FM22 Simulates the EFL Playoffs
The English Football League (EFL) playoffs are always a source of guaranteed drama. From the unmatched elation experienced by the fans of promotion-winning teams to the crushing low felt by those whose clubs just missed out, the playoffs manage to capture every emotion and wrap up the season in dramatic fashion.
Using Football Manager 2022, we’ve simulated the playoffs across all three divisions to see who might be celebrating over the next few weeks and to keep us entertained while we wait for the real action to take place.
Sky Bet Championship
Home win sets up Hatters victory
Semi-Final: Huddersfield Town 3-4 Luton Town
Luton Town only confirmed their playoff berth on the season’s final day with a 1-0 win over Reading, but they were the first to seal their place in the Wembley final after defeating Huddersfield Town.
Nathan Jones’ men had home advantage for the first leg and made it count, Zimbabwean international Admiral Muskwe and Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu scoring either side of Danny Ward’s 15th of the season as they ran out 2-1 winners.
With the tie still firmly in the balance, both teams unsurprisingly went all out for victory in a thrilling, end-to-end second leg.
Luton twice took the lead, first through Luke Berry just before half-time after a brilliant cut back from that man Muskwe and then via the head of Peter Kioso, but could never fully shake off the dogged Terriers.
Duane Holmes scored a penalty on the hour mark to keep Carlos Corberán’s men in touching distance and they notched their second of the game with seven minutes to go, Frazier Campbell prodding home after a goalmouth scramble. Huddersfield pushed everyone up in the last few minutes in the hopes of completing a dramatic comeback but they couldn’t find a third and instead had to watch the jubilation of the away fans who’d travelled up to Yorkshire as Luton sealed progression.
Forest blunt Blades to reach Wembley
Semi-final: Nottingham Forest 2-1 Sheffield United
Nottingham Forest were the form team in the Sky Bet Championship through the second half of the season and while a little disappointed to have missed out on automatic promotion, they had enough over two legs to beat Sheffield United and progress to the playoff final.
Bramall Lane played host to the first leg and it was Paul Heckingbottom’s men that went into the break ahead, club legend Billy Sharp breaking the deadlock after 34 minutes.
The game would finish tied though, Sam Surridge coming off the bench to equalise on 63 minutes, firing home low into the bottom right corner after a sensational defence-splitting pass from Ryan Yates.
The second leg at the City Ground proved largely uneventful, with the two sides combining for a full-time xG of just 0.96. Yates again proved influential, teeing up midfield colleague Jack Colback to score the only goal of the game on 50 minutes, a thunderous drive from 25 yards, and consign United to a ninth unsuccessful playoff campaign on the bounce.
Forest end 23-year top-flight exile with second-half comeback
Final: Luton Town 1-2 Nottingham Forest
Luton had been the more dynamic attacking side in the semi-finals and that trend continued in the first half of the final with the Hatters dominating proceedings. They had to wait until the 34th minute to open the scoring, though, Berry bagging his second of the playoffs after being put through by Allan Campbell.
Steve Cooper’s Forest side found their stride in the second half though and sealed promotion with two moments of real quality. The first came on 56 minutes, Djed Spence capitalising on some broken play on the edge of the area to fire home from 20 yards and add another spectacular strike to his season’s tally.
17 minutes later Sky Bet Championship Young Player of the Season Brennan Johnson took centre stage. The Welshman went on a mazy run down the right, beating two men before firing a low ball into the area. Sam Surridge was the grateful recipient, knocking the ball past James Shea in the Luton goal.
The Hatters ramped up the pressure in the final 15 minutes as they sought an equaliser but Forest’s rearguard held firm, Joe Worrall, Steve Cook and Brice Samba all making big contributions as the two-time European champions sealed a return to the top-flight for the first time in 23 years.
Sky Bet League One
With the Sky Bet League One season running ahead of the Championship and League Two, we have only simulated the real-life final between Sunderland and Wycombe Wanderers.
Black Cats pip Wycombe to seal second-tier return
Final: Wycombe Wanderers 0-1 Sunderland
A second-half goal from Aiden McGeady saw Sunderland bring their four-year stay in Sky Bet League One to an end and deny Wycombe Wanderers an immediate return to the Sky Bet Championship.
Gareth Ainsworth’s Wanderers, who beat Milton Keynes Dons in the semi-finals, were more direct in their approach and edged a tight first-half, racking up five corners and hitting the post through a Joe Jacobson free-kick.
