Weekly football conversation since 2009, with Graham Sibley, Jan Bilton and Terry Duffelen. Listen on Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or your podcatcher of choice.

Weekend Boxset: With the finish line in sight

Some leagues are reaching their climax while for others the play-offs are already underway. Your penultimate Boxset of 2021/22 is overflowing with end of season drama.

Seven great matches to take you from Friday to Sunday. It’s the Sound of Football Weekend Boxset.

All times are UK


League One play-off semi-final 1st leg: Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday
19.45 on Sky Sports Football & Main Event
Here we go again: Sunderland, at the end of their fourth season in England’s third tier, will once again attempt promotion to the Championship via the playoffs - for the third time. Having lost out in the final to Charlton (again) in 2019 and in the semis to Lincoln in 2021, this surely must be third time lucky. For the neutral, this is a must watch: Wednesday won their home tie against the Lads 3-0 and were thrashed 5-0 in the return fixture at the Stadium of Light. Will either side be quite so cavalier tonight? I’m tempted to say ‘no’, but taking a one or two goal lead into the second leg (played just 3 days later) should be a priority for both sides. Scoring isn’t an issue for either team with goals coming from across the park, although Lee Gregory and Ross Stewart (AKA The Loch Ness Drogba) have made stand-out contributions for their respective clubs. Sunderland look likely to be without the incredibly talented, but forever injured, Nathan Broadhead, while Wednesday’s influential Barry Bannan is a potential doubt. Ha’way the Lads! JB


A-League Men: Sydney v Melbourne Victory
10.45 on BT Sport ESPN
This writer is going out on a limb to say this title decider could be one of the games of the weekend. Yes, really. It’s the final round of the regular season in Australia and Melbourne’s three teams are locked in a three-way tussle for the Premier’s Plate. It’s an unexpected scenario as Melbourne City should have had the title wrapped up midweek, but inexplicably choked against bottom-of-the-table Perth Glory, to leave both Western United and Melbourne Victory in with a shout of topping the table. This being Australia, games are staggered, so first up it’s Victory looking to lift the title at the home of their arch-rivals Sydney FC. If Tony Popovic’s team do end the weekend with another trophy for their cabinet, it will be one of the more remarkable stories in the A League’s short life. Not only will Popovic have won the Premier’s Plate with three different teams, it would be some turnaround for Victory, who finished with the wooden spoon last season. Standing in their way are a Sydney FC team who still have a mathematical chance of reaching the postseason finals but, in reality, have had a miserable campaign. An ageing squad combined with inflexible tactics from Steve Corica has the Sky Blues on the verge of missing the top six for the first time since 2016. Had it been any other opposition, Sydney would have probably ended their season with a whimper, but there should be one hell of an atmosphere at the Jubilee Stadium as the A League’s most successful team in recent years find themselves in the unfamiliar role of potential party poopers against a bitter enemy. This one is impossible to call. If you want more Australian drama than Kylie and Jason reuniting for the final ever episode of Neighbours, then John Aloisi’s Western United travel to Adelaide on Sunday morning UK time with a genuine chance of lifting their first ever trophy. A win for either Victory or United will mean Melbourne City have to take all three points against Wellington Phoenix on Monday, with the Yellow Fever themselves potentially needing a win to secure their finals place if Sydney manage to thwart Victory. Crack yourself a cold one, stock up on shrimps for the barbie, as this is as good as it gets for a title race. GA

Championship: Luton Town v Reading
12.30 on Sky Sports Main Event
In the 30 years since they left England’s top flight, at the very end of the old first division, Luton Town have gone into administration twice, they’ve been docked a total of 40 points and spent five seasons outside of the league. Now, freshly-crowned EFL manager of the year, Nathan Jones, can secure a play-off place with a win against a struggling Reading. It would be easy to look at his team’s rise and call it a miracle but this has been about a club that knows its past - miracles win cup-ties, they don’t see you get the better of much better funded teams over a 46 game season. So what lessons can Reading learn from Luton’s success? Deducted six points in November and put under spending restrictions that will last until the end of next season, the Royals have only remained in the Championship because Derby were punished more severely. Many clubs will argue that they have to run at a loss to compete with sides benefiting from parachute payments. Luton’s results would say otherwise. This match could be Paul Ince’s last game in charge of Reading since taking over on an interim basis in February. After eight years out of the game, once again he was given the job of managing a side his son Tom was playing in. The last time he did that was when we took the reins at Blackpool, which would have been enough to put anyone off taking another job in management. Reportedly, he has been offered the job full time but has said he will only take it if the internal structure at the club is sorted out to his liking. GS

