Sheffield United finish with a flourish
Sheffield United confirmed their place in the Championship play-offs with a statement 4-0 success over champions Fulham at Bramall Lane last Saturday. The Blades scored three goals in a blistering opening 25 minutes to crush the Cottagers with Morgan Gibbs-White heading home before teeing up Iliman Ndiaye. Sander Berge added to the tally soon after.
Berge then unselfishly found Enda Stevens for a simple finish to make it 4-0 after the restart, wrapping up the contest early on. Paul Heckingbottom's side were able to play out the final half-hour in relative comfort with a top-six finish capping a terrific turnaround for United, who were eight points shy of the play-offs when Heckingbottom was appointed.
Speaking post-match, Heckingbottom said: "I've said all along that we've got good players. We can't win every game - we know we'll not - but we've extended the season, which is great and what we all wanted. We'll celebrate being in the play-offs and we'll enjoy it, however we haven't won anything and haven't achieved anything. We've got more to do."
Nottingham Forest rest and rotate
A much-changed Nottingham Forest outfit were held to a dramatic draw by Hull on the final day of the regular Championship campaign to finish in fourth. Brennan Johnson appeared to have sealed a third-place finish for the Reds with an injury-time penalty, but the hosts snatched a remarkable point with a cross that somehow beat Reds' goalkeeper Brice Samba.
Tricky Trees chief Steve Cooper made seven changes to his Forest side that was beaten by Bournemouth in their previous outing - a defeat that ended the Reds' hopes of automatic promotion. Jonathan Panzo, an England U21 defender who joined in January, started on his Forest debut, while Canada full-back Richie Laryea made his first start for the club.
Despite dropping two points, Cooper was positive about Forest's prospects coming into the play-offs. He said, "We go into the play-offs feeling really good about ourselves. We are looking forward to it - you've got to be excited considering where we've come from. We wanted to finish third, but to come from bottom of the league to fourth place is great."
Both Championship clashes between Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest this season ended in 1-1 stalemates, with the Tricky Trees netting late equalisers in both games (83rd and 90th minute respectively). Meanwhile, the Blades are now unbeaten in their last eight home meetings across all competitions with the Reds going back to April 2004 (W3-D5-L0).
Sheffield United 2.407/5 finished with a flourish, pocketing three successive league victories after bagging only three triumphs in their previous 11 encounters. The Blades have largely built their promotion challenge upon a strong record at Bramall Lane under Paul Heckingbottom's watch, returning W10-D3-L1 here under current management.
Nottingham Forest 3.65 have been transformed since Steve Cooper arrived in September. The former Swansea boss has guided the Reds from rock-bottom into promotion contenders, returning the most league points during that sample (W22-D10-L6). The Tricky Trees have been turned over twice in 17 (W11-D4-L2) and lost just four road trips since September.
Goals tend to be in short supply during any EFL play-off encounter yet first leg ties are traditionally cagey affairs, and Saturday's showdown could well follow the long-term trends here. Indeed, 22 (73%) of the most recent first leg fixtures across the three divisions have featured Under 2.5 Goals 1.584/7 since 2017, pointing us towards a potentially tight tussle.
A chunky 69% of EFL play-off semi-final first legs have seen Under 2.5 Goals land, whilst 40% of matches have produced no more than a solitary strike. The average goals per-game across these fixtures is only 2.09 and another low-scoring showdown looks most likely at Bramall Lane, with a repeat of the duos league match-ups following a similar path.
With that in mind, I'm keen to combine Under 2.5 Goals and the Draw at a generous 3.505/2 on the Sportsbook. We'll be paid out should the game end goalless, or in a 1-1 stalemate, as was the case when Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest crossed swords during the regular Championship campaign.