There is a place in the Premier League up for grabs at Wembley this weekend, when Hull City take on Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship play-off final (5.30pm Saturday, Sky Sports 1).
Hull made it through to the season-concluding showpiece event at Wembley by beating Derby County 3-2 on aggregate in the semi-finals, with a 3-0 first-leg victory away from home virtually booking their spot in the final after the first 90 minutes.
The Tigers finished the 46-match campaign in fourth place after their automatic promotion bid fell away around the turn of the year, but manager Steve Bruce (pictured) will hope his side’s experience will pull them through on what will be a tense day. Hull conceded only 35 goals in the season proper, and their defensively solidity could be key at Wembley.
Sheffield Wednesday overcame Brighton and Hove Albion in the semis, a 1-1 draw away from home sending them through after a 2-0 win at Hillsborough. The Owls, who have not competed in the top division of English football since 2000, exceeding expectations by finishing sixth, with most people predicting a mid-table finish before a ball had been kicked last summer. Hull amassed nine more points than Carlos Carvalhal’s charges, but promotion will be decided in this one-off game on Saturday.
The only injury concern for Hull is goalkeeper Allan McGregor, whose chances of featuring are rated as doubtful due to a back injury. Deputy Eldin Jakupovic will start between the sticks at Wembley if the Scot does not prove his fitness before kick-off, just as he did in both legs of the semi-final against Derby. Bruce will have to decide whether to line his team up in a 3-5-2 or 4-4-1-1 formation, with Hull using both systems at different times this term; the latter looks most probable at present, with the Tigers opting for a four-man defence in the clashes with Derby.
Wednesday and Carvalhal also have few injury worries ahead of Saturday teatime, with Ross Wallace fit again after being taken off in the semi-final second leg against Brighton at the Amex Stadium. Alex Lopez was replaced at half-time in that game and, although that decision was not made because of a fitness issue, the Celta Vigo loanee may be left out in favour of Sam Hutchinson, who seems to be favourite to start alongside Barry Bannan and Kieran Lee in midfield. Aiden McGeady has joined up with the Republic of Ireland ahead of the upcoming European Championship and will play no part, with Gary Hooper and Fernando Forestieri set to resume their strike partnership at the top of the pitch.
Our Preview’s Hull v Sheffield Wednesday Betting Tips Verdict
Play-off finals are notoriously difficult matches to predict, with the outcome likely to be decided by which team handles the occasion better on the day. Hull’s status as the bookmakers’ favourites is understandable given their higher finish in the season itself, but Wednesday now seem to have more momentum on their side and are probably worth backing to come out on top, particularly given the favourable odds that are available on Carvalhal’s side.
A 2-1 triumph looks to be the best option, with both Hull and Wednesday likely to find the back of the net. There is unlikely to be too much in the match so placing a wager on a victory by a one-goal margin is wise, while Forestieri could be a good choice for the game’s first goalscorer. With a place in the Premier League and many millions of pounds up for grabs, any player who gets his name on the scoresheet has the chance to become a real hero for their club.