Luton Town vs Huddersfield. Nottingham Forest vs Sheffield United. Brennan Johnson vs Wes Foderingham. Elijah Adebayo vs Tom Lees.
The Championship play-offs always make for intriguing viewing and this year will be no different.
But who makes our combined XI, consisting of players from all four of these plucky Premier League-chasing sides? It’s a testament to the talent on show that there’s no place for Forest stalwart Joe Worrall, or Sheffield United’s evergreen goal-poacher Billy Sharp…
Our Championship Play-Off XI
Lee Nicholls – Huddersfield Town
Arguably the best goalkeeper in the whole of the Championship this season, the free transfer from MK Dons is a fitting winner of Huddersfield’s hotly-contested Player of the Year award.
Only one shot-stopper has accumulated more clean sheets than Nicholls’ 18 across his debut season in West Yorkshire. And Nicholls enduring reliability earns him the nod over the thrilling yet flawed Brice Samba.
Djed Spence – Nottingham Forest
A Premier League player in waiting, with or without Nottingham Forest.
The Middlesbrough loanee has come on leaps and bounds under Steve Cooper at the City Ground, so much so that Tottenham Hotspur reportedly submitted two bids during the January transfer window.
Cooper will be praying his rampaging right-back is fit to feature in the semi-final first leg after a recent injury scare.
Kal Naismith – Luton Town
Is there anything Naismith can’t do? Is there any position he can’t master? The Luton supporters’ 2021/22 Player of the Year, Naismith possesses a versatility that would make even Christian Bale jealous.
And his reinvention as a ball-playing centre-half has been nothing short of remarkable, with the former Wigan winger scoring twice and setting up seven more at the heart of Nathan Jones’ backline.
Scott McKenna – Nottingham Forest
In truth, we could have picked any of Forest’s central defenders. McKenna’s lovely left foot earns him a place alongside Naismith, however, with the Scot’s positional sense, leadership skills and passing range making him an invaluable part of Cooper’s defence, alongside Joe Worrall and the impenetrable Steve Cook.
Harry Toffolo – Huddersfield Town
With five in his last seven games, Huddersfield’s swashbuckling left-back is heading into the play-offs in better goalscoring form than most. Toffolo’s trademark overlapping runs – and perfectly-timed bursts into the penalty area – could prove integral for a Terriers side who, under Carlos Corberan, have become the masters of game-management.
James Garner – Nottingham Forest
Given the way he has performed on loan at Nottingham Forest, few would bet against Jimmy Garner establishing himself as a key cog in Erik Ten Hag’s Manchester United midfield next season.
He is the man who makes Forest tick, an excellent set-piece taker with a passing range that most Premier League players would be proud of.
Sander Berge – Sheffield United
The towering Norwegian has endured a bit of an up-and-down time at Bramall Lane. But he’s form at precisely the right time with a return to the top-flight on the line. Berge’s imperious displays offer a reminder as to why Sheffield United paid a club-record £20 million to sign him from KRC Genk two years ago.
Allan Campbell – Luton Town
It’s a testament to Luton’s remarkable recruitment that Campbell, a bargain signing from Motherwell last summer, would cost a damn sight more these days.
A dynamic, box-to-box midfield with an eye for goal, Campbell was nominated for the Championship’s Player of the Month award in February.
Brennan Johnson – Nottingham Forest
Arguably the most exciting young forward in the whole of the EFL, Nottingham Forest supporters breathed a sigh of relief when speculation linking Johnson with a move away from the two-time European champions came to nothing in January. And with good reason.
Johnson heads into the play-offs with 11 goals in his last 20 games from out wide. A run of form that has seen him overtake Lewis Grabban as Forest’s top scorer.
Morgan Gibbs-White – Sheffield United
If there was one moment that summed up Gibbs-White, it was probably his inspired backheel finish against Middlesbrough a couple of months ago. Expect the unexpected. The Wolves loanee is brimming with talent and technique. He’s also scored more goals across 2021/22 than any other midfielder in the Championship.
Gibbs-White can win games all on his own.
Elijah Adebayo – Luton Town
Keinan Davis’ injury-enforced absence means Adebayo leads the line in our combined XI.
Snapped up from fourth-tier Walsall for around £250,000, 16 goals in 38 starts is a superb return for a man who outscored the likes of Billy Sharp, Lewis Grabban, Benik Afobe and more. According to The Chronicle, nouveau-riche Newcastle United have scouted Adebayo this season.