The gruelling 46-game Championship season drew to a close last week with Burnley celebrating the title win and Middlesbrough joining them in next year’s Premier League. The campaign is not over for the four teams left in the play offs though, and Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday, Hull and Derby will battle it out for the one remaining promotion place.
It was another successful week’s betting for us last week as we landed a winning treble after pinpointing the draw between Boro and Brighton that left Chris Hughton’s men in third place on goal difference. They now face 6th placed Sheffield Wednesday in the play off semi final, with Hull and Derby contesting the other. We’ve already earmarked our three teams to back for promotion in each of the Championship, League One and League Two play offs, and now we’re turning attention to the first legs of the Championship semi finals which begin on Friday night.
Derby v Hull
The Tigers thrashed Rotherham 5-1 last weekend to confirm fourth place and a home second leg in this semi final, and that could prove vital when push comes to shove. Derby went down 1-0 at home to Ipswich in a poor display which also saw them lose midfielder George Thorne to a double leg break.
Steve Bruce elected to field a full-strength side for that Rotherham game and will be aware of the importance of momentum going into these games. His side couldn’t have responded better, and despite going a goal down early on, they were 4-1 to the good by half-time. Their home form is second only to Middlesbrough in this season’s Championship, where they’ve only been beaten once and have scored 47 to just 12 goals conceded. It’s this away match that will worry Bruce as the Tigers have been beaten 10 times on their travels, including three of the last five – one of which was a 4-0 defeat by Derby.
The Rams are in good heart under head coach Darren Wassall, who replaced Paul Clemence after his surprise sacking earlier in the season. After surviving a sticky spell they’ve been in the play off positions for much of the season and will be looking to bury the ghosts of two years ago when they lost the Wembley final to QPR. That 4-0 victory over Hull in April will give them the belief that they can come away with a win on Saturday, but this will be an altogether different game with Hull much more likely to adopt a safety-first attitude.
Steve Bruce would be more than happy to come away level with the home semi final to follow next Tuesday night, and his team won’t be chasing the game.
Sheffield Wednesday v Brighton
Some may feel that the disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion will hamper Brighton in their play off attempt, but they will surely have been prepared for the fact that they may not have won at Middlesbrough last week, and can go into these games in good form and in good heart. They are unbeaten in 14 games and have a habit of drawing on the road, with a divisional high of 12 stalemates from 23 games on their travels.
Sheffield Wednesday have been assured of a play off place for a few weeks as challengers Ipswich and Cardiff failed to put any pressure on the top six, but the Owls have just one win to their name in the last six games. They’ve drawn three of those, and are struggling for form a little bit at the back end of the season.
Chris Hughton is another manager who will be perfectly happy to emerge from the away leg all square, particularly with Brighton’s excellent home record, and he’ll be confident of finishing the job next week back on the South Coast. The last three games between these two teams have ended 0-0 and another tight match is in store on Friday night.
Derby and Hull to Draw
Saturday 14th May, 12:30 GMT
Sheffield Wednesday and Brighton to Draw
Friday 13th May, 19:45 GMT