2023/24 EFL Play-Off Finals – The big FLW preview


  • Championship play-off finalists not yet set with Premier League dreams hanging in the balance.
  • Spirited Bolton and Oxford clash in League One final with promotion at stake.
  • Crawley’s remarkable season culminates in a play-off final showdown with Crewe in League Two.

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It’s Wembley season in the EFL, with six clubs and their fans set to descend on the national stadium for the Championship, League One, and League Two play-off finals over the next fortnight.

With promotion and the success of the season on the line, EFL play-off finals never fail to deliver the drama and entertainment befitting the final game of the campaign in each division.

Players will get their chance to write their name into club folklore as both heroes and villains while it’s an occasion that, for both good and bad, fans will never forget.

In association with BetWay and their football betting markets, Football League World outlines the key storylines ahead of the Wembley action…

Championship play-off final: Familiar four still battling it out

With the Championship play-off final still more than a week away, the finalists are yet to be confirmed. Things are perfectly poised for the second leg of the semi-finals after both Norwich City v Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion v Southampton ended as a goalless draw.

All four teams are no strangers to the Premier League – with Leeds and the Saints aiming for promotion at the first time of asking while Norwich and West Brom are hoping for a top flight return after a little longer away.

Leeds United v Norwich City: Elland Road record could hold the key

Leeds had the second-best home record in the Championship in the regular season and will hope that Elland Road can be the difference-maker in the decider after the Carrow Road stalemate. The concern for the Whites ahead of Thursday will be their poor form over the past six weeks as they’ve won just two of their eight games since the end of March.

Daniel Farke’s side may have to draw on the individual brilliance of EFL Championship player of the season Crysencio Summerville, who has been devastatingly effective off the left wing in 2023/24 – with 19 goals and nine assists.

Norwich, meanwhile, have struggled on the road this term. They have the fifth-worst away record in the Championship and haven’t been particularly convincing themselves since the start of April, winning just two of their eight games and not tasting victory since midway through last month.

Gabriel Sara Norwich City

Midfield maestro Gabriel Sara is the one to watch for the Canaries. Whether it’s from central midfield or off the right, the Brazilian has dazzled this term, with 13 goals and 12 assists to his name, and will be one of the key men that David Wagner looks to ensure the Canaries make it to Wembley and the top flight.

Southampton v West Brom: Saints look to make it three out of four

Russell Martin

West Brom boss Carlos Corberan is renowned for his tactical nous and game management but Russell Martin and Southampton have had his number – beating them home and away in the regular season.

It was no surprise to see the Martin’s pass masters dominate possession in the first leg at The Hawthorns and we can expect to see more of the same as they look to make it three out of four against the Baggies this term and punch their play-off final ticket.

After Sunday’s goalless draw, Southampton will hope captain Adam Armstrong can find his shooting boots. The forward finished second in the Championship scoring charts with 21 goals and 13 assists and bagged the majority of those at St Mary’s.

Mikey Johnston celebrates scoring on his West Bromwich Albion home debut

Away on the South Coast, making the most of the opportunities that come their way is likely to be a key part of Corberan’s game plan and so Mikey Johnston, who has seven goals since joining on loan from Celtic in January, might be one to watch. He has shown a knack for creating something out of nothing and scoring from anywhere, which may well be vital in a team that is a little short on goals.

League One play-off final: Bolton Wanderers v Oxford United

Saturday 18th May sees Wembley host the first of the three finals as Bolton Wanderers and Oxford United face off with a place in the Championship on the line.

Wanderers will be the heavy favourites to return to the second tier but the U’s have plenty of momentum themselves ahead of their trip to the capital.

Bolton Wanderers: Ian Evatt’s side looking to make up for top two near-miss

Ian Evatt Bolton Wanderers

After last term’s play-off disappointment, Bolton were tipped by many to win automatic promotion this season and ran Portsmouth and Derby County close before falling just short on the final day.

Evatt has taken plenty of plaudits for Wanderers rise up the table since his appointment and the attractive, expansive style of football he has implemented in the lower leagues, but he knows how important it is that his team make up for their top two near-miss and what it could mean if he doesn’t.

A 3-1 first-leg victory at Barnsley put Bolton in control in their play-off semi-final and they held off the Tykes in a nervy second leg at the UniBol to win 5-4 on aggregate and punch their ticket for Wembley.

Evatt’s side will be the favourites to win promotion and if their recent games are anything to go by then goals are to be expected. There have been more than 3.5 total goals in four of their last five games and they scored four on their last visit to Wembley – the 2022/23 EFL Trophy final.

Dion Charles looks to have returned to form at the perfect time. The Northern Irish striker was a prolific goalscorer up until the turn of the year but had managed just one goal in 2024 before bagging three in his last three games to move his total to 20 for the season.

Aaron Collins

The January addition of attacker Aaron Collins has proven a masterstroke. The 26-year-old has taken up the goalscorer mantel and bagged nine in 21 games since his arrival, including seven in his last eight games.

Josh Sheehan has been a key creative spark in the middle of the park, with 12 assists to his name already, and certainly enjoyed himself when Wanderers thrashed Oxford 5-0 back in March.

Oxford United: Yellows must overcome Bolton hoodoo to secure famous Championship promotion

Des Buckingham Oxford United

It’s been a roller coaster of a season for Bolton’s opponents on Saturday and the prospect of a play-off final at Wembley may have felt a long way away during the more difficult parts of Des Buckingham’s tenure.

The U’s flew out of the blocks this term under Liam Manning but saw him poached by Bristol City in November and brought in Buckingham as his replacement. He started well but a rocky patch between January and March, which saw them win just twice in 12 League One games, meant some supporters remained unconvinced.

