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Jon Riley 7th May 2010 - 16:46

Can the Foxes outwit the Bluebirds?

Leicester City and Cardiff do battle in the Championship play-off semi finals to decide which team will head to Wembley to face either Blackpool or Nottingham Forest.

The first leg takes place in Leicester on Sunday in front of a capacity Walkers Stadium crowd.

After forty-six matches in the Championship this season, only goal difference could separate the Foxes and Bluebirds, with both managing 76 points and consequently booking themselves a place in the play-offs. Indeed, both sides have known their fate for several weeks, with managers Nigel Pearson and Dave Jones having had the chance to rest several first-team players ahead of this showdown.
This season has been an unmitigated success for both sets of fans.

Leicester are chasing back-to-back promotions and after lifting the League 1 trophy last season surely a season of consolidation would have pleased many Foxes supporters. However, their solid home form has proved a sound base for their promotion push and go into the play-offs in their best form of an impressive season after five consecutive victories.

Cardiff also ended the regular season strongly, going 10 games unbeaten before losing 2-0 at Derby in their last match, when their top-six place was already assured.

This time last season it was tears and not smiles on the faces of Cardiff fans. A 1-0 defeat away at Sheffield Wednesday on the last day of the season meant that they finished in seventh place. Agonisingly for everyone involved with the men from the Welsh capital they missed out due to Preston having scored one more goal over the season.

Leicester last sat at the top table of English football six years ago. That will seem like an eternity to the Foxes faithful who then saw their team plunge into the third tier for the first time in their history.

Many Bluebirds fans have never seen their team play in the First Division (now Premier League). The prize for winning the Championship play-offs is top-flight football, which no Cardiff side has done in 48 years.

Leicester are 5/4 in this first leg to make it four home wins on the spin. The Walkers has certainly been a happy stomping ground in recent weeks and Nigel Pearson will be rallying his troops to continue such good form.

Cardiff are 9/5 to defeat the Foxes in their own back yard. The Welsh club's away form has been inconsistent to say the least. They've won ten times away from the Cardiff City Stadium but also lost on nine occasions.

The draw therefore is an unlikely proposition for most punters. I don't feel that the 21/10 on offer represents a true reflection on what is going to unfold in this first leg.

Cardiff however can boast the division's top scorer in Peter Whittingham. The former England U21 international has found the back of the net twenty times in the league so far this campaign. An amazing feat considering he has played predominantly in midfield. He is 15/2 to open the scoring.

Whittingham's in form team mates Michael Chopra and Jay Bothroyd are also well fancied to fire the Bluebirds to promotion. Sixteen goal Chopra is 13/2 to notch first and his strike partner Bothroyd is 8/1.

Leicester's goals this season have been spread round their plethora of attacking players. Martyn Waghorn has 12 goals and is 6/1 to break the deadlock while Matty Fryatt (11/2) and Paul Gallagher (7/1) have eleven and nine goals respectively.

My recommendation for this game is for a slender home victory. Leicester are a tough proposition at the Walkers and could have a little bit too much for a Cardiff side that has been known to choke on the big occasions. I'm going for a 2-1 home victory which can be backed at odds of 8/1.

With the game live on Sky Sports 1 I would keep an eye on William Hill's in-play betting options. If the game is looking tight then a set piece could be essential in separating the teams. I'd be paying special attention to veteran Steve Howard who has built a career on late headed goals.



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