wembley for a place in the Premier League. Blackpool fans travelled to the City Ground in their thousands on Tuesday and were rewarded for their efforts with a match that will live long in the memory of all concerned. With the Tangerines holding the advantage from the first leg, Rob Earnshaw levelled the tie for Forest within 10 minutes and despite DJ Campbell putting the Ian Holloway’s side back in front early on in the second half, Earnshaw restored parity for Billy Davies’ men. However, Blackpool swiftly turned the game on it’s head with Stephen Dobbie putting them in front again before Campbell took centre-stage to complete a hat-trick. A late Dele Adebola consolation was all Forest could muster in reply, leaving Blackpool 4-3 winners on the night, and 6-4 on aggregate. You can not really argue that the Championship is a dull place after a tie like that.
And so to Cardiff on Wednesday night, where the home side sought to maintain their advantage over Leicester. A 1-0 victory in the first leg set the return leg up nicely for an enthralling encounter, a game that Leicester simply had to win. Michael Chopra steered the home side into an early lead to extend their advantage, but a rapid reply from Matt Fryatt edged the Foxes back into contention. Leicester continued to press and were rewarded with a Mark Hudson own goal and a header from Andy King which saw them into the lead for the first time. Peter Whittingham levelled the contest from the penalty spot, leaving the tie finely balanced and ultimately ensuring a penalty shoot out, following a frantic end to the game.
With the shoot-out level at 3-3, Yann Kermorgant stepped forward for Leicester. A delicate chip down the middle was easily saved by David Marshall, who seemed almost embarrassed by how easy his job had been made. Mark Kennedy put the Bluebirds in front before Martyn Waghorn had the final kick well saved by Marshall to send the home support into raptures. At face value, the inconsolable Waghorn appeared the villain for Leicester, but nothing could be further from the truth. It takes a brave man to step up and take a penalty, let alone a spot-kick of such significance. But to have had the misfortune to follow such a poor effort from a team mate just piled the pressure on. Questions will rightly be asked of Kermorgant and exactly why he tried what he did. For a striker seemingly low on confidence, (the Frenchman has only netted once for the Foxes this season), perhaps he should not have even taken a penalty.
So we are left with a Cardiff v Blackpool final, and the prospect of a new name in the Premiership. Neither of these sides have graced the modern top flight before, but both will feel they are in a fantastic position to ascend to English football’s elite club. The final is too close to call, the sides unable to be separated in their two league fixtures having played out a draw on both occasions. What we can say for certain is that we are in for an exciting and energetic final. As for the result, perhaps it will come down to a simple mistake. Maybe it will just be a case of who wants it more. Both sides are more than a match for one another and with two tactical masterminds and popular characters in the dugouts, the final at Wembley will be a fitting finale to a fantastic season in the Championship.