When Oxford were beaten 5-0 by Bolton, it seemed like that could be their play-off hopes and Buckingham’s tenure done but the club kept the faith and has reaped their rewards. The U’s won five of their last eight games of the season to book themselves a top six place and then edged out Peterborough United to reach Wembley – winning 1-0 at the Kassam Stadium before drawing 1-1 away from home.

If the U’s are to win promotion back to the Championship for the first time since they returned to the EFL in 2010/11, then they’ll have to put their Wanderers hoodoo to bed – having won just one of the last eight meetings between the two sides.

As ever, Cameron Brannagan is a key figure for Oxford. The all-action central midfielder offers so much from the middle of the park and is a real asset in the final third, as his 13 goals and 10 assists this term prove.

The U’s most reliable goalscorer has been Mark Harris. The centre-forward has scored 19 goals in his debut season at the Kassam Stadium and will fancy his chances getting in behind Bolton’s backline.

Josh Murphy Oxford United

Oxford’s return to form under Buckingham has been led by winger Josh Murphy. The 29-year-old has finished the campaign in stunning style – scoring six times and adding three assists in his last 17 games.

League Two play-off final: Crawley Town v Crewe Alexandra

It’s sixth v seventh in the League Two play-off final as Crawley Town face Crewe Alexandra on Sunday 19th May with a place in the third tier on the line.

Both will be desperate to ensure they’re the side to secure promotion in the nation’s capital as a high octane fourth tier draws to its conclusion.

Crawley Town: From relegation favourites to play-off finalists

Scott Lindsey

Sunday’s trip to Wembley marks the end of a remarkable season for Crawley. After narrowly avoiding relegation last term and with some serious question marks over owners WAGMI, the Broadfield Stadium outfit were widely tipped as the favourites to be relegated out of the EFL in 2023/24. Led by Scott Lindsey, who left Swindon Town to take charge last January, Crawley have defied the odds to fight their way into the top seven and become one of the best teams to watch in the division courtesy of the expansive style of play introduced by their highly rated coach.

They ended a four-game winless run with a vital victory against Grimsby Town on the final day, which clinched seventh place and lined up a play-off semi-final with MK Dons. Across two legs, Crawley did what they have done best this term: defy the odds. They rolled over MK Dons 8-1 on aggregate – winning 3-0 at home and then putting five past their opponents at Stadium MK to clinch a Wembley berth in convincing style.

Lindsey’s side love to dominate the ball and build up through the thirds so it’s no surprise that they finished the 2023/24 campaign with the third-highest possession (57.1%) and third-highest pass accuracy (78.7%) in League Two (Whoscored).

The elephant in the room, however, is their underlying numbers. Crawley have significantly overperformed against their expected goals (xG) and expected goals against (xGA) this term – across 48 games they’ve scored 80 from an xG of 69.16 and conceded 65 from an xGA of 81.7. It’s something that is particularly concerning defensively. As per Opta, only four League Two teams conceded more shots from open play this term (489) and Crawley have the highest xGA (55.86) from open play in the whole division.

Liam Kelly Crawley Town

Liam Kelly is a vital influence in midfield and capable of contributing in the final third as well – as his five goals and 11 assists, including three goal contributions already in the play-offs, prove.

Goalkeeper Corey Addai has been arguably their most important asset. Despite missing seven games in the regular season, he made the most saves in League Two (176) by some distance and has prevented a remarkable 15.83 goals this term as well. It’s not just his shot-stopping that has caught the eye either, Addai’s confidence and composure on the ball is a key part of the way Lindsey’s side build from the back.

If one player is giving Crewe defenders some sleepless nights ahead of Sunday it’s likely Danilo Orsi. The number nine has enjoyed a brilliant debut season with Crawley – with 24 goals and four assists in what is by far his best campaign at EFL level. He will be oozing with confidence after scoring three times over two legs against MK Dons.

Crewe Alexandra: Late season slump a concern despite Doncaster Rovers turnaround

Crewe Alexandra

Crewe’s presence in Sunday’s play-off final feels like a significant step for the club after a testing few years. Relegated out of League One in 2022/23 after finishing bottom, last season was hugely disappointing as they spent the majority of it scrapping in the bottom half of the table.

The faith put into manager Lee Bell has paid off this term, however, as the former Alex player had them competing for automatic promotion until a dismal few months of the campaign, which saw them win just one of their last 10 games, picking up the second-fewest points in the division in that period, and finish sixth.

Bell’s side had it all to do after losing their play-off first leg 2-0 to in-form Doncaster Rovers at home but pulled off a brilliant turnaround at the Eco-Power Stadium – winning 2-0 and booking their place at Wembley via penalties.

It’s a Crewe team that are well aligned with the club’s ideologies – with plenty of academy talent in their ranks and Bell implementing an attractive style of play – but the major concern will be their late-season slump. It remains to be seen whether the Doncaster turnaround is a return to form or a false dawn.

Mickey demetriou

In Mickey Demetriou, they have a bonafide set-piece threat. Alongside his defensive contributions, the 34-year-old has scored nine goals and provided six assists already this term, including a vital goal against Doncaster in the play-off semi-final.

Rio Adebisi looks like a young defender bound for big things. Whether he’s utilised on the left or the right, the 23-year-old gets forward really well along the flanks and is an important creative asset as his four goals and seven assists this term show.

Crewe’s most reliable goalscorer this term has been Elliott Nevitt​​​. The striker has 16 goals to his name already and has produced some big moments during their slump to ensure his Bell’s side got over the line.

To find the all the latest live odds for the EFL play-off finals, head to Betway.

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