Sunderland have shown renewed belief under the tutelage of Alex Neil and that paid off in the second half as they had to absorb more Wycombe pressure before breaking the deadlock with a lovely team goal.
Patrick Roberts, Lynden Gooch, Dennis Cirkin and Corry Evans were all involved in the build-up, Evans springing McGeady through to beat David Stockdale at his near post from a tight angle.
Wycombe had a couple of late chances, Sam Vokes heading well over the bar after losing his marker at a corner, but Sunderland saw out the game to claim a memorable victory.
Sky Bet League Two
McWilliams hat-trick not enough as Mansfield beat Northampton
Semi-Final: Northampton Town 3-4 Mansfield Town
Northampton Town had been in an automatic promotion place for all but four minutes of the last day of the season, Bristol Rovers miraculously pipping them on Goals Scored with a 7-0 win over Scunthorpe United.
That final day heartbreak appeared to have affected The Cobblers in the first leg of their semi-final, two goals in two minutes from Oliver Hawkins and Lucas Akins giving Mansfield a 2-0 win.
Nigel Clough’s Stags made it 3-0 on aggregate just 85 seconds into the second leg, January signing Akins once again coming up trumps.
That goal seemed to fire Northampton up though and by half-time they had levelled the tie thanks to a sensational 16-minute Shaun McWilliams hat-trick. His first came after a great cross from Ali Koiki, with the other two set-up by midfield partner Mitch Pinnock.
However, a moment of madness with a little over 20 minutes remaining proved Northampton’s ultimate undoing. Goalkeeper Liam Roberts clumsily brought down Akins in the area, with Jamie Murphy calmly stroking home the resulting penalty to seal victory.
Penalty masters Vale progress
Semi-Final: Port Vale 2-2 Swindon Town (Port Vale win 7-6 on penalties)
During the regular season, the away side had won both meetings between these teams and that’s exactly how things transpired in their playoff semi-final.
Vale won a largely uneventful first leg 1-0 at the County Ground, Ryan Edmondson scoring the only goal after getting the final touch on a James Gibbons cross.
To use a boxing analogy, if the first round was a feeling-out process, round two was where both combatants went hell for leather in search of victory. Swindon were able to immediately turn the tables, young forward Josh Davison scoring twice in the opening three minutes to put them 2-1 up on aggregate. Their advantage would only last for a quarter of an hour though, James Wilson levelling the tie at 2-2 after Brandon Cooper gave away a penalty.
After that initial flurry of excitement, there were no more goals in normal or extra time, meaning that spot kicks were required to decide the fate of both teams.
With so much on the line, there were understandably some nerves in the shootout. Wilson got things underway but saw his effort well-saved by Swindon shot-stopper Joe Wollacott. The Robins made good on their first attempt but their second went awry, Jordan Lyden rattling the crossbar.
From there, the ball was back in Vale’s court, who, by going first, were always the ones putting pressure on the opposition. The next 11 takers were all flawless from 12 yards, meaning that Dion Conroy had to score to keep his Swindon side in it. He skied his effort over the bar, putting the Valiants through and ending Swindon’s hopes of an immediate return to Sky Bet League One.
Late winner sends Mansfield into dreamland
Final: Port Vale 1-2 Mansfield Town
Mansfield Town produced a rousing second-half display to come from behind and seal a place in Sky Bet League One for the first time in 19 years.
Darrell Clarke’s Valiants were a constant threat on the counter in the first half and they took the lead on 33 minutes, David Worrall turning and shooting from the edge of the box after receiving the ball from Ben Garrity.
The second half was all Mansfield though, the Nottinghamshire outfit racking up 12 shots and finishing with an xG of over three.
Their first goal came nine minutes after the break, Irish left-back Stephen McLaughlin scoring his eighth of the season with a deflected strike from 18 yards out that completely wrong-footed Vale keeper Lucas Covolan.
With the score still at 1-1 and time running out, it looked as though the game was destined for extra time despite Mansfield committing huge numbers forward. Their persistence, however, was eventually rewarded in the most dramatic circumstances.
James Perch’s headed clearance from a late Vale corner fell at the feet of Jamie Murphy, who immediately launched a counter. After running more than half the pitch and drawing Covolan out of position, the Scot slid the ball across for fellow winger Akins to rifle home and secure his place as a club legend.
Well, that’s how FM22 sees the EFL playoffs going down. If the real-life matches are anywhere near as dramatic as the virtual action was then fans are in for a treat…
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