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The Championship Play-offs

I was not always a fan of the Championship play-offs as a team finishing third has no real advantage over the team in sixth whom they meet in the semi-finals. A few years ago Brighton finished 15 points better than Sheffield Wednesday but still lost to them in the semis.

However, I have been won over.

It keeps the division alive from at least 3rd to 7th place. And like last night it can produce a thrilling encounter.

I thought that Aston Villa defending a one-nil lead and WBA might produce the closer game on Tuesday night. However once Chris Brunt of WBA was sent off his team could only hope to hold out and win on penalties.

Villa having the more forwards on the pitch won this.

By contrast Leeds took a one goal lead to Elland Road and were surely favourites. I was hopeful that Marcelo Bielsa’s side would win and play Villa in the final.

I like Bielsa for his attractive footballing philosophy and values. He has restored the pride of the once mighty Leeds.

They were clearly the better side in the home leg at Pride Park.

To accompany my supper of duck a l’orange I imbibed some red Burgundy (a fine Chorley le Beaune) which induced a certain drowsiness as I settled on my sofa to watch the game.

With Stuart Dallas giving Leeds an early lead I thought it might be safe to retire at my preferred time of 9-15. Derby then equalised.

In the second half Derby quickly scored two more.

Suddenly I had to stave off fatigue and stay awake for a great match of football.

No quarter was asked nor given.

If some of the challenges were rash this was excusable in a heady atmosphere.

Leeds pulled one back which meant they only needed one more goal to qualify but it was Frank Lampard’s Derby who did to win 4-2 and make the aggregate 4-3.

One of the many things I like about the Championship is you see seasoned pros like Derby’s Tom Huddlestone and Scott Malone, who played for Fulham in a play-off against Reading and supports Aston Villa, alongside young British talent like Harry Wilson, Mason Mount and Jamie Shackleton who would rarely get a game in the Premiership.

However the greatest irony is that when a manager like Chris Hughton is successful in promotion to the Premier and keeps his team there he can – and did – get the sack at the first wobble.

When Derby were last in the Premier they got all of 11 points and were accorded the description of the worst team in that league’s history. It’s a Yellowbrick Road with ruts.

About Tom Hollingworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a former deputy sports editor of the Daily Express. For many years he worked in a sports agency, representing mainly football players and motor racing drivers. Tom holds a private pilot’s licence and flying is his principal recreation. More Posts

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