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Championship Play-Offs Preview

English League Championship - Playoffs
English Premier League glory awaits for one of these four teams. Who will it be?

And so the build-up to the richest game in world football begins. The four teams battling it out.

Football League Championship | Friday 13 May | Hillsborough Stadium | 20:45

Sheffield Wednesday 14/10
Draw 21/10
Brighton 2/1

The first of the two play-off semi-finals will see sixth-placed Sheffield Wednesday welcome third-placed Brighton and Hove Albion to the Hillsborough Stadium on Friday 13 April. And to be quite frank, neither side would have started the season believing that they would find themselves in the play-offs. Brighton narrowly avoided relegation in 20th place while Wednesday ended the 2014/15 season in 13th. 

The Seagulls blew a golden opportunity to gain automatic promotion in the last week of the regular season when they failed to beat Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium. They’ll do well to put the disappointment of that 1-1 draw behind them as they prepare to take on a Sheffield Wednesday side. They will be without Dale Stephens for the first game following his shocking challenge on Gaston Ramirez while Lewis Dunk is also serving a suspension of his own. 

Brighton & Hove Albion F.C.

“We don't have time to be too down about it," said a clearly disappointed, but still measured, Chris Hughton after the game last Saturday. "It's a distraught changing room, and you want them to feel that way, because you know what it means to them. The game is about highs and lows, and you're always striving for the highs: the only way you can do that is by dusting yourself down.” Hughton will do well to get the best out of his side following that crushing draw last week. 

Whether or not his players will be buoyed on or crushed by the disappointment at the weekend remains to be seen. Hughton’s side have played some magnificent football this season and probably deserve to go up. However, against Middlesbrough on Saturday they looked leggy and weary and probably should have lost the game by three or four goals. Sheffield Wednesday will fancy their chances against Brighton this weekend, especially with Dunk – who has been by far the division’s best defender – suspended for the tie. 

That said, they still have plenty of attacking threat up front with wingers Anthony Knockaert and Jiri Skalak, two of the division’s best wingers providing service for 17-goal centre-forward, Tomer Hemed. While Wednesday will be considered underdogs for the two-legged tie, they still have plenty of players capable of hurting a Brighton back four without their best player. Fernando Forestieri is arguably one of the best players in the league and will be looking to add to the 15 goals and six assists he picked up in the regular season. 

Gary Hooper also provides some proper British steel at the top of the pitch while Aiden McGeady’s trickery and guile on the wing can baffle even the most experienced of Premier League full-backs. They did lose out against Wolves last time out, however, Carlos Carvalhal gave a number of fringe players a run-out in that game with their place in the play-offs already secured.

Prediction: Sheffield Wednesday (14/10)
Wednesday’s big guns will be well-rested following their day off against Wolves last weekend. Couple this with the fact that Brighton will still be feeling the ill-effects – both mentally and physically – from their tie with Boro. Carvalhal and his side should have what it takes to claim victory in the first leg of the tie. Get on at 14/10.

Hull City AFC

Football League Championship | Saturday 14 May | Pride Park Stadium | 13:30

Derby County 31/20
Draw 2/1
Hull City 37/20

The second play-off semi-final will be contested by two teams who would have full expected to be slugging it out at the top of the table before the start of the season. Hull City came down from the Premier League at the end of last season but managed to keep hold of manager Steve Bruce as well as most of their playing staff. 

Derby County on the other hand have taken the Chelsea / Manchester City approach to the 2015/16 season by attempting to bankroll their way into the top flight. Derby, for all of their riches, haven’t had a particularly good second half of the season. Having set the early pace, a mid-season slump during the festive season threatened to derail their promotion push altogether. That dire run accounted for the job of Paul Clement who was duly replaced by Darren Wassall. 

The Englishman has had a long-standing relationship with the club, having played 98 times for them between 1992 and 1997 while also fulfilling the role of academy director from 2009 up until his appointment as manager. While he’s steadied the ship, he hasn’t managed to get the most out of the most expensively assembled squad in the division. Will Hughes – who burst onto the scene last season – has been relatively quiet during this campaign while Darren Bent and Andreas Weimann have struggled to hold down positions in the starting XI with Chris Martin leading the line so well. 

Hull City would have been massively disappointed on missing out on automatic promotion following such a strong start to the season. Unfortunately for Steve Bruce and his charges, the wheels have come off a bit in the last few months. A run of poor results has seen the Tigers fall away from the automatic promotion places. 

That said, they still possess two of the division’s best attacking threats in Abel Hernandez and Mohamed Diame – both of whom have plenty of experience at the highest level. On top of their talent in the final third of the pitch, they can also call on Jake Livermore and Tom Huddlestone (who are probably the most technically gifted players in the Championship) while Curtis Davis and Michael Dawson make up form a formidable centre-half pairing.

Prediction: Hull City (37/20)
Hull City come into this game off the back of a resounding 5-1 victory over Rotherham United last weekend. If they can rediscover that form again, the Tigers will have very little difficulty beating a Derby County side who have struggled for consistency all season. Back the away win at 37/20.

Take both of these results as a double at 58/10 to maximise your winnings this weekend!

Written by Jason Dewey