It's now to one game and two teams. We review the Championship promotion playoff semifinals which now has two sentimental favourites in Coventry City and Luton Town preparing for Wembley and a battle for a place in the Premier League...
TEAM OF ROUND
My location and parenting responsibilities meant it was a lot easier for me to get the first leg of the Coventry City vs Middlesbrough play-off semi final than the second leg. Off I went nice and early to the CBS for the Sunday lunchtime kick-off knowing a bumper crowd would be in attendance. As it turned out there were 11,000 more fans there than my last visit for a Wednesday night league game against Sheffield United back in October.
All the extra bodies proved a bit of a struggle for the regulars to cope with, although if Coventry win their next game they might have to get used to a few more sell outs. Other than the extra influx of supporters, the biggest gripe I heard from those around me was about their style of play as the Sky Blues adopted a defensive strategy against a Middlesbrough team who had stacked up the goals during the regular season.
Fortunately for the fan behind me repeatedly moaning about Coventry's 'passive approach', manager Mark Robins knew exactly what he was doing. It was a beautiful piece of knockout football management and just over an hour into the second leg Robins' patience was rewarded.
His two star men Viktor Gyokeres and Ben Hamer cashed in on all the excellent defensive work that came before and combined for the deciding goal that sent Coventry to Wembley. In the build up to the final much will rightly be made of Coventry's long term excellence over the past five seasons, but long term can have many different meanings and over 180 minutes Robins played the long game perfectly to take his place on the Wembley sidelines.
PLAYER OF THE ROUND
Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu (Luton Town)
If the narrative in the build up to the play-off final will recognise Coventry's rise up the leagues to within a single game of the top tier, then it must also recognise Luton's. There is no part of football discourse safe from being turned into a points scoring exercise, so I'll sit on the fence and say both clubs have done absolutely magnificently over their most recent seasons. The truth is that Luton have come from further back having been relegated all the way down into non-league before their incredible rise could begin.
Luton's climb can be put down to many areas of excellence compounding over the years and someone who's been there for the whole journey is central midfielder Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu.
Mpanzu joined back in 2013/14 and with Luton has been promoted from the Football Conference to League Two, from League Two to League One, and League One to the Championship. Don't get any ideas about his selection being sentimental, Mpanzu played every minute of Luton's play-off semi as part of a midfield who at times swallowed up their Sunderland counterparts.
It'll be a much repeated stat but should Luton win at Wembley then Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu would be the first player to go from non-league to the top division with the same club.
TALKING POINT OF ROUND
Boro Bounce Back?
In his first season in management, Middlesbrough boss Michael Carrick has fallen at the final hurdle following play-off semi final defeat at the hands of Coventry City. Carrick has probably learned as much in the past couple of weeks than the rest of his coaching journey combined, but it's hard to shake the feeling that he got outmanoeuvred by a more experienced boss in Mark Robins.
There was a point in the season where it looked like Boro might not even need the play-offs, as they chased down Sheffield United. Ultimately the Blades held them off and their automatic promotion rivals may even provide the blueprint for Boro to follow next season.
Sheffield United did a fantastic job this season of taking their momentum from a strong end to the previous campaign and rolling straight through into the following season for a promotion. I'm sure if you promised Boro fans Michael Carrick's points per game so far for the entirety of next season, many would happily gamble that the 89 point total that would produce would be enough for automatic promotion next season.
My hunch is that Carrick is the real deal and the football has been great, the elephant in the room will be financial though and one thing Boro won't have next season that the Blades did have this season, is a year two parachute payment. They may have to sell to re-tool, but if my hunch is in any way accurate then Carrick should spend that moment wisely.
LOANEE OF THE ROUND
Edouard Michut (Sunderland on loan from Paris Saint Germain)
After a stirring second half in leg one, Sunderland ultimately succumbed to the intensity on and off the pitch at Luton in leg two. It was a pretty gallant effort by Tony Mowbray, who was able to cobble together a genuine promotion push with a defensive injury crisis and no strikers. This column implores a 'loanee of the week' so without wishing to pick on the player I've chosen 19 year old French midfielder Edouard Michut as his substitution into the game fairly well exemplifies Sunderland's personnel struggles in the game.
The Black Cats were 2-0 down, fellow loanee Joe Gelhardt was struggling to make any headway up front and Michut was basically the only card Mowbray thought he could use at that moment in time.
Michut doesn't just represent a lack of options but a way forward for Sunderland next season, with the French market utilised in an interestingly innovative recruitment process this season. Whether it's Tony Mowbray at the helm or not remains to be seen, the dust had barely settled on the play-off exit before rumours were spreading that Mowbray would be replaced as the Sunderland manager next season.
With the fans connected and a definite upward trend at the club you can understand the decision making confidence, but the Sunderland higher ups do still need to be wary of too much change all at once.