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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 May 2007, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK
Championship play-off lowdown
By Paul Fletcher

Championship
The Championship play-off final could arguably be described as the richest fixture in football - with the winners joining the Premiership elite.

All four teams in this year's second-tier semi-finals have played Premiership football and are desperate to return to the top echelon of the English game.

West Brom are hoping to bounce back at the first attempt following relegation last May.

Rivals Wolves have had one recent

season in the top flight, finishing bottom at the end of the 2003-04 campaign.

606: DEBATE

Southampton had been in the Premiership for every year of its existence before dropping out in 2005, while the Rams have not eaten at football's top table since 2002.

BBC Sport looks at the quartet's play-off pedigree while Sheffield Wednesday manager Brian Laws gives his verdict ahead of the first legs of their last-four clashes.

WOLVES (5th) V WEST BROM (4th)
Wolves versus West Brom

The 153rd and 154th Black Country derbies are being described as the biggest such showdowns between the two clubs.

West Brom currently lead with 59 wins to Wolves's 52.

The Baggies thrashed Barnsley 7-0 on the final day of the regular season to remind everyone of their ability.

But Tony Mowbray's team have had an inconsistent season, climbing from 10th to first before slipping down to sixth and eventually moving back up to fourth.
WOLVES v WEST BROM
First leg: Wolves v West Brom, Molineux, Sunday 13 May, kick-off 1200 BST
Second leg: West Brom v Wolves, The Hawthorns, Wednesday 16 May, kick-off 1945 BST
The final will be played at Wembley on Monday 28 May

Wolves have surprised many with their form since the turn of the year.

Mick McCarthy's team were 14th with half the season gone but the manager bought well in January, with Michael McIndoe, Stephen Ward, Michael Kightly and Andy Keogh all key performers as his team climbed the table.

West Brom have been in the play-offs twice, clinching a return to the second tier of English football in 1993 and losing to Bolton at the semi-final stage as they pushed for a place in the Premiership in 2001.

However, the Baggies did win an automatic place in the top flight in 2002 - overhauling arch-rivals Wolves, who had been topped the table with a 10-point advantage over West Brom in March.
RECENT FORM (Latest last)
Wolves LWDLWW
West Brom WLLWW
Wolves lost to Bolton in 1995, Crystal Palace in 1997, Norwich in 2002 and experienced a series of heartbreaking near misses before they finally won promotion to the Premiership through the 2003 play-offs.

The Molineux outfit beat Reading in their semi-final before first-half goals from Kenny Miller, Mark Kennedy and Nathan Blake sealed a 3-0 win over Sheffield United in the final.

Brian Law's verdict
West Brom probably have the best squad of the four teams in the play-offs..

They put seven goals past Barnsley on Sunday - a warning for everybody that they are a talented side that can hurt you, if you let them.

LEAGUE MEETINGS
22/10/06 West 3-0 Wolves
11/3/07 Wolves 1-0 West Brom

However, no team has more energy and commitment than Wolves.

This tie has that extra ingredient because it is a Midlands derby, with the edge that one of them will go through to a final at Wembley.

There is not going to be anything in this tie for the weak-hearted. It is going to be very, very tough.

SOUTHAMPTON (6th) V DERBY (3rd)
Southampton versus Derby

Southampton are making their first appearance in the play-offs - and do so in good form after winning their last three games of the regular season to move into the top six.

But there is no lack of play-off experience at the club, with manager George Burley preparing for his seventh such campaign.

SOUTHAMPTON v DERBY
First leg: Saints v Derby, St Mary's Stadium, Saturday 12 May, kick-off 1200 BST
Second leg: Derby v Saints, Pride Park, Tuesday 15 May, kick-off 1945 BST
The final will be played at Wembley on Monday 28 May

Burley's one promotion through the play-offs came with former club Ipswich at the old Wembley in 2000.

The last time Derby reached the play-offs - in 2005 - Burley was at the helm and current Pride Park boss Billy Davies is the man who masterminded Preston's semi-final victory over the Rams.

Davies is preparing for his third Championship play-off campaign in as many years after reaching the final in 2005 and the semi-final stage one year later with his former club.
RECENT FORM (Latest last)
Southampton WLLWWW
Derby DDLWLW
Derby spent a large chunk of the season in the top two places but lost out to Sunderland and Birmingham in the final weeks of the regular season and now have to hope for promotion through the play-offs for the first time.

The Rams have been involved in two previous campaigns in addition to the defeat by Preston. All were at Championship level - losing at the semi-final stage to Blackburn in 1992 and the final at the hands of Leicester in 1994.

Brian Law's verdict

Picking a winner from this season's Championship play-offs is a very tough call because all four teams are in good form.

I can only really go on what I saw when we played against them but I thought Southampton were the best team.

LEAGUE MEETINGS
06/8/06 Derby 2-2 Saints
03/2/07 Saints 0-1 Derby

George Burley's Saints are a flowing team. They have got everything in their locker - they can play good football and score plenty of goals.

Derby have been up there for a long time and it is now a test of character for them to see if they can cope with the fact they fell out of the top two so late in the season.

They certainly have the tightest defence. They don't concede many goals but they don't score that many.

You know that if you can keep the game tight you know they won't hurt you as much. Let's see what they can do.



The Coca-Cola Football League Championship Table
30 January 2010 19:21
    P GD PTS
1 Newcastle 27 27 56
2 Nottm Forest 28 23 52

3 West Brom 27 26 50
4 Cardiff 27 22 45
5 Swansea 27 3 42
6 Sheff Utd 27 4 41

7 Blackpool 27 10 40
8 Leicester 26 2 39
9 Middlesbrough 28 7 37
10 Bristol City 27 -4 36
11 Preston 26 -2 35
12 QPR 27 -4 34
13 Doncaster 26 -1 33
14 Coventry 28 -8 33
15 Barnsley 26 -8 33
16 Scunthorpe 27 -13 33
17 Watford 26 -6 32
18 Derby 28 -11 32
19 Sheff Wed 28 -12 31
20 Crystal Palace 27 2 30
21 Ipswich 27 -8 29

22 Reading 27 -16 26
23 Plymouth 26 -14 24
24 Peterborough 28 -19 18

SEE ALSO
Southampton v Derby
11 May 07 |  Championship
Davies rounds on Derby's critics
11 May 07 |  Derby County
Burley relishing Wembley double
11 May 07 |  Southampton


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