The Championship play off semi finals will be completed during the next two days as four teams battle it out to reach the Wembley final and ultimately promotion to the Premier League. Both ties were billed as tight affairs with little to choose between the sides pre-match, but the results were anything but. Hull stormed to a 3-0 away victory at Derby to put themselves in an excellent position prior to Tuesday night’s home leg, while Sheffield Wednesday took advantage of Brighton’s injury woes to take a commanding 2-0 lead with them to the South coast.
The Seagulls lost four players to injury during the game, forcing them to play the last 30 minutes with ten men, and perhaps their only saving grace is that they kept the scoreline down to give themselves a chance of turning it around in Monday night’s home leg.
Brighton v Sheffield Wednesday
After finishing third by the finest of margins Brighton were fancied to go all the way in this mini end of season competition, but the footballing gods were against them at Hillsborough last Friday night as injury struck four key players. Top scorer Tomer Hemed and centre-back Connor Goldson left the field within 30 seconds of each other during the first half, forcing boss Chris Hughton into two early changes. Steve Sidwell followed early into the second half, and when winger Anthony Knockaert was carried off on a stretcher, the Seagulls faced the daunting prospect of playing out the final half an hour with just ten men.
Wednesday were already a goal to the good after Ross Wallace smashed in from 25 yards, and Kieran Lee slotted in a second after 73 minutes to give the Owls a commanding lead going into the second leg. Boss Carlos Carvalhal claimed that it was one of his side’s best performances of the season, but also warned against complacency in the second leg.
Chris Hughton confirmed that none of the four injured players would be likely to return in time for Monday’s second leg, but he will be boosted by the return of Lewis Dunk after suspension to shore up the back line. Despite the injuries, Brighton have an excellent home record and are worth following to claim victory over 90 minutes. Away goals don’t count for anything extra in the play offs, so the task for Brighton is to claim at least a two goal win to make it to extra time. That could result in one of those strange scenarios where the host go a goal up, but the visitors continue to play with caution as they hold the overall lead. A one-goal win for Brighton would still see the Owls go through to Wembley, but would also land the bet.
Hull v Derby
The Tigers away form hasn’t been entirely impressive this season so the manner of their win against the Rams was all the more surprising. In an ironic twist Derby are the only side to have won at the KCOM stadium this season, but otherwise Hull have been impeccable on home soil. They’ve won 15 of 23 games in front of their supporters, scoring 47 and conceding just 12 goals all season. Steve Bruce was understandably delighted with the performance on Saturday, but also warned against complacency on Tuesday evening. An early goal for his team would knock the stuffing out of a Derby side who probably already fear the scale of the task ahead of them, but an early goal for Derby could give their players the belief that a dramatic turnaround is possible.
It was a strange performance from the Rams in such an important game and nothing really went for them. Their first shot on target came with just ten minutes remaining and drew ironic cheers from the crowd. It’s difficult to see how they can raise themselves for a heroic effort here, and it may be third time unlucky once the dust settles. They were pipped by a last-minute winner from QPR in the play off final two years ago, while they agonizingly missed out on the top six last season after leading the division for much of the campaign.
If Hull take a lead on the night it would be no surprise to see the confidence and belief drain from the Derby players and it may quickly feel like they have nothing to play for.
Brighton to beat Sheffield Wednesday
Monday 16th May, 19:45 GMT
Hull to beat Derby
Tuesday 17th May, 19:45 GMT