Championship play-offs - Have Brentford peaked at the right time?

Brentford Griffin Park

In part two of our analysis of the play-off contenders' credentials, we look at who has the best form going into the crunch games.

Many people say the form book goes out of the window when the pressure cooker atmosphere of the play-offs comes around, but the teams with momentum have prevailed more often than not, and any team showing frailty or lacking in confidence can easily come unstuck in the round of games where one mistake can prove fatal.

Looking at the Sky Bet Championship play-off contenders in order of their final table placings:

Norwich City (last five games WWLDW)

Alex Neil's Norwich City finished third with a final tally of 86 points and will consider themselves unlucky not to have gained automatic promotion in what was an unprecedented scramble for the top two places, involving, at times, six clubs. Norwich's run of form in the calendar year of 2015 shows 15 wins from 22 matches, with only three defeats in that time. But in an eight-day period the Canaries dropped points with a home defeat to Middlesbrough and an away draw at Rotherham. If it had not been for that late hiccup, Norwich could have sneaked into the top two, and it remains to be seen whether the failure to continue their momentum - Norwich had won their previous five games before the 'Boro defeat - will prove a mental blow. A last day 4-2 win over Fulham was a fillip at the right time.

Middlesbrough (last five games WWWLD)

There was a time around February where 'Boro looked certainties for the top two, after a run of six straight wins which included the 2-0 victory over Manchester City in the FA Cup. An unexpected 1-0 home defeat to Leeds seemed to knock the confidence, however, and the remaining 14 games of the season were peppered with inconsistency, delivering eight wins, five defeats and only one draw, on the last day at home to Brighton. Within that run to the end of the season, though, it should be noted that 'Boro claimed some significant scalps, beating Ipswich, Derby, Wolves and Norwich to prove that if they get it right they have it in them to beat the best. That might just be the quality they need now.

Brentford (last five games DLDWW) 

Of course Brentford are the surprise package of the Championship season, perhaps more so than Bournemouth, who had already shown promotion credentials last season. The Bees' best run of the season came in November when they recorded five straight wins, but other than that they have struggled to put an unbeaten run together, while remaining just in touch of the play-offs.

A late surge in the last two games (2-0 away at Reading and 3-0 at home to Wigan) saw Mark Warburton's side over the line, but it was touch and go when you consider a run of just two wins from the previous nine games. However, Brentford's momentum is perhaps in contrast to that of Norwich and Middlesbrough, and the Bees head into the play-offs with two wins just as the third and fourth-placed clubs are dealing with the disappointment of missing out on the top two places. The play-offs often rest on such mental battles.

Ipswich Town (last five games WWDWL)  

Like Brentford, Mick McCarthy's Ipswich were one of four clubs uncertain of their play-off status on the regular season's last day, and a 3-2 defeat at Blackburn was enough for the Tractor Boys due to their goal difference and Derby's defeat at home to Reading. McCarthy was almost apologetic at the manner in which his Ipswich side had crept into the play-offs but he will be turning that psychology around as the semi-final games await.

Three wins in the last five games - all at home to Blackpool, Cardiff and Nottingham Forest - combined with a decisive point earned at Wolves and the last day defeat at Ewood Park to see the Portman Road side home. In that context, Ipswich's recent run doesn't look too bad and McCarthy's main concern will be his team's form in derby games, where they have lost both encounters with Norwich this season.

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