The final match preview, the preview of the final. Mitchell Whiley obliges.
Here it is: the final dance; the big finale; the play-off final. Hull City, Sheffield Wednesday, Wembley. With the stakes higher than ever before, the two Yorkshire clubs will go to battle in order to gain promotion to the Premier League in what will be a spectacle for football fans worldwide.
Sheffield Wednesday may have been the play-offs underdogs after slipping into sixth, but a 2-0 home leg victory followed by a 1-1 draw away was enough to book the Owls in for a trip to Wembley at the expense of third-placed Brighton and Hove Albion. With Modou Sougou and Joe Bennett sidelined, but no fresh injury concerns for Carlos Carvalhal’s side, the main men the City defence need to worry about will be Fernando Forestieri and Gary Hooper, who have fifteen and thirteen goals to their names this season. Another to worry about will be Ross Wallace, who netted in both semi-final legs against Brighton and Hove Albion. Kieran Westwood was heroic in the previous meeting between the two clubs and has consistently been one of the best keepers in the Championship, meaning it could be a low scoring affair if the Tigers are to win.
Hull City will go into the match as unconvincing favourites following a last-time-out 0-2 defeat to Derby County. Having won the first leg 0-3, City scraped through to Wembley for a third visit in two years. No fresh injury concerns, but Allan McGregor will likely continue on the sidelines with a back injury, meaning Eldin Jakupovic will start in goal. Robertson, Dawson, Davies and Odubajo will occupy the backline, with Snodgrass, Livermore, Huddlestone and Elmohamady the likely midfield. Meyler may get the nod over Huddlestone, who was an early withdrawal in the previous match against Derby. Expect Diame to sit behind Hernandez once more up front. Arguably the most impressive player in the semi-final legs was Moses Odubajo, so expect him to be key in both offence and defence. The Tigers’ talisman, Hernandez, is one of only three players in the league to hit twenty goals for the season, so expect him to trouble the Wednesday defence with his pace.
History is on the side of the Owls in this one, having beaten Hull City twenty times, drawing eighteen and losing only eleven. The previous meetings this season have both ended in draws. 1-1 at Hillsborough, where the City defence looked rather nervous but Hernandez was able to rule out Forestieri’s opener. Goal keeping heroics at both end kept that score to a goal each, and continued on to the next meeting where it finished 0-0 at the KC. Based on away games alone, Wednesday would’ve finished the season in eleventh, with City not far ahead in ninth. However, a neutral ground will eliminate this factor for both sides.
Prediction: The nerves will be on show early on, but once the match settles down, the big game experience of most of the City squad will get them through. Hull City 2-1 Sheffield Wednesday.