League One play-off semi-final 1st leg preview
Preston are the favourites to gain promotion via the play-offs after missing out on going up automatically on the final day, but can they get over that disappointment?
Chesterfield v Preston North End
Preston's disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion will have to be forgotten quickly as they face the surprise package of the season. No-one expected Chesterfield to finish in the top six, but a fine run towards the end of the campaign of one defeat in nine matches meant that Paul Cook's men reached the League One play-offs for the first time in their history.
Simon Grayson's Preston have jostled with Swindon and MK Dons for the second automatic spot all season. Bristol City were the stand-out champions and only relinquished top spot on a couple of occasions, leaving the other three fighting for second-place.
Preston were on a fine run going into the final match of the season. Grayson's side were unbeaten in 18 games going into the final weekend, but lost to Colchester, with MK Dons capitalising on Preston's error as they thrashed Yeovil at Stadium mk to secure automatic promotion. The Lilywhites will therefore be looking to take their frustrations out on Chesterfield at the Proact Stadium in the first leg.
No-one expected Chesterfield to be close to the top six when they got promoted from League Two and selling two key players at the start and middle of the campaign only goes to show how much of a shock it was they finished in the top six. The Spireites sold centre- half Liam Cooper to Leeds United in the summer transfer window before allowing their leading-scorer Eoin Doyle to leave in the winter one.
Chesterfield have plenty of experienced players that have been in play-off finals and won them in Ian Evatt, Sam Hird and Gary Roberts, but they won't find it easy against a Preston side who have the firepower capable of defeating any side with Joe Garner, Jermaine Beckford and Kevin Davies.
Sheffield United v Swindon Town
Nigel Clough's Sheffield United have stuttered this season having been favourites to take the title and end their four-year stay in the third tier. For some reason the Blades have failed to get going and even trouble the top two and it wasn't until the second-half of the season that they got their act together to finish in the top six. United have been placed fifth for a while but only guaranteed their play-off position a few weeks ago.
Clough has set his side out playing a brand of football which has frustrated the supporters, and results and performances at home haven't been good. The Blades have only won 10 matches from their 23 at home this season. However, they are in the mix and despite the Blades having a terrible play-off record they are second favourites, behind Preston, to be promoted.
Swindon will be disappointed that their season seemed to finish at the start of April when they had a poor run of form that coincided with Preston and MK Dons enjoying excellent runs to push the Robins into the play-offs. Mark Cooper has made several changes to the side in recent weeks to rest some of his players, plus he has had legitimate injury concerns over some of his squad. Cooper made nine changes to his side when they played relegation-threatened Leyton Orient at the weekend.