Who will win the Championship playoffs?

It is that time of the year again and the unpredictability is bound to cause a lot of excitement for the neutrals but for West Ham, Birmingham City, Blackpool and Cardiff City fans it is one of the most nerve wracking times of the season.

So who is going to come out on top? West Ham will playing Cardiff at home in the second leg so does that give them an advantage over their Welsh rivals or does it not matter like in the Champions League this season where both away teams in the second leg went through. Will Blackpool’s attacking and sometimes gung ho tactics work against a hard working Birmingham side or will Chris Hughton secure a second promotion to the Premier League?

First of all, let’s start with West Ham as they finished third and were in contention of an automatic spot right up until the final day but ultimately lost out to Southampton. This can sometimes knock your confidence and the players may feel quite disappointed with their season as they were favourites to return to the top flight. But in there squad they have enough experience to steer them to Wembley and into the promised land once again. Their key player will be Kevin Nolan who is a fantastic player and in my opinion has been unlucky not to receive an England cap in his career. He can grab a goal from midfield and always seems to score important goals when he is needed, he may not have done as well as the last time he was in the Championship but he still needs to be watched and 12 goals this season has been quite a good return.

Birmingham City have had such a long season and there is a worry that they might burn out as they have played in the Europa League and took Chelsea to a replay in the FA Cup. But  don’t see this as a problem as they just keep getting better and better. With manager Chris Hughton in charge you know the camp will be in high spirits and everyone will be enjoying themselves. But maybe the speculation that West Brom are interested in Hughton might just put the players off slightly and they might lose focus but I honestly don’t think this will happen. The key player in my opinion will be Curtis Davies who has had a fantastic season and will want to play Premier League football next season. He has been a rock at the back for the club and has been crucial in their good form all season, he knows he will have to be at his best to keep out the opposition in the next few games.

Blackpool are also looking for an instant return to the Premier League under the always entertaining Ian Holloway. The way the team play their football is fantastic to watch and his players are very brave to keep playing the way they do which may give them the advantage in the playoffs and the fact they have won the playoffs with a very similar team only two years ago will also help their cause. Key player to watch for me is Kevin Phillips, he has scored 17 goals this season and is looking as threatening as ever, he may not be able to start both legs because of his age but when he is on the pitch his movement will worry defenders and like Nolan always has an important goal in him. With him on the pitch I think defenders know they need to mark him which gives more space for wingers Matt Phillips and Thomas Ince who on their day can take apart any defence in the Championship.

Cardiff City have possibly been one of the most unlucky teams in the playoffs with them losing in them time and time again. What has made it worse is that Swansea City are in the Premier League and are doing well. But manager Malky Mackay has brought together a new squad this year who look hungry and determined to get to the Premier League. The goals haven’t quite flowed as much this season as they have done previously but all that matters is that they are in the playoffs once again. Key player will be Peter Whittingham as he has really quality from midfield whether he plays out wide or in the middle and has contributed 13 goals this season as well as many assists. If he is on form it will be difficult for their opponents to stop him and he can change a game in the blink of an eye.

So now it is prediction time, I believe that the final will be between Cardiff and Birmingham with Birmingham winning the final. I just think that West Ham may crumble under the pressure and the expectations and Blackpool will be unable to break down the Birmingham defence often enough. In the final I think it will be a case of déjà vu for Cardiff and they will sadly underperform on the big stage.

Do you agree with my key players and my predictions?

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Pressure is building on Andre Villas Boas at Chelsea

Andre Villas Boas is the favourite to be sacked next in the Premier League after they have failed to live up to their pre season expectations.

It is not surprising that he is under pressure as the team are not certainties to qualify for the Champions League next season and are in danger of going out of the competition after a horrific defensive display away to Napoli. In this game they made Sunday League defenders look like professionals with poor positioning and poor decision making. Petr Cech kept them in the game for a while and when Juan Mata put them in front the fans must have been thinking finally our season is looking up. But they couldn’t even hang on until half time and went in at the break 2-1 down. AVB does not strike me as the type of manager that is going to rip into his players and throw things around the dressing room, this is a very bad thing at a football club because I believe players will play better if they have a slight ‘fear’ of the manager. They will want to perform better because they will not want to be screamed at by their manager, this is why Alex Ferguson has been one of the best managers ever along with Brian Clough, who have both been known to get their message across one way or another.

AVB has already admitted that player power can be a problem and because of his young age he must be struggling to gain the respect of the players. He has tried to drop players such as Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba so everyone knows who is the boss but it still does help the team get results. Against Birmingham City when Drogba came on at halftime he lifted the whole place and was even seen giving his teammates a pep talk in the tunnel which makes you wonder what AVB was doing.

If he gets given the time, he will probably turn Chelsea into a force again as he does seem to be a good manager and his record at Porto was amazing. You can see what he is trying to do as Chelsea have been criticised in recent seasons for having too many players the wrong side of 30 which means that he has tried to get rid of a few players, or at least fade them out. But this will take time as replacing a goal scoring midfielder like Lampard or a proven striker in Drogba will be difficult, especially when Fernando Torres has been dreadful and has not looked like he is going to get back into the groove of scoring goals anytime soon.

