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Championship Playoffs - Football: First Legs Preview

The Championship play-offs start on Friday when Luton entertain Huddersfield in the first semi-final before Sheff Utd play host to Nottm Forest on Saturday.

It's usually an exciting climax to the season in the second tier as the clubs who finished from third to sixth battle it out for a place at Wembley and then a lucrative spot in the Premier League.

Before this weekend's semi-final first legs, Forest are favourites to go up, followed by the Blades and then Huddersfield, while Luton are the outsiders.

Huddersfield can claim precious away win

The latter two teams meet first up at Kenilworth Road at 19:45 on Friday and the Terriers can claim a crucial first-leg advantage to take back to the John Smith's Stadium for Monday's second leg.

Carlos Corberan has worked wonders at Huddersfield this season as his side exceeded expectations to finish third and they go into the showdown in fine form, winning their last four games, while they're unbeaten in seven.

Key striker Danny Ward is the visitors' chief goal threat after bagging 14 in the regular Championship season, while Harry Toffolo, Lewis O'Brien and Danel Sinani are among their other important players.

Jones' impressive Luton job

Huddersfield will not be taking Luton lightly, however, as Nathan Jones' men have also performed significantly better than many expected this term to end the season in sixth.

The Hatters will become the first team to ever rise from the National League to the Premier League if they do eventually go up at the end of the month and the fact they were a non-league club as recently as 2014 shows just how superb a job Jones has done in two separate spells in charge.

The earlier league fixture between them at Kenilworth Road in October finished goalless but the Terriers were 2-0 victors at home in the second game between them this season to underline the fact that overall they should have the edge in the tie.

To further the case for an away win, Luton have injury concerns over top-scorer Elijah Adebayo and influential winger Fred Onyedinma, while they're preparing to host a team that have won their last three games on the road, during which they have conceded just one goal.

Luton have never been in the Premier League but were regulars in the old First Division in the 1980s and early 90s and were last relegated from the top flight in 1992, missing out on the inaugural Premier League season.

Huddersfield went up via the Championship play-offs as recently as 2017 but their two-year stay in the top division came to an end when they finished bottom of the top flight three years ago.

Little to choose between Blades and Forest

Saturday's big clash between the Blades and Forest is expected to be a tight affair as the sides who finished fourth and fifth meet in South Yorkshire.

United, who are aiming to bounce straight back up to the top flight, come into the first leg on the back of three straight wins, including a 4-0 home success against champions Fulham, while Forest lost at Bournemouth to end their automatic promotion hopes before drawing with Hull on the final day of the regular campaign.

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Sharp doubt

That form, plus home advantage, means the Blades are 6/5 to win and United boss Paul Heckingbottom will hope to have 14-goal veteran striker Billy Sharp available as frustrating injury issues have restricted him to just one substitute appearance in the past seven weeks. Morgan Gibbs-White and Sander Berge have also been key men for the hosts this term, who finished five points behind Forest in the final table.

The East Midlands giants are very dangerous opponents and will represent decent value to some at 5/2 to come out on top in the first leg, considering Steve Cooper's men won nine of their final 12 games of the season to comfortably seal their place in the play-offs.

They also performed very well in big FA Cup clashes against Arsenal and Leicester, winning both ties against the Premier League clubs, so they have recently proven themselves able to handle big, high-pressurised occasions.

Talented Forest can claim at least a draw

Forest, who are hoping to return to the Premier League for the first time since 1999, have exciting youngster Brennan Johnson, who hit 16 league goals and claimed a joint division-high 10 assists, and 12-goal Lewis Grabban ranked among their most influential players.

The two league clashes earlier this season both ended all square at 1-1 and another draw would not be a surprise outcome in the first leg, available at 11/5.

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