Opportunity knocks for Sheffield Wedensday, but it’s a window that might only be left open for 90 minutes. If the Owls are going to take advantage of any hangover from the automatic promotion race, they simply have to strike swiftly and decisively before Brighton have chance to get their bearings.
These two teams failed to produce a single goal over 180 minutes during the regular season and, all things equal, this was always destined to be an extremely tight semi-final from beginning to end. But right now, all things aren’t equal and Wednesday have to capitalise. They simply have to open it up and make hay while the sun shines.
Chris Hughton’s men are down on their luck. They went into their winner-takes-all clash against Middlesbrough as a team with nothing to lose, but returned with a sense of injustice. It wasn’t supposed to be emotional, it was meant to be cold and clinical. But in the end, they did lose - not only a ticket to the top flight, but also their sense of calm and Dale Stephens.
Steve Sidwell is an able replacement for Stephens in the engine room. But even so, breaking up the best central midfield partnership in the division is bound to have an unsettling effect and there’s an onus on Wednesday to set a tempo that tests the stamina of the 33-year-old former Fulham man and puts an unfamiliar central defensive partnership under the cosh.
The Seagulls were caught at sixes and sevens inside their own 18-yard box on numerous occasions at the Riverside, with Connor Goldson looking uneasy in the absence of regular partner Lewis Dunk and 35-year-old Gordon Greer could be even more vulnerable here, playing a second blockbuster clash in the space of a week after five months on the sidelines.
In short, the conditions couldn’t be better for Wednesday. This is everything you want as a sixth-placed team when facing up to the top seed on home soil but Chris Hughton has repeatedly shown a capacity to adjust and find solutions when things aren’t going his way, so it’s likely that Brighton will grow into the contest and finish the stronger over the two legs.
We can only trust that Carlos Carvalhal understands all of this and has tailored his game plan to suit. Having rested nearly all of his starting 11 at Wolves last weekend, the Owls shouldn't be short of energy and it's essential they use a fervent Hillsborough crowd to their advantage and put Brighton on the rack when they are most likely to be fragile.
Two wagers, in particular, best reflect the opportunity in front of the home side and the plan they should be looking to execute. Take the 29/10 available on the Shef Wed/Sheff Wed half-time/full-time option and back it up with a bet on Wednesday to clear the -1 handicap at 4/1. If they come up short on either bet, they might live to regret it.
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