In the play-offs, post-match celebrations can be a big indicator of what’s to follow. The bigger the release when a preferred outcome has been achieved, the greater the possibility that the appetite for success has been satisfied. For some teams, a trip to Wembley is an end in itself. For others, the serious business is still to be done.
Consider then the outpouring of joy among the Sheffield Wednesday players after the final whistle at the Amex the Monday before last and contrast it with the relief of the Hull players the following night. Sure, the pattern of the two matches had a lot to do with it, but the words uttered by both camps since support the notion that the Owls are more content as things stand.
Yet when you look back on the two semi-finals, you can split the action from both ties into four broadly comparable segments: the early chaos, followed by the period of ascendancy for the team that would ultimately prevail, then came the fightback in the second leg, followed by the show of resilience that dragged the victorious team over the line.
In that respect, the two ties were remarkably similar but recency effect dictates that we naturally tend to view Sheffield Wednesday’s progress in a better light than Hull’s. Their first leg triumph wasn’t as impressive but the Owls weathered the subsequent storm with greater success and thereby suffered less in the final 45 minutes, closing out without losing either leg.
And there’s also an element of outcome bias to that narrative. As bad as Hull were for 45 minutes in their second leg with Derby, and as much as they suffered in the second 45 as a result, they ultimately conceded only four shots on target across the two games. Brighton had five shots on target in that breathless first period at the Amex alone. Ten overall.
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So my position on these two teams hasn’t really changed to what it was prior to a ball being kicked. Hull are worthy favourites and the 4/6 about them going up is about right. The question is how we support them in the final, in addition to an outright tip at 13/5. Fortunately, the clues in their form align rather neatly with the history of this showpiece event.
When you consider that only one of the last 13 Championship play-off finals has gone to extra time, the 13/10 on the Tigers taking care of business inside 90 minutes is perfectly reasonable. But it’s the 13/5 on Hull to win to nil carries even greater appeal. Nine of those dozen teams promoted inside the 90 closed out with a clean sheet, as did Crystal Palace via extra time in 2013.
During the regular season, Steve Bruce’s men won 11 games against top-half opposition, ten of those without conceding. Throw in the two legs against Derby and their overall record reads W12 D5 L7, which compares favourably with Wednesday’s equivalent record of W7 D12 L5. The first leg victory over Brighton was the Owls’ first against top-six opposition under Carvalhal.
There’s something very Jekyll & Hyde about Hull but shut outs invariably go hand in hand with their best work and, given the stage and what’s at stake, we should expect them to be on their best behaviour for an occasion of this magnitude. Ultimately, the difference here should be the wealth of Premier League and Wembley experience they already boast.
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