Middlesbrough v Norwich City: KO – 15:00 BST, 25th May
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Perhaps the biggest game in club football takes place this coming Monday as Middlesbrough and Norwich battle it out for a place in next season’s Premier League – or at the very least, the most lucrative.
£120 million in TV money and gate receipts could soon be deposited in the bank accounts of these two illustrious clubs in what can be football’s most rewarding and yet devastating game.
Boro comfortably handled Brentford in the play-off semi-final and demonstrated everything positive Aitor Karanka has brought to the Riverside since his appointment in November 2013, and their form puts them in great stead heading into the final.
Yet despite this, perhaps with an eye to reducing the pressure on his teammates, club captain Jonathan Woodgate has declared the Canaries the favourites for the game considering Norwich were in the Premier League just last season.
The stats are certainly in Norwich’s favour with 35.7 per-cent of those finishing in third place in the Championship going on to win the playoff game, whilst fourth placed finishers are only promoted 17.9 per-cent of the time – whilst 25.8 per-cent of losers in the final finished fourth.
Alex Neil has turned around the perception of Norwich as great attacking-wise but lackadaisical defensively with the East Anglian side now one of the hardest working sides in the division.
Karanka is sweating on the fitness of young Patrick Bamford, the Championship Player of the Years, and defender Ben Gibson. On-loan Bamford is still suffering with an ankle knock but Boro are hopeful Gibson will be back in training before the week’s end.
Who wins this one? Middlesbrough did a job on Norwich earlier in the season, and won the fixtures during the regular season 5-0 on aggregate. But underestimate the Canaries at your peril.
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