Championship Playoffs: Can Bournemouth make it a hat-trick of Premier League instant returners?
As the season nears its conclusion, we know 19 of the 20 Premier League teams for next season. Come Saturday night there will only be two left fighting for the last place via the Championship playoff final under the famous Wembley Arch. We have already seen Watford and Norwich City bounce back at the first time of asking, but can Bournemouth complete the set from last year’s relegated sides?
Jonathan Woodgate was given the role of caretaker manager at the Vitality after Jason Tindall was sacked in February. The former Bournemouth coach had picked up experience as a manager last year at Middlesbrough. The 41-year-old has subsequently been able to stabilise the Cherries to keep them in contention.
Bournemouth managed to keep the bulk of their players from last season, such as captain Steve Cook, Asmir Begovic and Adam Smith, which isn't a bad base to build from. Automatic promotion was expected from the South Coast outfit at the start of the season, which is precisely why Tindall is no longer in a job and why the task now lies with Woodgate.
Brentford came so close last season, but missed out on automatic promotion in the final two games, before defeat at Wembley in extra time at the hands of Fulham. The Bees are the only club of the final remaining four yet to play in the big-time during the Premier League era, but it feels like a case of 'when' rather than 'if'.
The Greater London club were last in the top flight of English football in 1947, but will still fancy their chances, especially on home soil with their fans back in the ground. After losing last season’s top scorer, Ollie Watkins, to Aston Villa, Ivan Toney has stepped up to the plate topping the Championship charts with 31 goals. Suffice to say, it'll be difficult to keep him around if Brentford suffer promotion heartbreak again.
The first leg saw Bournemouth dominate and create by far the better chances, but they only have Arnaut Danjum’s second-half strike to show for it, with the score at 1-0. It keeps the tie firmly in the balance, ahead of the return leg on Saturday lunchtime.
The second tie sees Barnsley head to Wales as they try to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg against Swansea. Andre Ayew scored a well-taken goal for the Swans just before the break, but the hosts came close on a number of occasions - including hitting the woodwork in stoppage time.
Barnsley had their only season in the Premier League back in 1998-99 but their progress over the last three years has been phenomenal. Following relegation three seasons ago to League One, the Tykes earned promotion back up at the first time of asking, before surviving in dramatic fashion on the final day of last season. To come from that to a fifth-place finish this year and be in a with a shout of promotion is a fantastic achievement regardless of what happens. Valerien Ismael was the somewhat surprise choice to take over at Oakwell in October last year, but the gamble has paid off with an impressive 58% win rate since he became gaffer.
For Swansea, after their seven-year spell in the top flight came to an end in 2018. they have been in the promotion shake-up in all three seasons back in the Championship. Last term they fell in the playoff semi-finals to Brentford, but they have bounced back well to secure a fourth-place finish this time around. Steve Cooper has led them to back-to-back playoff spots, but the Wales-based outfit are now in a great position to return to the top flight after the first leg.
Both ties still have everything to play for going into Saturday’s second legs, but with the majority of their squad from last year still intact, Bournemouth may not get a better chance to return to the Premier League than right now.