Mark O’Haire’s Play-Off Tips – Hull v Sheff Weds
Football’s most high-stakes game will take place at Wembley on Saturday, as Hull and Sheffield Wednesday fight it out for a place in the Premier League via the Championship play-off final.
Hull v Sheffield Wednesday, Saturday 28 May 2016 17.00, Sky Sports 1
The rewards for promotion have spiralled from £100m to a reported £170m this year and Hull look the most likely to deliver the goods and book an immediate return to the big-time. The bookmakers have chalked the Tigers up as 5/4 favourites to do the business in 90 minutes, a price worth taking.
Steve Bruce’s side appeared on course for automatic promotion for the majority of the campaign but a few terrible months in the depths of winter saw Hull finish fourth. Nevertheless, the Tigers squad is packed with Premier League experience and they showed in a stunning 3-0 semi-final first leg win at Derby they’re more than a match for any second-tier side.
The Rams fought back at the KC Stadium to lead 2-0 at the interval before eventually running out of steam with Tigers skipper Michael Dawson and his well-drilled defenders eventually riding out the tie relatively comfortably.
Strength In Defence
Hull set up to keep a clean sheet first and foremost and there’s no doubt their strengths are at the back – the Humbersiders boast a tally of 25 clean sheets already this season. But star striker and leading scorer Abel Hernandez has proved a consistent menace for opposition defenders with the Tigers clinical operators in the final third.
Bruce’s boys also have half a dozen players in camp that played twice at Wembley in the FA Cup only two seasons ago with Dawson, Hernandez and Mo Diame notable additions since. The big stage shouldn’t be a problem for a team that finished two places and nine points above Sheffield Wednesday.
Just one of the past 13 Championship play-off finals has gone to extra time with nine of the 12 winners inside 90 minutes keeping a clean sheet. Drill down further and the 1-0 correct score has proven profitable in seven of the past 15 Championship finales and it’s an angle that deserves to be followed again.
Hull have W12-D5-L7 when taking on top-half teams this term whilst picking up 11 clean sheets along the way. In contrast, the Owls have W7-D12-L5 with their first leg semi-final victory over Brighton the first against top-six sides under Carlos Carvalhal.
Away Day Blues
Wednesday have won just four games in 19 matches away from their fortress Hillsborough home and head to Wembley having conceded in six of their previous nine. Blackpool in 2010 were the last sixth-placed finishers to triumph in the play-off final and I get the sense this side is just happy to be here.
The Owls were given a large slice of fortune against Brighton in the semi-finals and in fairness, stood firm in the face of a first-half assault during the second leg. But the 2015/16 vintage have already fulfilled, or even exceeded, all expectations already.
Fans flocked to snap-up tickets for Saturday’s encounter and the feel-good factor is back with a first return to the Premier League since 2000 well within reach. There is momentum with the underdogs too – Wednesday suffered just two defeats in their most recent 10 (one of those coming on the final day with the entire first-choice XI rested) and in Fernando Forestieri they boast a potential match-winner.
The regular season meetings saw the sides locked at 0-0 and 1-1, which points to another tight affair.
Indeed, only nine goals have been scored in the last six meetings between these two teams. However, with extra-time and goal-heavy play-off finals in short supply, I just have to hang my hat on a narrow Hull success here.
The Tigers boast much the same squad that suffered a heartbreaking Premier League relegation just 12 months ago. They have bags of experience, a super-solid base with the pace, guile and a clinical forward line that could prove pivotal in the pressurised environment of a play-off final.
Hull are fancied at 5/4 but I’ll also follow the trends to have a wee wager on the Tigers sealing promotion with a 1-0 correct score win at 5/1.
Hull to win @ 5/4
Hull to win 1-0 @ 5/1
*Prices correct at time of publication.