The English Football League Championship playoffs are among the most entertaining set of matches anywhere in world football on a year to year basis, but the first legs of the 2011 playoffs left the fans feeling unsatisfied and wanting more. Both ties ended in 0-0 draws, but neither had a lack of scoring chances. Poor finishing and great goalkeeping kept the scores level, setting up some potentially close second legs. As it stands, the chances of a Welsh team making it to the Premier League look high, as both Swansea City and Cardiff City take draws back home, where they will be favored against their respective opponents, Nottingham Forest and Reading.
Swansea will be without 22-year-old defender Neil Taylor, who was shown a straight red card for a challenge just a minute into the first leg. Swansea have appealed his suspension, but there's a good chance that's not getting reversed ahead of Monday's game, mostly because Taylor actually put his studs into the thigh of Lewis McGugan, and the incident was not a figment of Mark Halsey's imagination.
While Swansea will not have Taylor available, veteran Garry Monk is more than capable. They were actually the better side for about half of the first leg, despite playing on the road with 10 men, so they will be favorites at home, as they should have 11 men for more than one minute . Striker Fabio Borini, who was substituted out for a slight knock as a precaution, is expected to return to the starting lineup. He will be flanked by speedy wingers Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair, who looked great in the first half of the first leg.
Forest have a variety of dangerous strikers, but none of them were able to hit the back of the net last week. They're likely to regret that, as the team as a whole and Robert Earnshaw in particular will probably have less shooting opportunities than they did in the first leg. However, if they can find shooting opportunities, Earnshaw and Kris Boyd finish more often than not.
Cardiff should be favorites in the other match, but they're in a bit of a race against the clock to find out how heavy of favorites they are. That's because the extent of Craig Bellamy's hamstring injury still isn't 100 percent certain, and he's currently a game time decision for the second leg of their playoff semifinal against Reading. Bellamy was substituted out in they first half of the first leg, but his injury was not serious. What's yet to be determined is if it was so minor that he can play again less than a week later.
Reading have a clean bill of health, so for them, it's all about getting their players on form. Shane Long was lethal in front of goal this season in the Championship, but he didn't look like a 20-plus goal scorer in the first leg. Reading's chances of advancing hinge heavily on Long's ability to score, and he's going to have to step up his game if the Royals are to get back into the Premier League.