Both Championship play off semi final first legs ended all square, so it’s all to play for on Tuesday and Wednesday night in the battle for promotion. Sheffield Wednesday frustrated Huddersfield at the John Smith’s stadium, holding David Wagner’s men to a 0-0 draw ahead of Wednesday’s return leg at Hillsborough. Reading also secured a stalemate in their away leg at Fulham, going a goal up only to be pegged back by the Cottagers. The Royals will hope to finish the job at the Madejski stadium on Tuesday, but Fulham boast one of the division’s best away records and the tie is in the balance.
Huddersfield had much the better of the first leg encounter, but failed to find the net as Wednesday ‘keeper Keiren Westwood was in inspired form. Nakhi Wells went close on a couple of occasions, but as we predicted here on SBO, the Owls defensive prowess stood them in good stead. Carlos Carvalhal’s side are now unbeaten in eight games against the Terriers, and are worthy favourites to progress with a win on home soil.
Reading’s 1-1 draw at Fulham was a great result on the face of things with the home tie to come, but the loss of captain Paul McShane could prove to be vital. The Royal’s leader was sent off ten minutes from time for a dangerous tackle on Kevin McDonald, and he will surely be missed in the second leg. Things had looked much brighter earlier in the afternoon when Jordan Obita gave Reading the lead, but Cairney’s equaliser brought the sides level midway through the second half. You may suspect that the bookies would price up Reading as favourites with a home record that has seen them lose just twice at home all season – the second best in the division behind Brighton. However, Fulham have the second best away record in the Championship (after Newcastle), so both teams can go into the game with confidence.
Sheffield Wednesday v Huddersfield
We’ll take Sheffield Wednesday to book a place at Wembley with a home win inside 90 minutes at +125 with BoyleSports.
The Owls have also been strong at home this season – their record from 23 games reads 15-2-6 – and as stated they are unbeaten in eight against their Yorkshire neighbours. Wednesday won the regular Championship fixture here 2-0 as recently as January. In the last 20 home games they’ve only failed to score twice, and have kept seven clean sheets. Their defence has only been breached on more than one occasion in six of those 20 matches, and no team has gone on to score three here all season.
Huddersfield will be boosted by the return of ‘keeper Ward, who missed the first leg through suspension, but one suspects he will be kept busier than his opposite number. With three defeats in the last five away games, the Terriers do not look likely to be able to keep a clean sheet as Wednesday play a more forward-thinking game than they did in the first leg. They’ve prevented the opposition from scoring five times in the last twenty away matches, but to their credit they’ve only failed to score seven times in that sequence.
Only three wins in the last ten Championship fixtures means that Huddersfield do not go to Hillsborough in good form. While it’s true that they rested players in some games towards the end of the season, Wednesday’s run of six consecutive wins prior to their last game against Fulham reads much better. If the Owls can get ahead, they’ll rely on defensive qualities to see the tie out.
Reading v Fulham
We were expecting a goal-fest at Craven Cottage considering the two sides which were playing, but a bad-tempered game ended all square at 1-1. Reading will fancy their chances of finishing Fulham off back at home, but we’re backing the Cottagers to pull through at +140 with Marathonbet.
Captain Paul McShane will be a huge miss for Reading, despite Jaap Stam’s insistence that they can win without their leader. His team will have to weather the Fulham storm once again if they have any hope of reaching Wembley. The Cottagers had 12 shots to the Royals’ 3 on Saturday, but couldn’t turn their dominance into a winning result.
Something will have to give on Tuesday night. Reading’s 16-5-2 record from 23 home games in the championship is strong form, but Fulham’s away record of 12-6-5 over the course of the season is equally impressive. Even more so when you realise the Cottagers have won five of the last six away from home, beating sides such as Newcastle, Norwich, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield.
Reading boss Jaap Stam made a point about going into these games with momentum, and didn’t elect to make sweeping changes to his team towards the end of the regular campaign. That may have been an astute decision, as his team win their last two matches. They’ve also won 8 of the last 10 at home, including the 1-0 victory over Fulham back in January.
It promises to be a tight game, but Fulham’s extra firepower and the absence of Reading captain McShane could tilt the balance in favour of the Londoners.
Sheffield Wednesday to beat Huddersfield
Wednesday 17th May, 19:45 GMT
Fulham to beat Reading
Tuesday 16th May, 19:45 GMT
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