EFL play-offs: League One teams prepare to return for final promotion spot

Karl Robinson
Is Oxford boss Karl Robinson pointing the right way to the Championship?

Northampton Town showed how to achieve play-off perfection on Monday at Wembley as they sealed a place in League One for next season.

Now it's time for four third-tier sides to challenge for promotion to the Championship.

BBC Sport takes a look at how Portsmouth, Oxford United, Wycombe Wanderers and Fleetwood Town have prepared in unprecedented circumstances because of Covid-19.

'No home advantage' in play-offs

Portsmouth boss Kenny Jackett
Jackett was appointed Pompey boss in June 2017

Portsmouth enter the League One play-offs for the second successive season under Kenny Jackett, but things will be a bit different this time around as they prepare to welcome Oxford United to Fratton Park for the first leg.

The coronavirus pandemic means neither side will have their supporters in the ground, but Jackett is relaxed about the unusual situation.

"Home advantage is going to be minimal I think. Normally it's such a big thing in football," he told BBC Radio Solent.

"But quite often in recent play-off ties, when the crowd has been there, it hasn't been such a big advantage as it would be normally."

With the season curtailed and the final table settled on a points-per-game basis, Jackett is relieved to have the chance to end their campaign on a positive note.

"It points towards a tie between two very closely-matched sides," he continued. "If you look at League One as a whole, it's been a feature of the division all season, particularly at the top end.

"We're just delighted to have the opportunity to extend our season with the chance to get into the Championship at the end of it."

A 'distant dream' becomes reality

It has been a season to remember for Oxford, who battled at the top of the table prior to the suspension of the league in March and also enjoyed an impressive FA Cup run, pushing Premier League Newcastle United all the way in the fourth round.

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FA Cup: Oxford United 2-3 Newcastle United highlights

Now they get the chance to push for promotion once more when during the shutdown, it was uncertain whether the season would resume.

Boss Karl Robinson wants to pick up where they left off when they face Portsmouth on Friday, having won five games in a row before the season was halted.

"We're hoping to try and achieve something that was a distant dream for all of us and that's been a constant message to the players in the few weeks we've been back together," he told BBC Radio Oxford.

"We're ready and I'm sure Portsmouth are ready as well. Walking around the city for the past few days, I can feel it's ready for it, too."

Oxford have not played in the English second tier since their relegation from the then Division One in 1998-99.

Robinson added: "There's still a pandemic going on outside of football and at times you forget that when you see the games on television. But, we're still respectful of what goes on around us and we're just sad people can't be in the stadium to watch us play.

"We've got to make sure that we do something for them so when they come back to watch us next year, we're in a different league."

Winning promotion the plan 'from day one'

Fleetwood boss Joey Barton
In his first season as a manager Barton led Fleetwood to an 11th-placed finish in League One

Fleetwood boss Joey Barton has guided them to the play-offs in his second season in charge at the Lancashire club and he is clear about what he expects when his side face Wycombe.

"This season we wanted to progress and get closer to the promotion picture and we've managed to do that," he told BBC Radio Lancashire.

"It was always in my remit when I sat down and spoke to [owner] Andy Pilley in the first place. It was about putting Fleetwood in the Championship."

However, as Barton's side prepare to take on Wycombe, he is ready to be patient if things do not go their way.

"If we don't get it done this year, because mad things happen in the play-offs, then we'll certainly be pushing on next year to have a go again," Barton added.

"Our culture is not about results or one-off games, it's about a level of sustained performance every single day and every training session."

Ainsworth eager to prove doubters wrong

Gareth Ainsworth applauds Wycombe fans
Gareth Ainsworth captained Wycombe before retiring in 2013

Wycombe moved up a whopping five places to third in the final League One table after it was settled on a points-per-game basis, and boss Gareth Ainsworth thinks this has given their critics reason to believe they will not seize the opportunity when they face Fleetwood.

"As a manager I need to make sure that mentally my players are ready to give their all for the club if selected," he told BBC Three Counties Radio.

"Fleetwood are a very good side. We know we're up against it. As soon as the play-offs were confirmed the bookies made us outsiders, after jumping from eighth to third.

"All these things seem to make Wycombe the team that won't win the play-offs - for no reasons. You look at teams in the Championship which are beating form teams. It can happen."