Will Fulham get promoted?

Four teams enter, one team leaves

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Play-offs 'difficult to call' but Derby tipped & Villa fancied

The Championship play-offs are so difficult to call, which goes a long way to explaining why one pundit reckons Derby will "take some beating" and another thinks they're punching above their weight to have finished in the top six.

Derby host Fulham in the first leg of the first tie on Friday night before Boro play Aston Villa on Saturday evening.

After a dramatic final day in the Championship, we round-up what's being said elsewhere ahead of the play-offs

Michael Gray - Channel 5 pundit

Micky Gray was the pundit on Channel 5 on Sunday night.

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Can Fulham return to the Premier League via the play offs?

By Joe Harker

Fulham is so close and yet so far from automatic promotion. Their long unbeaten streak came to an end with defeat against Birmingham, allowing Cardiff City to pass them and take second place in the Championship.

Nobody was catching Wolves at the top of the table but instead of the safety brought by automatic promotion it will be down to the play offs. Four teams go in but only one of them will go up. There are 13 points between Fulham in third place and Derby County in sixth but it all comes down to who is better over two legs and ultimately the final.

The other two clubs are Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, both recently in the Premier League and looking for a way back up. As the team with the most points out of the bunch, Fulham have reason to believe they are best placed to progress via the play offs.

Another reason for them to be optimistic is their victories against the other three teams in contention. They won and drew against Derby and Middlesbrough, though they lost the away fixture against Aston Villa. Fulham can go up against any team in the play offs knowing they beat them earlier in the season.

Defender Tim Ream takes confidence from the club gaining the opportunity to secure promotion, pointing towards the long unbeaten run as something encouraging. He said: "You can draw on past experiences, you can draw on current experiences, you can draw experiences from the 23 games unbeaten.

"It's the play-offs - it is what it is for a reason. It's two legs, and you have treat it like two halves."

However, Derby are tough opponents to face over two legs and pundit Michael Gray believes that could swing it their way. He also wondered if Fulham's disappointment at narrowly missing out on automatic promotion could demoralise them and make them vulnerable. He said: "They are absolutely great games to look forward to.

"Derby have obviously picked up a little bit of form. Fulham, we all know they've had an outstanding season but will that hurt them, not going up in the top two?"

The winner of the Fulham/Derby tie will play the winner of the Middlesbrough/Villa clash. Both clubs have managers with plenty of Premier League experience and the Northern Echo suggests it could be a cagey affair as both teams try to frustrate the other and nick a crucial goal. At this point any sort of victory will do.

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Daily Telegraph

Fulham forced to settle for play-off place after 23-game unbeaten run is halted by Birmingham

Fulham will have to negotiate a route through the play-offs if they are to return to the Premier League next season after the momentum that had carried them on a 23-match unbeaten run deserted them at the moment that mattered most.

A win against Birmingham, who began the day just two points above the bottom three, would have taken them above Cardiff City into the second automatic promotion place in the Championship after Neil Warnock's side were held by Reading at home.

Instead, having been well beaten by Garry Monk's team, they must take on Derby County over two legs for the chance to meet Aston Villa or Middlesbrough in the play-off final at Wembley on Saturday, May 26.

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