The Portuguese manager does have a 47% win record, which is actually quite good but the Chelsea board and fans were hoping it would be closer to the 88% win record he had when he was at Porto. I hope he keeps his job and gets to grips with the Premier League and also realises that in this country sometimes the players need the dreaded hairdryer treatment.

Who should be the next Wolves manager?

Wolves have sacked Mick McCarthy after a humiliating 5-1 defeat against local rivals West Brom leaving the team in the bottom three. At one point this season they were actually top of the table, however this was very early on in the season and they have struggled since. McCarthy had a 38% win record while in charge at Molineux which is quite good seen as though they battled against relegation but on the other hand they did have a promotion season too so if you take that out it will be a lot lower. I don’t think he did a terrible job as he was the first manager in 30 years to keep the club in the top division for successive seasons. Maybe it was time for a change though as they haven’t progressed at all and probably would have went down if he stayed in charge because they were on a downward spiral.

Let’s have a look at the options who could replace him. Some people have mentioned former player Paul Ince to take charge while others have been putting former manager Dave Jones forward for the job but I don’t think these will keep the team in the Premier League so I will focus on other options.

First up, who I think would do a good job is Alan Curbishley because he has a proven track record of keeping teams in the Premier League that aren’t fancied at all. He can galvanise a whole club like he did at Charlton and he also brings in useful players and gets the best out of them. He helped Darren Bent kick start his career and now he is always up near the top of the goal scoring chart and with Steven Fletcher on form at the minute he could help him a lot and give him the confidence to be an even better player. The only reason why I think he might not get the job is the fact he has been out the game since resigning as West Ham manager because the board were selling players behind his back. This was in 2008 and the game has moved on since then and he may be out of touch.

Another option could be Steve Bruce who is currently unemployed after getting sacked as Sunderland manager earlier in the season. He has managed teams in Wolves position before when he was the manager of Birmingham City and Wigan Athletic and was quite successful at Wigan. He brought in some good players at Wigan and also made players play to the best of their abilities with Emile Heskey playing well enough to earn an England recall and receive praise from pundits and fans alike. But his spell with Sunderland was quite unsuccessful as he spent quite a bit of money and for one reason or another they did not perform.

Finally, I would like to throw Ian Holloway’s name into the ring because I believe he deserves another chance in the Premier League and there is no doubt that he will bring attacking football to Molineux if he was given the chance. But the big question is, would he leave Blackpool? I wouldn’t have thought so but if the offer comes along he may be tempted to take the job.

I would like to see Holloway get it but realistically I think Curbishley would be the best option and would do a good job for them. Even if he didn’t keep them up, I believe that with him in charge they would have a good chance of bouncing straight back.

The end of the road for Mick McCarthy at Wolves?

So I decided to watch the Wolves Birmingham game instead of the Real Madrid Barcelona game which in itself seems like such a stupid decision but if I am honest I prefer watching English games because there is always a lot of commitment and desire in every game and I cannot stand watching European football with the constant diving, although I am the first to admit the quality is a lot better in Spain than in our country. Probably because they develop players footballing abilities whereas it seems in our country youth coaches are more focused on getting the players fit and competitive. This is a major reason why England are getting left behind in world football.

So, anyway onto Wolves and yet again they are battling relegation, I honestly thought this year that they would push on slightly and not exactly trouble the top half of the table but survive more comfortably than usual. But when you look at their team they have too many players that look good in the Championship but struggle in the Premier League.

If you just look at their strikers that started against Birmingham it shows they are lacking real quality up front to partner Steven Fletcher who has been their one bright spot in an otherwise dull season. Kevin Doyle works hard enough for the team which I do like about him and I will always defend him because he never lets the defenders rest and he will always give 100% however he needs to score goals if Wolves want to stay up and he only has three goals so far this season which is not good enough. Alongside him was Sylvain Ebanks Blake who I have never rated as a Premier League striker but he can score in the Championship and Wolves should maybe look to getting rid of him in the transfer window unless they are already preparing for life in the Championship.

The midfield is slightly stronger but when you have Karl Henry as one of your main men you are most definitely going to struggle, he always seems more intent on fouling the opposition players or when on the ball play a sideways pass and not look to go forward. He is far too negative. Adam Hammill is yet another player in the same bracket as Ebanks Blake, he can rip teams apart in the Championship but put him in the Premier League and he can’t take anyone on, his crosses hit the first man and he struggles to impose himself on the games.

Maybe I am being slightly harsh on Wolves as they were missing key players like suggested before Steven Fletcher makes a big difference to the side and can score goals but only having one striker that can score is a dangerous game to play. In midfield they have Stephen Hunt who is a very energetic player and can add a little bit of quality to the side. But their biggest worry is where does the creativity come, they can look to Matt Jarvis and Jamie O’Hara who are both a class above the rest of the squad but they can also be inconsistent but when they don’t play Wolves look worse than ordinary.

Should Mick McCarthy stay in charge or do they need someone else to come in and try to save their season?