Usually some of the most exciting games of the season, the Championship play-offs kick off tonight with the first leg of both semi-finals.
Bournemouth welcome Brentford to the South Coast in a game that should bring plenty of goals, with only champions Norwich and the Bees netting more than the Cherries during the regular season.
Barnsley’s clash with Swansea follows and is likely to be a tighter affair as the lowest scorers in the top eight meet at Oakwell.
Bournemouth vs Brentford (6pm, Sky Sports)
Following Bournemouth’s relegation and Brentford’s play-off final defeat to Fulham at the end of last season, promotion was top of the agenda for both this time around.
While the Bees notched 87 points and were unlucky to be chasing relentless Norwich and ruthless Watford in the race for the top two, the Cherries’ inconsistencies have made it a more difficult campaign.
Jonathan Woodgate took over as caretaker boss when Jason Tindall was sacked and a seven-game winning run made them look like play-off favourites — only for the campaign to end with three successive defeats.
But the likes of Dominic Solanke, Phillip Billing and exciting Dutch star Arnaut Danjuma are enough to scare any defence and any notion that Bournemouth’s poor finish could impact them has been quickly shrugged off.
Billing said: “I think a good run helps you but I don’t think it matters too much as the play-offs are different.
“It’s still a game of football but the energy around the games is very different.
“A team that has had a bad run going into the play-offs will still know there’s a chance to reach the Premier League if they just win their next games.”
The problem for Bournemouth is they need to find a way to stop record-breaking 31-goal Bees striker Ivan Toney if they are to succeed over two legs.
Toney, 25, has ripped up the Championship following his move from Peterborough, scoring the most goals ever at this level.
Despite not netting in either of Brentford’s victories over Bournemouth earlier in the campaign, he is in no mood to stop his red-hot form now.
Toney said: “How I am as a person, I always think I could do better.
“There’s chances I kick myself for still — even though I have broken the record.
“I am still here thinking, ‘I could have scored that one, it could have been 32, 33, 34’. As a striker you’ve got to be greedy in a way but it’s a great achievement.”
The Bees have taken six points off Bournemouth this season but were favourites heading into the 2019-20 play-off final, which they lost 2-0 to Fulham.
Take nothing for granted
Boss Thomas Frank is not taking anything for granted after that disappointment.
He said: “I have a good feeling about the play-offs but the same was true last season.
“When you reach this stage, the lines between success and failure are so slim. One mistake or a single decision going against you can make the difference.”
Barnsley vs Swansea (8.15pm, Sky Sports)
From a dramatic final day survival to play-off contenders in just one season — Barnsley’s remarkable turnaround has certainly captured the imagination.
Now the Tykes are just three games from a potential return to the Premier League for the first time in 23 years.
But first they must get past Swansea, who have rather laboured into the play-offs in the second half of the season.
Tykes boss Valerien Ismael took over in October when Barnsley were 21st in the table — now he is keen to play on the underdogs tag that has stood them in good stead over the past eight months.
He said: “The good thing is we can go into the game without pressure and it will maybe be the first and the last time Barnsley can go into a game without pressure.
“We have a big desire to continue. We are really focused, we want to continue our story, to push our limits and we are more ready now than for the first games against Swansea.
“We are the underdogs. I think it’s clear if you see the players in the other squads. The other squads have to be in the play-offs or maybe straight into the Premier League.
“We are not expected to be in the play-offs, we just crashed the party.”
Those mind games are of no interest to Swans boss Steve Cooper, who saw his side win only three of their final 11 games to miss out on automatic promotion.
Instead, he is focusing on getting the best out of his squad as they look to return to the top flight three years after being relegated.
Cooper said: “I’m only focused on ourselves and our players. Some people are telling us we’re fourth favourites and the other one is telling us they’re [Barnsley] underdogs. Zero interest from me.
“All I’m interested in is our preparation, our mentality and the support we give the players to back themselves.
“If we were playing one of the other two teams as well it would be exactly the same.
“We’ve got to really believe in what we do and how we work and try to deliver when it counts — and that’s on matchdays.”