Burnley v Sheffield United, Championship play-off final, May 25, 2009
The Â£60 million showdown awaits as the Promised Land of the Premier League beckons for one of Burnley or the Blades. With nerves likely to be frayed and legs exhausted after a long season, this year’s Championship play-off final has all the makings of a classic.
Of the two teams, Burnleyâ€™s exploits this season have been well documented and, in the lead up to the Wembley final, Owen Coyleâ€™s side have taken up the majority of the available column inches. Incredibly, this will be Burnleyâ€™s 61st game of the season which has included sensational cup wins over Fulham, Chelsea and Arsenal.
The Clarets were minutes away from beating Spurs in the semi-final of the Carling Cup and after wooing TV audiences with their attractive brand of football, Burnley (9/5 to win) appear to be the media favourites heading into this winner-takes-all contest. To add to their attraction, Burnley, with a population of 88,500, would become the smallest town ever to have a team in the Premier League.
Owen Coyle is undoubtedly one of the more promising up-and-coming managers in the English game and there is no denying the incredible job he has done at Turf Moor. They dispatched a capable Reading side in the semi-finals 3-nil on aggregate, the second-leg made memorable thanks to two brilliant goals at the Madejski from Martin Paterson and Steven Thomspon.
Paterson (13 league goals this season and 2/1 to score in the final) and Thompson will pose problems for almost any defence and the veteran Robbie Blake (12/5 to score) has had an excellent season despite the fact he is 33. Crucially, former Manchester United winger Chris Eagles is expected to be fit after missing all but six minutes of the play-off semi-final and he could provide the necessary spark or invention at Wembley on Monday.
Despite finishing four points ahead of Burnley, Sheffield United (13/8 to win) have barely been mentioned in the lead-up to the final. This may suit Kevin Blackwell (a play-off loser twice in recent seasons) and his players who undoubtedly have the quality to win the match and reach the Premier League.
It is also somewhat fitting that the Blades could return to the top division as Carlos Tevezâ€™s future remains on the backpages. After all, there is still a whole lot of resentment at Bramall Lane over the Argentinean schemer and his role at West Ham when Sheffield United were relegated in 2006/2007.
Sheffield United are probably not blessed with the same attacking talent as Burnley, they undoubtedly miss James Beattie who left in the January transfer window. Yet Brian Howard (12/1 to be the first goalscorer), in a role behind a lone striker, was impressive against Preston in the semi-finals while much appears to depend on the availability of strikers Jamie Ward and Darius Henderson.
For those eager to spot the next generation of English talent, United also boast two of the most promising young defenders in the country in Kyle Walker and Kyle Naughton, and their big-game temperament will be tested to the full at Wembley.
Both teams also feature goalkeepers who live true to the traditions of legendary England goalkeeper William â€œFattyâ€ Foulkes. Whilst it is easy to deride them, one of Brian Jensen (13/8 to claim a shutout) or Paddy Kenny (6/4 to keep a clean sheet) could very well be the match-winner.
All the neutrals seem to be backing Burnley, backed up by the fact that Owen Coyleâ€™s side recorded two wins over the Blades this season. But, fairytales donâ€™t always happen in football.
101gg predicts: Burnley 2 â€“ Sheffield United 3 (28/1)
Full match odds here.