With less than 48 hours until the start of the Championship play-offs, the men in charge have had their say.
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith and West Brom manager Jimmy Shan have spoken to reporters ahead of Saturday lunchtime’s West Midlands Derby.
And in the second tie, Marcelo Bielsa of Leeds United and Derby County gaffer Frank Lampard have spoken ahead of their ‘Spygate’ reunion.
We’ve collected what all the bosses have said as they prepare for the four team ‘lottery’ that will see one of them become a Premier League club by the end of the month.
Dean Smith (Aston Villa)
Dean Smith has kickstarted the mind games ahead of the play-off semi-finals by insisting that West Brom are the favourites to progress to Wembley.
The Baggies took four points off Villa in the league games and finished a place above the claret and blues which gives them the edge, according to Smith.
Speaking ahead of the first-leg semi-final he said:
“There’s several pundits out there saying we will be the favourites, but they’re the ones who have been above us all season.
“They came down from the Premier League with a team full of Premier League players,
“They’re the favourites and we have to spoil their party.”
Smith said that he had heard suggestions from the outside that ‘Villa already think they’re at Wembley’.
But he hit back, stressing:
“Far from it. West Brom have been in the play-offs a lot longer than we have.
Jimmy Shan (West Bromwich Albion)
WEST Brom’s mouth-watering play-off clash carries no extra importance because local rivals Aston Villa are the opposition, Jimmy Shan insisted.
Few, if any, of Albion’s previous meetings with their Midlands neighbours will have had so much riding on them as encounters 170, at Villa Park on Saturday, and 171, in the second leg at The Hawthorns.
For Shan, a place in the Wembley final and a shot at promotion glory carries more clout than bragging rights.
What’s happening at West Brom?
“We could play anyone in the division and have the same edge, focus and determination,” the interim boss said.
“I don’t think it (rivalry) will have any bearing to be honest with you
“Anybody that qualifies for the playoffs is there for a reason, anybody we’d face would be competitive.
“We’re all professionals, we want to get back to the Premier League.
“Everyone will be aware of the magnitude of the game and what it means. It’s the business end of a long hard and competitive season.
“The finishing line is in sight, we’ve got to make sure we take care of our business to the best of our ability.
“The magnitude of the game is there for all to see. It’s a special occasion and one we’ll embrace.”
Marcelo Bielsa (Leeds United)
After the controversial draw with Villa earlier this month, Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa has confirmed his players willNOTkick the ball out of play should a Derby County player go down injured.
Leeds scored after playing on when a Villa man was down, an incident which sparked huge altercations all over the field, which eventually saw the Whites allow Smith’s side to score an uncontested equaliser.
Bielsa told LeedsLive:“We reached a common decision with the players, we decided to adapt 100% to the rules – but we understand that if we have one player down, the opponents don’t have to take the ball out of the pitch and we also think that if a player from the opponent is down we shouldn’t interrupt the play and kick the ball out.
“We all know that the person who has to take this decision is the referee but we don’t want to disappoint anyone, our fans, their fans, the other team because it’s what the rules say.
“The rules say the person who has to make the decision is the referee.
“This has nothing to do with Aston Villa’s situation because we feinted that we were going to put the ball out and didn’t. We just want to find a solution to this doubt.
“We will tell the referee and the head coach and captain of Derby that we will behave like that. Which is (playing) by the rules but we don’t want by behaving by the rules to make people disappointed.
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“So we don’t expect the opponent to solve the situation if we have one man down, we won’t ask them to put the ball out. It would be unjustified to do this, because it’s the referee’s decision. We will do exactly the same in the opposite situation.
“I think we are doing the right thing, I hope I am not wrong. Nobody should be bothered by the fact that if we have man down we won’t ask to put the ball outside. And we don’t bother anyone if we leave it to the referee.
“If we accept these two points the same thing. We shouldn’t feel obliged to put the ball out and we should also leave it to the ref, who will find a solution.”
Frank Lampard (Derby County)
Frank Lampard has claimed his side turned their focus to Leeds United as soon as their guaranteed their place in the top six.
The Rams beat Albion 3-1 in the season finale to book their place but Lampard has insisted they still have it all to do against Bielsa’s side.
He told DerbyshireLive: “Our run-in has pushed us into sixth place. The players were fantastic against West Brom – they showed all sides to their game.
“Very quickly we turned our attentions to two huge games against Leeds. We mustn’t forget they beat us twice and finished above us in the league. I respect them hugely.
“We’ll focus on ourselves, prepare well and we’ll be ready.
“If we’ve got any chance of getting to Wembley, we’ve got two really tough games ahead.
“It’s a challenge we have to accept and take on.”
The Rams have suffered play-off heartbreak in recent years but as the look to end their 10 year hiatus from the top flight, the Chelsea legend has said they will look to ‘flip’ the narrative.
“I wasn’t part of that but I understand.
“I’d like to flip that – we’ve been out of the Premier League for 10 years, so what have we got to lose?
“Let’s be positive, let’s be brave.”