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Huddersfield Town, Luton Town, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United set for Championship play-offs

Harry Cornick, Harry Toffolo, Iliman Ndiaye and Brennan Johnson
Luton’s Harry Cornick, Huddersfield’s Harry Toffolo, Sheffield United’s Iliman Ndiaye and Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson have all been instrumental in their teams reaching the play-offs

The Championship play-offs are upon us and one of Huddersfield, Luton, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United will be celebrating promotion at Wembley in just over two weeks time.

BBC Sport looks at some of the stories behind the ties as the quartet get ready to battle for a place in the Premier League.

The underdogs with bite

Few people would have predicted that Luton Town v Huddersfield Town would have been a play-off match back in August.

The Hatters had finished in 12th last season while Town had ended the campaign in 20th place, just six points above the relegation zone.

However, both sides have managed to defy the pre-season odds thanks to smart recruitment and quality coaching.

Luton boss Nathan Jones was awarded the Championship’s manager of the year award and you would assume Town gaffer Carlos Corberan was fairly high up in the running too.

The Terriers, who spent two seasons in the Premier League before being relegated in 2019, might have flown under the radar to some but they finished the season in third place after six wins and one draw from their final seven matches.

Luton, a non-league side as recently as 2014, secured their play-off berth on the final day. Promotion would see the Hatters, who were relegated from the top flight in 1992, become the 51st different team to play in the Premier League.

Some may think the pressure is off these pair compared to the Blades and Forest but given the difficulty of the second tier and the budgets of some of the teams they have outperformed this season, this good an opportunity to win promotion might not come around again any time soon.

Huddersfield and Luton
Tempers flared during Huddersfield’s 2-0 win over Luton in April, with both clubs subsequently fined

A repeat of a classic?

To football fans of a certain vintage the match-up between Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest will evoke memories of one of the great play-off semi-finals back in 2003.

The two sides played out a 1-1 draw at the City Ground in the first leg before Forest took a 2-0 lead at Bramall Lane through goals from David Johnson and Andy Reid to put themselves in the driving seat for a place in the final against Wolves.

However, Neil Warnock’s men fought back thanks to goals from Michael Brown and Steve Kabba to force extra time.

Paul Peschisolido put the home side ahead in the second period of extra time before a Des Walker own goal meant that Robert Page’s own goal at the other end was not enough for penalties as the Blades went through 5-4 on aggregate.

If that play-off semi-final was a rollercoaster then this season has been equally as eventful for these two sides.

The Blades, relegated from the Premier League last season in bottom place, made a slow start to the campaign under new boss Slavisa Jokanovic, yet it was still a surprise to many when he was sacked and replaced by Paul Heckingbottom in November.

It proved to be a very astute move by the Blades board as Heckingbottom oversaw an upturn in form and results that culminated in a brilliant display on the final day to thump title winners Fulham 4-0 and end the season in fifth.

If Sheffield United’s start to the season was indifferent then Forest’s was positively wretched.

The Reds took just one point from their opening seven games under Chris Hughton before he was sacked and ex-Swansea boss Steve Cooper came in. They have not looked back since.

The January additions of Aston Villa striker Keinan Davis on loan and fellow front man Sam Surridge for an undisclosed fee from Stoke gave them a boost at the top end of the pitch, while Brennan Johnson, son of aforementioned ex-Forest striker David, has scored 17 goals and contributed 10 assists in a breakthrough season.

Although they eventually ended in fourth, they were in with a shot at automatic promotion until their penultimate game of the campaign.

Ryan Yates
Ryan Yates scored an injury-time equaliser for Nottingham Forest in their 1-1 draw at Sheffield United in March

Ending the hoodoo?

Blades fans might look back with some fondness at their semi-final success over Forest back in 2003 but their overall play-off record does not make for pleasant reading. Eight attempts, no promotions.

As well as semi-final disappointments, Sheffield United fans have seen their side lose finals at the old Wembley, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and the new Wembley.

Forest’s record in the play-offs is less storied but certainly no better, with three previous attempts all ending in failure.

Luton can also ‘boast’ a 100% failure rate in the play-offs, with four attempts, three of which came in successive years in the National League, all ending without promotion.

So, on that basis, Huddersfield Town are absolute experts in the field of winning promotion in the play-offs.

Indeed, the Terriers have won in their past two play-off final appearances despite not scoring in either match.

They beat the Blades in the 2012 League One play-off final 8-7 on penalties after Sheffield United goalkeeper Steve Simonsen sent his spot-kick over the crossbar and then defeated Reading by the same method five years later, although neither keeper was required to take a penalty that day.

This will be their 10th play-off campaign and they are looking to make it five promotions.

Survival of the fittest?

Matt Ingram
Matt Ingram’s honeymoon to the Maldives with wife Amelia has had to be put on hold after his emergency loan at Luton was extended

As is to be expected at this stage of the season, none of the four teams are going into the play-offs with a totally clean bill of health.

Luton have managed to extend the emergency loan of Hull City goalkeeper Matt Ingram after injuries to James Shea and Jed Steer.

Ingram is the fifth goalkeeper to have played for the Hatters in the league this season and has delayed his honeymoon to try to help the club win promotion.

Huddersfield look set to be without influential winger Sorba Thomas after the Wales international picked up a knee injury in the win over Middlesbrough last month.

The ex-Boreham Wood man contributed 14 assists and three goals to help the Terriers finish third and his deliveries from set-pieces were a huge threat for the West Yorkshire side.

Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp is facing a race to be fit to feature.

Sharp, 37, has scored 15 goals this season but a calf strain picked up after missing several weeks with a hamstring injury could mean the Blades have to play without a recognised striker after Oli McBurnie, Rhian Brewster and David McGoldrick were all ruled out long-term since January.

Nottingham Forest loanee Davis was ruled out for the rest of the regular season with a hamstring injury last month.

There is a slim chance he could be fit in time to feature in the Reds’ play-off campaign but fellow striker Lewis Grabban is definitely sidelined with his own hamstring issue.

Championship play-off dates

Friday, 13 May

Luton Town v Huddersfield Town (19:45 BST)

Saturday, 14 May

Sheffield United v Nottingham Forest (15:00 BST)

Monday, 16 May

Huddersfield Town v Luton Town (19:45 BST)

Tuesday, 17 May

Nottingham Forest v Sheffield United (19:45 BST)

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