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A closer look at this season's play-off contenders as promotion battle resumes
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Damian Spellman
Press Association
Luton, Middlesbrough, Coventry and Sunderland will battle it out to follow Nottingham Forest (pictured) into the Premier League via the play-offs (Mike Egerton/PA)
Luton, Middlesbrough, Coventry and Sunderland will battle it out to follow Nottingham Forest (pictured) into the Premier League via the play-offs (Mike Egerton/PA)

A dramatic final weekend of the Football League campaign set up a series of intriguing play-off ties as the remaining promotion contenders gear up for one last push.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the combatants in the Sky Bet Championship, League One and League Two as the semi-finals loom.

Sunderland v Luton

Sunderland went into their final-day trip to Preston knowing even victory might not be enough to edge them into the play-offs, but a 3-0 victory, coupled with Millwall’s remarkable capitulation at home to Blackburn, saw them snatch sixth place to keep alive their unlikely hopes of back-to-back promotions.

Under Tony Mowbray, who replaced Alex Neil at the helm in August, they are unbeaten in nine and finished the regular season – during which star striker Ross Stewart was largely absent and they were without a recognised central defender – strongly to give themselves a chance to exorcise the ghost of successive relegations from the Premier League to League One.

Luton, who have not played in the top flight since 1992, were already assured of third place and their play-off berth before Monday’s 0-0 home draw with Hull, which extended their unbeaten run to 14 games.

Indeed, Rob Edwards’ men, who boast dyed-in-the-wool Wearsider Mick Harford among their backroom staff, have lost only once in the league since January 14 and climbed from 10th place into the top three after the former Watford manager’s appointment as Nathan Jones’ replacement in November.

Coventry v Middlesbrough

When Mark Robins accepted the hotseat at Coventry in March 2017, the club was hurtling into League Two and faced an uncertain future amid deepening financial problems.

He has since guided them back up the pyramid to within touching distance of the Premier League, where they last played during the 200-01 season, after a run of 17 games which included just a single defeat and ended with Monday’s 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough.

Former Manchester United and England star Michael Carrick, who was on the books at Boro as a youngster, inherited a team which had won just four of its first 16 league games and was languishing inside the relegation zone when he replaced Chris Wilder in October.

Carrick has overseen a concerted drive up the table, fuelled in large part by revitalised 28-goal striker Chuba Akpom, which at one point saw the club flirt with automatic promotion.

Peterborough v Sheffield Wednesday

Peterborough’s last-gasp surge into the play-offs represents a triumph for persistence. Manager Darren Ferguson, who resigned in February last year with the club slipping inexorably towards the Championship exit, returned for a fourth spell in charge in January following successor Grant McCann’s departure.

Sunday’s 2-0 win at Barnsley enabled Posh to leapfrog Derby into sixth place with a helping hand from Wednesday, who beat the Rams 1-0.

Owls boss Darren Moore, however, will hope that is as far as his side’s charity extends having seen them finish 19 points clear of their semi-final opponents and just two adrift of second-placed Ipswich.

They lost out to Sunderland at the same stage last season and will head into their latest two-legged appointment on the back of a four-game winning run.

Bolton v Barnsley

Bolton’s quest for a return to the second tier for the first time since 2019 caps a season of real positivity after a difficult spell in the club’s history.

Promoted from the fourth tier two seasons ago, Ian Evatt’s men have lost only one of their last 10 games in all competitions, a sequence of results which includes a 4-0 Papa Johns Trophy final victory over League One champions Plymouth.

Relegated from the Championship at the end of last season – having won just six of their 46 games a year after reaching the play-offs – Barnsley are looking to make an immediate return under Michael Duff.

They rather limped over the line, taking just a point from their final three fixtures with runners-up Ipswich and fast-finishing Peterborough both winning at Oakwell.

Salford v Stockport

Salford, famously backed by Manchester United’s Class of ’92, survived a final-day scare as they clung on to the final play-off spot despite a 1-0 home defeat by Gillingham.

Led by former United Academy coach Neil Wood, the Ammies have made it to the end-of-season festivities for the first time since their emergence from the National League in 2019.

Stockport boss Dave Challinor is targeted a third-successive promotion have steered County back into the Football League last season having done the same with Hartlepool 12 months earlier.

They missed out on automatic promotion to Northampton on Monday after a 1-1 home draw with already-relegated Pool, but are unbeaten in 13.

Bradford v Carlisle

There are few bigger managerial names in the lower leagues than that of Bradford boss Mark Hughes, but the Bantams are going to have to do it the hard way if they are to make it back to the third tier.

They won only one of their last five regular season fixtures – although drew 1-1 with champions Orient to seal their play-off place – and failed to score in either game against the Cumbrians.

Carlisle’s 1-1 draw with Sutton ensured their continued participation, although their form too is patchy with only two wins in their last 11 games.

Paul Simpson, the man who took the club from the Conference to League One in successive seasons during his first spell as boss, is back in charge having successfully fought his own battle with kidney cancer and hopes are high for a significant upturn.


ChampionshipLuton TownMiddlesbroughCoventrySunderlandLeague OneSheffield WednesdayBarnsleyBoltonPeterborough UnitedLeague TwoSalford CityStockport CountyBradfordCarlisle
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