La Liga: Real Betis v Barcelona
20.00 on LaLigaTV
In the small hours of the Andalucian morning, two Saturdays ago, Real Betis’ veteran Joaquin lifted the Copa Del Rey trophy, as he did 17 years ago when they last won this tournament. The 40-year-old is hanging up his boots after 420 senior appearances in green and white. Betis fans will be hoping that the cup win symbolises a new era which sees the club realise its potential. The 0-0 draw with Getafe has put a slight dent in their Champions League qualification hopes but it’s still within their grasp. Barca meanwhile are struggling for consistency since their Europa League exit and have endured a run of difficult games against lower table opposition, including defeats to Rayo Vallecano and Cadiz. With fifteen points still available, their top four position is not secure. Historically, Barca tend to win this fixture, but things have changed for both clubs. Xavi will not relish the prospect of trying to get three points in front of a packed house of loved up Beticos at the Estadio Benito Villamarín. Joaquin has scored just once against Barcelona. I wonder what the odds are on the football gods bestowing a second in his final encounter against the Catalans. TD


National League: Wrexham v Stockport County
12.30 on BT Sport 1
A late Tyrone Marsh equalising penalty for 10-man Boreham Wood at Meadow Park last weekend saw Wrexham lose ground on Stockport and has perhaps taken a little of the drama out of this clash of the top two in the highest tier of non-league football. As it stands County have a three point lead and a game in hand on Wrexham who will have just one to play after this one. Given the run they’ve had recently though, County fans will not be planning their promotion parties just yet. Dave Challinor’s side took a commanding lead in the table with a run from Christmas that saw them drop just two points in seventeen games, but they’ve lost three games in the last month trying to cross the finish line, allowing Wrexham a slim chance to snatch the only automatic promotion place back to the Football League. It may be slim, but where there’s a chance there’s hope to pull off the unlikely. And isn’t that what Hollywood endings are all about? GS

Premier League: Manchester City v Newcastle United
16.30 on Sky Sports Premier League & Main Event
All the voluminous text committed to the page on Manchester City’s dramatic Champions League exit can be reduced to a single abbreviation: ROFL. There is a sweet sense of justice about sports-washing club’s inability to claim what they crave the most. Thanks be to the gods that we have plucky underdogs like Real Madrid to protect us from state funded propagandists threatening to overrun our naïve little sport and trample over our beloved traditions. City fans can take solace in the fact that nothing good ever comes easy and suffering is all part of the narrative, especially for truly successful clubs. For now, Pep Guardiola still has a Premier League title to win and a group of crestfallen players to rouse. Of course, the Toon Army have got all this to come. Newcastle United boss Eddie Howe has spent the Saudi’s money wisely. While they were beaten by Liverpool last weekend, they gave the title challengers a good game. Soon enough this will be a headline fixture between England’s top two clubs and the Geordie nation can look forward to celebrating victories and suffering Champions League semi-final heartache of their own. You couldn’t write a script like this, Fletch. TD

League One play-off semi-final 2nd leg: MK Dons v Wycombe Wanderers
18.30 on Sky Sports Football
Having done the double over Wycombe in the league this season, we confidently predicted on the podcast this week that MK Dons would fail to beat them across two legs in this play-off. After slipping from the automatic positions in the final weeks, you just get the feeling that momentum is against them. And so it proved on Thursday night, when Wycombe won their home leg 2-0 with goals from Ryan Tafazolli and Sam Vokes. Gareth Ainsworth’s side had a man advantage for the final quarter of the game after MK’s Josh McEachran was given the first red card of his career for picking up two yellows in the space of five minutes. A big task for MK Dons but with attacking threats like Scott Twine and the on-loan Spurs striker Troy Parrot, they’re still in this tie. Adebayo Akinfenwa, who will be celebrating his 40th birthday on Tuesday, came on for his now customary cameo in the closing minutes, for his final appearance at Adams Park before his retirement. Enjoying his Last Dance, having won a League One play-off final with Wycombe in an empty stadium two years ago, he now has a great chance to finish his playing career at a packed Wembley. GS

Whatever you watch, have a great weekend.

Terry, Graham, Jan and Gary (@gafootbl)

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