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EPL Playoff Preview

April 1, 2010

The English Premier League regular season came to a close last week, with Milton Keynes Lightning deservedly picking up the title with three games to spare but falling short in the two-legged cup final with Guildford Flames after a 6-1 away defeat in the first leg proved an insurmountable task. Guildford, in fact, went to MK and won, something not many teams have done very often this season.

MK proved that a solid defence is more useful than a blistering attack over a 54-game season, but this weekend just 120 minutes stands between the top 8 sides and a place in next week’s playoffs in Coventry.

MK Lightning v Swindon Wildcats

MK coach Nick Poole should be happier after progressing -

Swindon edged into the top 8 at the expense of Bracknell after a strong end to the season which saw them defeat Manchester, Guildford and Slough. The arrival of netminder Chris Douglas was crucial in their second half of the season revival – turns out the headbutt which saw former keeper Geoff Woolhouse released in January was for the best, albeit perhaps not for Slough’s unfortunate Ryan Watt, who bore the brunt of the attack.

Despite this, Douglas will have a tough job keeping out the league champions over two games. It was a 3-1 win over Swindon that sealed MK’s title and it would have been a much bigger margin if Douglas was not in top form.

In addition, Swindon can be potent on the counter but will struggle against the sensible defensive play that has given Nick Poole’s team so much success. Leigh Jamieson and Lucas Zatopek should be able to thwart the advances of their opponents.

MK to win both games.

Slough's Blaz Emersic has been their standout player - maidenhead advertiser

Slough Jets v Sheffield Scimitars

There is more chance of a surprise here, though this too looks unlikely over two matches. Sheffield have a talented set of players and an unquestionable work ethic, but Slough have too much going forward – particularly Blaz Emersic, who has a lethal finish when given space as proven when he struck 5+2 away in Manchester at a time when the home side’s grip on the top of the table was being prised off, one finger at a time. Sheffield are a work in progress, and should not cause too much trouble.

Slough to progress.

Manchester Phoenix v Peterborough Phantoms

50-goal Adam Walker should help fire Phoenix into the semis - bbc

The winners of Slough v Sheffield face the winners of this clash, the semi-finals being determined in advance, UEFA Champions League style, rather than my league position once the quarters have been played. As we move down the league the ties inevitably get more evenly matched, and Peterborough have two home victories over Manchester already.

Manchester seem to have the frustrating habit of picking and choosing their games coupled with an inability to defend. So, Peterborough will fancy their chances of taking a lead to protect on the road. While Phoenix have conceded an inordinate number of goals on a number of occasions though, Phantoms have conceded nine more in the league and scored fewer. Phoenix’s veteran forward Ed Courtenay has left to take a job with Budweiser across the Atlantic but this has failed to stop Phoenix having an impressive end to the season. The combination of Adam Walker and Tony Hand should produce at least 4 or 5 goals over two legs and Peterborough will have difficulty dealing with that, particularly if Manchester produce just one blistering period at home, which they are more than capable of doing.

Manchester to progress.

Guildford Flames v Basingstoke Bison

Basingstoke coach Steve Moria may complete a great win - bbc

The most attractive game on paper, being between 4th and 5th – a team on the up and a team on the fall. Guildford harboured hopes of the title at one stage and Basingstoke had a poor start, but they finished level on points and just one behind Manchester Phoenix.

It’s a tricky one to call; Guildford have a 4-2 record based on the league games between the sides though they haven’t played each other for a while, in which time Basingstoke have got better. With similar scoring records, it could be a tight affair.

Guildford’s imports Lukas Smital and Martin Masa will pose the biggest threats to Basingstoke, who edge the import battle with coach Steve Moria, Joe Ciccarello and Ondrej Lauko.

The winners of this tie face Milton Keynes or Swindon (so, Milton Keynes) in a Coventry semi-final, and as noted above, Guildford have form over two legs against them.

But Basingstoke to progress over two legs.

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