Could Lions outmuscle Robins in physical Wembley battle?

Southampton vs Norwich - that’s what I predicted for the League One play-off final at the start of the season.

I saw the Saints’ summer upturn in finance as a cue for a season of destroying those around them, despite their point deduction (much like Leeds’ first season in the third tier) and pinching third.

And Norwich? Well, their squad just wasn’t as strong as Leeds’ or Charlton’s, who were going to finish first and second respectively. So they would just have to put up with a fourth place finish. Ahem.

Now, as a Swindon boy, I’m pretty chuffed my predictions fell short. My wallet on the other hand, not so pleased. But I’m happy to take the hit if it means the Robins have their first trip to Wembley since 1993.

Out of the teams they could have faced in the final though, would I have chosen (or predicted) Millwall? I’m unsure.

The Lions have a lot in common with Swindon Town. However, the one key difference I believe the two teams have is making me struggle to have a guess at who’s going to steal the show.

Starting with the managers. Millwall boss Kenny Jackett has had a tendency of being at the right end of the table during his relatively short managerial career, with his first success getting Swansea in to League One in his debut season.

The following season saw Kenny’s Swans lose to Barnsley in the League One play-off final, the same stage his Millwall side lost to Scunthorpe in the 2008/09 season.

Danny Wilson, on the other hand, has been in the managerial game for a few more years, and subsequently has had his share of highs and lows.

The pain of relegation with Barnsley, MK Dons and Hartlepool have been eased slightly with the success of guiding Barnsley to the Premiership for one season and bouncing straight back in to League One with Hartlepool.

With Bristol City, Danny faced similar frustration as Jackett, losing to Cardiff in the 2002/03 League One play-off semis and in the final to Brighton the following year.

Now the clubs themselves in recent years have flitted around the second and third tiers, with Millwall having a brief spell in the old Division One in 1988 and 1990, but just missing out on the Premiership in 2001.

Whereas Swindon (albeit disastrously, but we won’t go in to too much detail) tasted Premiership life in 1993. Both clubs have had, what some may call, a freefall down to the third tier, with Swindon even dipping their toes into League Two for one season.

Neither side can be criticised for not scoring goals though. Millwall smashed in 76 (conceding 44) and Swindon 73 (conceding 56) this season. They even share Cinderella stories with both snatching a non-league striker and moulding them in to fan favourites.

Steve Morison arrived at Millwall in the summer from Stevenage Borough and thanked his new employers with 23 goals at time of writing. Swindon’s Charlie Austin gave up bricklaying and Poole Town in October and the 20 year-old has grabbed himself 20 goals.

Now for the difference between the two: style of play. Millwall seem to have adopted an approach not unlike their mascot: mauling their way through their prey, overpowering them with strength and aggression and ultimately getting the winning kill at the end of the chase.

The Robins, however, are very much lile their winged sidekick: floating around the pitch looking pretty, pleasing those around them with birdsong in the tune of one-two passes and a hatful of goals.

I like my football to be played in a sleek, smooth fashion. But I am fully aware that this does not always breed success, especially in League One.

The size of Wembley’s pitch lends itself to Swindon’s free-flowing, on-the-ground, attacking philosophy, whereas the quality of the turf may favour Millwall.

The clash of styles certainly elicits the over-used cliché that ‘football will be the winner’ as the strengths of each side could easily expose each other’s weaknesses in the flick of a switch.

Unfortunately my head is leaning towards 3-2 Millwall with Jackett’s men winning the physical battle.

But whatever the result, we’ve got two gaffers experienced in play-offs and promotion bids in charge of two teams both eager to climb out of League One and not afraid to shoot. Should be a corker.

Oh, and before I forget, I’d be more than happy for this prediction to be wrong!