The Championship play offs get underway this weekend as four sides battle it out for the right to play in the Premier League next season. Fulham, Reading, Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday were all but assured of their places in the end-of-season competition, but the final day of the season was far from eventful.
Huddersfield went down 3-0 at home to Cardiff, but the loss of keeper Ward to an early red card clearly helped the visitor’s cause. That could prove to be a bitter blow to the Terriers, who must now face Sunday’s home leg against Sheffield Wednesday without their first choice stopper. The Owls were also reduced to ten men in the first half as they lost 2-1 at home to fellow promotion hopefuls Fulham. Marco Matias was playing just his second game of the season for Wednesday before receiving his marching orders, so one suspects his absence will have less of an impact.
The Cottagers made sure of 6th place with that victory at Hillsborough, and their reward is a semi final versus 3rd placed Reading, who ended the regular season with a 4-2 win at Burton. Fulham are favourites to win promotion to the top flight, and inflicted a 5-0 thrashing on the Royals earlier this season at Craven Cottage. Will that give the home side the psychological edge, or will Reading complete a revenge mission?
Fulham v Reading
In the home leg at least, Fulham are worth backing at -147 with Marathonbet.
The Cottagers are the Championship’s form team with five wins and a draw in the last six games, scoring 16 goals in the process. They’ve beaten Reading on each of their last three visits here over the course of the last two years, including that 5-0 tonking in December. Home form is a slight concern, with Fulham posting numbers of 10-8-5 from 23 league games at Craven Cottage. However, they’ve won seven of the last twelve in front of their own fans, and will expect to go into the away leg with an advantage. Fulham are almost certainly the side that will be on the front foot throughout the game, and that’s a positive in the betting stakes.
Reading avenged the 5-0 loss in December with a 1-0 home win in January, and can take confidence from Fulham’s average home form and their own decent away form. The Royals have a 10-2-11 record from 23 road games this season – the 6th best in the division. What’s notable is that they rarely draw, a scenario that’s played out over their last five away matches, where they’ve won 3 and lost 2. Overall it’s seven wins from the last nine, with manager Jaap Stam extolling the virtues of momentum in the play offs. Reading have also scored in each of the last nine games, and although away goals don’t count in the play offs, getting on the scoresheet may be important in terms of staying in the tie.
Huddersfield v Sheffield Wednesday
Huddersfield are this year’s surprise play off contenders, but it is fully deserved after a wonderful season under David Wagner. Much to the ire of the football league, the manager has rested several players over the last two games of the season since a play off place was assured. He argued that he had every right to prepare his players for this mini-competition, but any momentum has definitely been lost with defeats to Birmingham and Cardiff. What may have more of an impact is the absence of goalkeeper Danny Ward, who was sent for an early bath after handling outside the box against Cardiff. He will return for the second leg, but the Terriers must hope the damage hasn’t already been done.
Sheffield Wednesday have beaten Huddersfield to nil in both meetings this season, recording a 1-0 away victory and a 2-0 win back at Hillsborough. They were also on a run of six straight victories up until the last-day 2-1 defeat to Fulham, but mitigating factors are that they rested players and were reduced to ten men in first half stoppage time. Huddersfield’s best chance of reaching Wembley will be by taking a lead in this first leg, but Wednesday are by far the best defensive side in the play offs. A draw or better here, and the Owls will fancy themselves to finish the job at Hillsborough.
Fulham to beat Reading
Saturday 13th May, 17:30 GMT
Sheffield Wednesday or Draw
Sunday 14th May, 14:00 GMT