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The Bluffer's Guide To The Football League Play-offs

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It's an amazing way to win and a heartbreaking way to lose, but there's no doubt that the play-offs have been a huge success since their introduction in 1987.

As well as keeping the season alive and interesting for your team who have meandered along into 11th but are still tantalising close to that elusive 6th (or 7th in League 2) place, they've produced some of the most nailbiting and exciting games in football history.

With an entire season's work at stake, it means everything for the clubs involved - and this weekend sees the three back-to-back finals at Wembley, following the two-legged semis which took place over the past couple of weeks. So, to make sure you hold your end of the conversation up in the pub - here's our bluffer's guide, complete with a fact-filled infographic, put together by myvouchercodes.co.uk.

Feel free to liberally quote all of it to your friends and make yourself look like a lower league expert.

League 2: Southend United v Wycombe Wanderers (Saturday, 5:30pm)

Gaffers: Perma-tanned ex-Hull boss Phil Brown helms The Shrimpers, while real-life Roy Of The Rovers player-turned-manager Gareth Ainsworth leads The Chairboys.

Form: Southend finished the season like a train, winning seven games in a row before surprisingly losing on the last day of the season to miss out on automatic promotion. They deposed of Stevenage over two bruising semi-finals. Meanwhile, Wycombe, having been in the top three spots for most of the season, also just missed out, despite winning the last three matches of the regular season - although considering they avoided relegation to the Conference on the last day of last season, they'll still be delighted. They swept aside Plymouth in the semis.

What to say in the pub: "It's impossible to call this one: both sides just missed out on automatic on the same points. It'll all be about whether free-scoring Wycombe can breach that watertight Southend defence."

League 1: Preston North End v Swindon Town (Sunday, 5:30pm)

Gaffers: Former Leeds supermo Simon Grayson guides The Lilywhites, while Mark Cooper leads The Robins.

Form: Preston suffered heartbreak, surprisingly losing to relegation-threatened Colchester on the last day of the regular season to miss out on automatic promotion. Nonetheless, they dusted themselves down to impressively beat Chesterfield 4-0 on aggregate in the semi-finals. Meanwhile, Swindon, who finished well off automatic pace - 20 points behind second placed MK Dons - scored an enthralling semi-final victory over Sheffield United, winning 2-1 in the first leg, before an incredible 5-5 draw in the second. They finished the season in poor form, but that was because the play-off place was secured early.

What to say in the pub: "Preston are undoubtedly the favourites, with an experienced manager and 18 more points than Swindon in the league season. But they choked automatic promotion - will they choke again on the unforgiving Wembley pitch?"

Championship: Middlesbrough v Norwich City (Monday, 5:30pm)

Gaffers: Former Real Madrid defender and rookie Spanish manager Aitor Karanka leads Boro, while 33-year-old Alex Neil leads The Canaries

Form: The big one: the game worth £40m/£400m/£4bn depending on which paper you read. But it's still 11 v 11 on that Wembley pitch. Both sides narrowly missed out on automatic promotion, with just a point separating them. Middlesbrough cruised through their semi-final again Brentford, while Norwich triumphed against their bitter rivals Ipswich Town in the 'Old Farm' derby.

What to say in the pub: "Similarly to the League 2 final, this one is impossible to call. Middlesbrough have the mean defence, Norwich score the goals (88 this season). Will Norwich's tough semi-final have taken it out of them? Both managers are relatively inexperienced - it'll simply be down to which players cope best on the day."

Football League Play-offs

(Images: myvouchercodes.co.uk/Getty)

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