By Antony Jordan
The richest game in world football plays at Wembley Stadium this Monday afternoon as Huddersfield Town and Reading clash in the Championship Play Off Final for the final place in the Premier League next season. The prize for finishing bottom of the top flight with the latest TV deal and league prize money is £150m so one of these two clubs will secure themselves a massive windfall (even if they finish 20th next season) and one will miss out. This vast sum of cash, as well as the prestige of playing in the top flight, always adds a little something extra to this match, but who’ll thrive under the pressure and who’ll collapse?
We preview this final clash of the English season with online sportsbook Bet365.com to provide our best 2017 Championship Play Off Final picks.
Huddersfield come into this massive decider with a settled side and no new injury or suspension issues to worry about. This will help them massively and with goalkeeper Danny Ward full of confidence following his decisive penalty save in the shootout against Sheffield Wednesday in the Semi Finals manager David Wagner knows that his entire side from front to back is working at optimum coming into this clash.
Reading will miss captain Paul McShane for this match at Wembley following his red card against Fulham in the Play Off Semi Finals and Tiago Ilori is expected to take his place on the field. The Royals also have a doubt over Jordan Obita who has an ankle issue, but manager Jaap Stam is hopeful that the versatile player will have recovered in time to take his place in the starting XI on Monday.
The Terriers do not bring the best of form into this Championship promotion decider as they have won just one of their last seven matches. They drew both legs of the Play Off Semi Finals with them drawing 0-0 on home soil before progressing on penalties after a 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday. That second leg goal at Hillsborough is, in fact, the only goal that Huddersfield have scored in four games coming into this final and this is a big surprise considering that they have been one of the most entertaining and attacking sides in the Championship this season, but Wagner has gone more defensive of late to ensure that his team is the one to progress. Will be revert to being the entertainers for this final or will they sit deep again and hope to hit Reading on the counter?
Even though they finished third in the Championship this season after a stunning run of results under former Manchester United defender Jaap Stam in his first season of management at the club, Reading were still perceived to be one of the outsiders for promotion. They faced a Fulham side who had shown to be impressive in the league, especially in scoring goals, but a 1-1 draw at Craven Cottage before a 1-0 home win for Reading saw them upset the odds to progress. Their performances this season have shown them to play very much in the vein of the battling and solid way that Stam used to perform on the pitch and with just one defeat in their last seven games there is certainly value in The Royals as the outsiders to return to the EPL for the first time since 2013.
The results of the two league meetings between these sides this season suggest that we’re likely to see a solid and defensive performance from both of these teams. Both sides recorded a 1-0 home win against the other during the campaign, although Reading’s victory was certainly helped by Huddersfield having Rajiv van La Parra red carded after 26 minutes of their clash in September.
Looking at the match and the sides involved we feel that this game will be tight and combative, and that both of the teams are more than capable of taking victory in this final. Huddersfield have the better Play Off record with three wins in four deciders – although none of these have come in the second tier – while Reading have lost all of their last three final matches as they aimed to return to the Premier League.
We feel that if the game is to be settled in normal time that it will be Reading that edges past Huddersfield, but if The Royals cannot see off The Terriers in 90 minutes that it will be the favourites that progress. With things being so close and tight we are staying away from the full time and outright markets, but we can see this match being level at half time before both teams look to ramp up the pressure in the second 45 minutes to ensure that they are not the team that ends up heartbroken at Wembley this Bank Holiday Monday and this is where our money will be placed.