EFL playoffs: an exciting time for neutrals yet agony for those involved
Most team's fates have already been sealed this season. In the English Football League, some suffered relegation while others earned automatic promotion. For 12 sides, though, their campaign continues.
The Playoffs have always produced excitement from a neutral perspective. For fans involved, however, they're a nerve-wracking ordeal. With England's second through to fourth tier offering only three more promotions, nine teams will miss out.
In the Championship, Derby County, Middlesbrough, Aston Villa and Fulham are fighting for a Premier League place. The four sides performed well over the regular season, winning at least 20 games apiece. They must now find an extra gear heading into the playoffs.
All four hopefuls have previously enjoyed Premier League status. Each is desperate to return. As a result, the play-off games will be hugely competitive.
The semi-finals take place over two legs from Friday to Tuesday. The Championship's finale will be held at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, 26 May
To begin proceedings, sixth-placed Derby host third-placed Fulham on Friday night. The following day, fourth-placed Aston Villa travel to fifth-placed Middlesbrough. The Rams and Cottagers meet in the second leg two days later, with the Villans and Boro completing the semi-final schedule on Tuesday.
Wolverhampton Wanderers and Cardiff City are already celebrating Premier League promotion. Which side will soon join them?
In League One, Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers claimed the top two spots. Shrewsbury Town, Rotherham United, Charlton Athletic and Scunthorpe filled the playoff positions.
Third-placed Shrewsbury face a trip to sixth-placed Charlton on Thursday night. Two days later, fifth-placed Scunthorpe host local rivals Rotherham. The Addicks and Shrews meet again on Sunday before the Millers and Iron play their second leg on Wednesday.
Can Scunthorpe go one better than 12 months ago and make the final? Will Rotherham bounce straight back after their poor showing last season? Perhaps Charlton can regain second-tier status having suffered relegation in 2016? Or will Shrewsbury, a side which contested automatic promotion for much of the season, secure a Championship place for the first time ever?
Focus is of paramount importance. The stakes are high for all four League One play-off contenders
League Two provides an exciting play-off roster. The three cities, Exeter, Coventry and Lincoln compete with Notts County for promotion. The four teams won at least 20 of their 46 games in the regular season. They all scored more than 64 goals, too. Expect action-packed encounters throughout the playoffs.
On Saturday, seventh-placed Lincoln host fourth-placed Exeter before fifth-placed Notts County play away at Coventry. The Imps and Grecians meet in the second leg on Thursday. The following day, County and the Sky Blues conclude the semi-finals.
Accrington Stanley, Luton Town and Wycombe Wanderers have claimed promotion from League Two this season. Which side will be next?
Lincoln are hoping to enter League One for the first time in history. For Exeter, they're aiming to go one better than finishing as play-off runners-up last season. Coventry and Notts County, meanwhile, are both determined to climb the ladder after several difficult years.
For the neutrals, the season is approaching its most exciting time. English football prides itself on the playoffs. There is nothing like a Wembley final. The momentous occasion, special atmosphere and more importantly those magical moments created for fans, players and managers alike. For those in the play-off picture, however, it's one big roller coaster. Some fans will have their hopes crushed, while others realise their dreams.