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Monday, 30 April 2012

The View Outside The Premier League - Celebration in Southampton, Anxiety In Sheffield


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Southampton finally sealed the deal and made a return to the Premier League a certainty. After looking the class of the field for 80% of the season they overcome some anxious wobbles to push West Ham into the play-offs.

The Saints overcame their jinx when appearing on live television to overpower a brave but outgunned Coventry City side. A couple of early goals settled the issue and made West Ham's game with Hull City academic.

Nigel Adkins has enhanced his reputation yet again; this is the manager's fourth promotion in a relatively short time. He's proved to be a master of juggling limited resources but now he faces a different challenge as Saints will need to bolster the squad.

His bold signing of Billy Sharp in January bodes well. On the face of it adding another out and out striker to the mix could have unbalanced the side but Sharp's impetus made a big difference in the closing months.

Like Swansea this season. Southampton have the potential to secure their position in the top flight on the back of their home form. The old Dell was a formidable place to go to and St Mary's can be just as intimidating.

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West Ham United, Blackpool, Birmingham City and Cardiff City will contest the play-offs and there's a plausible case to be made for all four to win the prize. The Hammers have been the most complete side but the other three all have hopes.

Blackpool have the knowledge of what it feels like to come through and they are unlikely to die wondering, as Ian Holloway will take an aggressive approach. Birmingham have been the steady eddies of the campaign picking up points while handling a piled up fixture list.

Cardiff City will feel its their time for some luck. Their supporters have suffered two cup finals lost in four years by narrow margins and the disappointment of missing out on the play-offs. They sneaked into the last berth this time but could be awkward opposition.

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In League One it's advantage to the blue half of the city. Sheffield Wednesday did what they needed to do at Brentford and threw the challenge to Sheffield United in the evening game.

Stevenage were never going to be easy opposition. Chasing a historic promotion to the Championship (no team has ever come out of the Conference on automatic promotion and reached the second tier) they took away a valuable point which leaves their fate in their own hands on the last day.

The draw took away Sheffield United's control over their own destiny. Both Sheffield sides play relegated teams next weekend - the Blades have to hope the Owls' trip up against Wycombe while they make the long journey to Exeter. It's very much Wednesday in the box seat for the second automatic slot.

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In League Two Macclesfield's long slide towards the bottom finally ended as they dropped into the Blue Square Premier. Barnet and Hereford both picked up good results and yet again the Silkmen couldn't match them.

Two late Burton Albion goals sent them down with a whimper and there has to be some doubt if the club will ever make it back, given the powerhourse sides congregated in the Blue Square.

Barnet and Hereford fans have become well-versed in life at the bottom end over the years. The Bees have a two point advantage but the Bulls have the far better goal difference, so a point at Burton might not be enough for the Underhill side. Hereford have to beat Torquay though, who are still chasing third place.

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Swindon Town and Shrewsbury Town are safely up. Crawley will be third if they win their last game, consigning Torquay and Southend to the play-offs. Cheltenham are also in but the shock name is Crewe.

Barring an extraordinary result the Alex will finish seventh and pitch at promotion despite a disastrous first half of the campaign. The decision to part with Dario Gardi has paid off and Steve Davis has achieved a great deal, which began with their away form.

For a long time, the Alex had a bettter away record than they produced at Gresty Road but eventually they showed that form to their own fans and they are the joker in the pack for the play-offs.


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