Saturday 24 May ~
The Championship ends with two surprising play-off finalists. Last season Bristol City were promoted as League One runners-up six points behind the champions Scunthorpe. But while the latter struggled and went on to finish 23rd, City spent almost the entire season in the top six. Hull City, who were 21st in the Championship last term, climbed the table steadily from the turn of the year and got into the play-off places with less than ten games to go before finally finishing third. Whichever club wins today will become favourites for relegation in 2008-09, though they would at least expect to improve substantially on the pathetic performance of last season's play-off winners, Derby County.
Hull have plenty of experience in their team, notably in 39-year-old Dean Windass and 34-year-old Nick Barmby, who last played at Wembley in Kevin Keegan's final match in charge of England eight years ago. But arguably their single most important player this season has been Fraizer Campbell, who played in Man Utd's derby defeat to Man City in August last year before going on loan to Hull for whom he scored 15 goals in 34 League games. Loanees from the “Big Four” are able to use spells at Championship clubs to attract interest from other Premier League sides but if Hull go up Campbell might at least be persuaded to stick around for another year.
Like Hull, Gary Johnson's Bristol City eschewed the robustly direct approach taken by many other sides in the top half. This outlook was exemplified by the regular starting place given to the gifted but erratic striker Lee Trundle. Having just completed his first season outside the lower divisions, Trundle – who was briefly linked with his favourite team, Everton, when he was a Swansea player - now has a wholly unexpected opportunity to play at the top level at the age of 31.
As is the way with football these days, much of the discussion around the play-off final has centred on the amount of money to be made by the winners who will face the now customary dilemma of whether to spend their cash advance in trying to stay up, or stash some of it away in the hope that it fund a second promotion in 2009-2010, then a longer stay at the top level. The wreckage at Leicester, Southampton and Sheffield Wednesday also serves as a dire warning of what can happen to clubs after relegation from the Premier League. But neither set of supporters would have imagined back in August that their team would be the subject of such speculation nine months on, and it shouldn't be allowed to dampen what will be a great day at Wembley for one of them.