Aston Villa v Derby
Monday May 27, 15:00
Live on Sky Sports
Since the play-offs were introduced in 1987, 10 teams have lost a Championship final and returned to compete in the play-offs the following season. Of the four sides that managed successive appearances in the showpiece event, three won promotion. Across the Football League, nine of 11 sides to reach successive play-off finals have ended their season in joy.
Aston Villa return to Wembley as fair pre-match favourites. Dean Smith's side beat Derby in both regular season encounters by an aggregate 7-0 and were streets ahead of the Rams across all the major performance data metrics during the regular season. With Man Utd loanee Axel Tuanzebe set to be fit enough to feature, the jollies are difficult to dismiss.
Blackpool (2010) are the only side to win promotion from sixth-place in the Championship over the past 13 campaigns of play-off football and County have flattered to deceive for large swathes of 2018/19, reliant on individual moments of inspiration rather than any specific system or style employed by Frank Lampard.
Derby have lost half of their 12 encounters with top-six teams this term but the underdogs could welcome Martyn Waghorn back to the fold, although Jack Marriott will be hoping to keep his place after making an immediate impact off the bench against Leeds. Elsewhere, 38-year-old Ashley Cole is set to be recalled with left-back Scott Malone suspended.
It's dubbed the most valuable match in world football - promotion to the Premier League will boost the winners' coffers by at least £170m - and the magnitude of the match can often cripple clubs on their big day at Wembley. Perhaps unsurprisingly with so much at stake, Championship play-off finals are rarely high-scoring affairs.
Since the famous Sunderland 4-4 Charlton play-off final 21 years ago, 13 (65%) Championship curtain-closers have reached the 90 minute mark with fewer than three goals - 50% of those 20 encounters produced no more than a solitary strike, including five of the most recent six.
Only three of the past 18 finals have paid out for Both Teams To Score backers, again highlighting the value in opposing goals, bringing low-scoring correct score options into perspective. We can combine the two major goals markets by supporting Under 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score 'No' for an appealing 2.38 play on Monday.
With goals in such short supply, the opening goal in Championship play-off finals can be key. In fact, 14 of the last 15 sides to notch first in a second-tier play-off final have gone on to gain promotion and having already outlined Aston Villa up as deserving favourites, it makes sense to back the Claret and Blue to break the deadlock before taking top honours.
Taking both selections in Betfair Sportsbook's Same Game Multi markets bolsters Aston Villa's price in the regular Match Odds market to a healthy 2.51. Derby suffered 13 defeats in 22 games when conceding first across their Championship campaign this season.
Premier League regular Paul Tierney has been handed the whistle for Wembley. The 38-year-old boast plenty of play-off experience and is relatively lenient official having averaged just 34.80 Bookings Points across his 26 domestic matches in the middle this season.
Perhaps surprisingly, the average Bookings Points per-game in EFL play-off finals remains right in line with regular season averages despite the higher-stakes narrative, suggesting there's room to manoeuvre when opposing a high card count. Under 50 Points appeals at 10/11 as a standalone selection.
However, Derby were the third-most cautioned club in the second-tier this term. The Rams picked up 2.13 cards per-game, receiving at least two bookings in 63% of their encounters across the whole campaign. Considering Aston Villa playmaker is the division's most fouled player, it makes sense to pinpoint two players tasked with shutting him down.
Whether Frank Lampard will select Tom Huddlestone and/or Bradley Johnson in the middle of midfield remains to be seen but both are prime candidates for a card on Monday. The pair combine to average a yellow card every three games in 2018/19 and we can have a speculative punt on both entering the book at a bulbous 4.55.