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Championship guru Malky Mackay’s play-off verdict

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No one knows The Championship better than Watford boss Malky Mackay.

A dozen years on from leaving Celtic for Norwich City the centre-half has lived and breathed the second flight of English football interrupted only by a season in the Premiership with Watford.

The Wembley showdown between Blackpool and Cardiff is labelled the most lucrative match in football with the winners assured of a £90m cash injection from the Premiership even if they go straight back to The Championship next season.

Mackay won promotion three times in successive season’s with Watford’s 3-0 win over Leeds United in 2006 the most emphatic of play-off victories.

For anyone that’s been tuned to the moon for the last six months former Rangers midfielder Charlie Adam has been on a mission to drive Blackpool into the top flight following his cut price £500,000 departure from Rangers last summer.

Whatever the outcome at Wembley Adam is certain to be in the Premiership next season with Blackpool netting a healthy profit for their investment.

Mackay successfully guided Watford clear of relegation to finish the season in 16th place and expects the Wembley outcome to come down to a shoot-out between Adam and the Cardiff strike-force of Michael Chopra and Jay Bothroyd.

The bookies have Cardiff as favourites for the match but with the form that Blackpool are on it would be brave or foolish to bet against the Seasiders becoming the latest Lancashire club to sample the Premiership

“If Charlie Adam is on his game then there’s a good chance that Blackpool do some damage,” the Watford boss admitted. “If Cardiff can look after him you have to then ask if Blackpool can look after Cardiff’s front two?

“If Chopra and Bothroyd are on form Cardiff are definitely going to score and they also have Pete Whittingham who has scored 20 Championship goals which is an exceptional return for a midfielder.

In an interview at the start of the season Mackay highlighted that there is always one unexpected play-off contender to come out of the back with Blackpool following in the footsteps of Hull City and Burnley.

Ian Holloway’s quirky management and legendary quotes deflects attention from a single minded attitude to management with Mackay impressed by the way that Olly has gone about building his team at Blackpool.

“In the main Blackpool have been able to put out a similar team most weeks,” he added. “They have experienced players, they’re not glamorous names but they have played a lot of Championship football.

“They’ve ground out results and been resilient at times, they don’t know when they are beaten and when you need X-factor they’ve been able to call on Charlie Adam.

“There are two or three others in their team that have added a lot, they have Stephen Dobbie coming off the bench and nicking goals, Brett Ormerod has been doing the same and DJ Campbell has done a shift.

“For people on the outside it will be a shock that Forest didn’t get to the final but Blackpool have been consistent all year, they’ve played at a certain tempo, they are attack minded and it’s no surprise that they are in the final.”

Playing a lesser role to Adam has been former Celt Stephen Crainey while the Cardiff side has more than it’s share of Scots.

Nou Camp hero David Marshall was the star of the penalty shoot-out win over Leicester, while Paul Quinn, Kevin McNaughton, Chris Burke and Ross McCormack all in Dave Jones’ squad although injury has ruled Gavin Rae.

During his time in the Championship Mackay has found the number of Scottish players on the increase with that trend certain to continue.

Gordon Strachan’s scouting network at Middlesbrough appears to concentrate on matters Scottish with players like Adam, Graham Dorrens at West Brom and Ross Wallace of Preston earning international call ups this season.

Mackay has taken Scott Severin and Stephen McGinn to Watford with mixed success and knows that every manager is scouring Scotland for value in the transfer market.

“Clubs know that they can pick up players cheaper in Scotland than they will get in the lower division,” he added.

“Someone from League One or Two who hits a bit of form can suddenly have a £2m tag on their head, there’s better value to be had from the Scottish market.

“There are two or three managers that I’ve spoken to about Scottish players and they know the type of character that they are going to get- they are going to get someone giving everything over 90 minutes.

“The character of the Scot is that they don’t want to be beaten. They’ll give everything that they have and are pleased to be given a chance at this level because you are 46 or 49 games from the promised land of the Premiership.

“Scottish players are attracted to come down and give England a go, there’s a freshness to it with so many club’s stadium’s and places to go to with big attendances and that’s appealing.

“Compared to being at Celtic or Rangers they find that playing in the Championship every match away from home is very difficult, down here you’re not expected to go away and win.

“You could be up against someone that you’ve never heard of before, a player whose been at some unspectacular side’s and you think ‘this guy is decent’- he’s maybe had 250 games in the championship.

“Players coming from Scotland can get surprised by that, when you go away you get tough games against a club that you maybe didn’t known much about.

“Every game is tough, coming down here to play you’ll know that you’ve been in a game every week.”

Whether it’s the Middlesbrough connection or keeping an eye out on how Mackay or Roy Keane is faring the Championship is fascinating viewing for Celtic supporters.

From Craig Beattie at Swansea, Paul Hartley and Evander Sno with Bristol City through to Henri Camara and Michael Gray at the Sheffield clubs there are Celtic connections in virtually every fixture.

Tomorrow it’ll be Stephen Crainey or David Marshall that’s celebrating, the loser can console themselves knowing that next season they’ll still be involved in the fourth most watched league in football with the season just finishing attracting 9.9m fans through the turnstiles.

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