It’s that time of the year where the automatic promotion places in the Championship have been secured and for the teams just below them, it’s time for the often heart-breaking play-off games.
It’s the same across the Sky Bet Football League, where those that either slipped away from the summit or made a late surge take one another on for a trip to Wembley, and the chance of joining the division above.
This season, Sheffield Wednesday will play Brighton and Hove Albion, whilst Derby County take on Hull City for a shot at Premier League football. They’re all big names, and whilst Hull City might be favourites to win the whole thing, don’t rule out the likes of Wednesday just yet, because as we have seen time and time again, the play-offs can throw up many a surprise.
Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday will get us underway on Friday evening with the first leg at Hillsborough. After the disappointment of missing out on an automatic slot to Middlesbrough on the final day of the regular season, the Seagulls will well and truly have the bit between their teeth when they travel to the Owls.
But by even being in the race Brighton have exceeded expectations. Tomer Hemed and Anthony Knockaert have been key men for the coastal outfit and they should be two players to look out for during the two legs.
Wednesday on the other hand have also had an extremely successful season. They’ve made excellent progress under Portuguese coach Carlos Carvalhal and this might just be their year. They’ve failed to reach the Premier League in 16 years now and a return is long overdue. Fernando Forestieri has been their standout man with the Italian being linked with some top sides before the season has even ended.
Saturday sees the first leg between Derby County and Hull City at the iPro. Derby County have been similar to always – performing strongly before settling for a play-off spot. The Rams are always there or there abouts and this season, bar a poor spell that saw Paul Clement lose his job, they’ve been strong. Keep an eye on Johnny Russell and Tom Ince – if there are two players that can get Derby firing, it’s them.
As for Hull City, they go into the game as big favourites to win the whole thing. 21-goal Abel Hernandez has been on fire for the Tigers this season and he’s a big part of Steve Bruce’s team. Michael Dawson and Curtis Davies have been extremely solid at the back, rendering Hull a formidable force in the League this year. A fixture pile-up dented their hopes of automatic promotion, but Hull City are the ones to watch this time around.
What will happen? As is always the case in the Championship, it’s impossible to predict!