The English Championship play-off final is often billed as the ‘richest game in football’; the riches on offer for winning at Wembley Stadium almost disgustingly paradoxical to the hurt and torment suffered by the losing outfit. So, there is no less pressure on these semi-final match ups, with a place at Wembley and 90 minutes of football separating these four clubs from the sport’s promised land.
How do we distinguish between the teams? Are the head-to-heads from the regulation most important, the run of form the sides enjoyed in the lead-up to the play-offs or perhaps the big game mentality of all involved? Honestly….it’s probably a bit of all three.
These first legs – Fulham welcome Reading to Craven Cottage on Saturday evening before a tasty Yorkshire derby between Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday on Sunday – will be key in determining who holds all the aces heading into the return fixture.
So where does the smart betting value lie?
Fulham vs Reading Betting Tips
Advantage has to go to Fulham here given their excellence at home, although if Reading can sneak an away goal then they will fancy their chances of progressing from the tie overall.
The Cottagers have beaten the likes of Newcastle and Huddersfield on home soil this term, but perhaps most pertinent was their 5-0 thrashing of Reading here back in December. Factor in the Royals’ wretched away form (W10 D2 L11, goal difference -15), and you can see why the bookies have made Fulham their 4/6 favourite for this first leg.
Both sides are in decent nick – Fulham coming into this game at W5 D1 L0, Reading at W4 D0 L2 – but recent in the memory of the Royals players and fans will be a pair of heavy away defeats: 1-7 at Norwich on April 8, and 2-3 at Nottingham Forest on April 22.
So our betting play for this game is Fulham to Win & Over 2.5 Goals at 13/10. Seven of Reading’s last ten away dates have gone over the 2.5 goal mark, and likewise for Fulham at home, which suggests a rough 70% chance of similar here.
In massive two-legged fixtures, we know that an early goal in the first leg can spark something rather special.
Huddersfield vs Sheffield Wednesday Betting Tips
If current form is the most important marker ahead of a play-off tie, then Sheffield Wednesday should be laughing all the way to the bank here.
They have taken 19 points from their last eight games compared to Huddersfield’s 10, and in that timeframe the Terriers have managed to lose three home matches; the Owls, in contrast, have won six of their last seven anywhere.
The reason for Huddersfield’s recent demise is hard to pinpoint, although in their last four games they have lost three and conceded nine – that tells its own tale.
We’ve spoken earlier in this column about big match experience, and that’s an area where Wednesday cannot be bested. They won their play-off semi-final with Brighton 12 months ago before succumbing 0-1 to Hull in the final, and while there may be some scars left from that heartbreaking defeat there is also the sense that revenge is a dish best served cold.
Huddersfield are a young and, dare we say it, inexperienced side, for whom this will represent the biggest game of their careers. Some 46 matches into the season and it all comes down to this….folks have crumbled under far less scrutiny than that.
So where is our money going? There is tons of value in the 8/11 on Wednesday to qualify for the final, but for this first leg specifically we will take the Sheffield outfit in the Draw No Bet market at 6/5.