“Carlos had a dream” sing Sheffield Wednesday fans. But if you’d have asked the Portuguese manager if that dream involved being one game away from ending a 16-year exile from the top flight for one of England’s most historic clubs, then even he may have accused you of being the one fantasising.
Carlos Carvalhal’s team will take on Steve Bruce’s Hull City side in what is now well-known as football’s priciest game. And in truth, if you had put your money on these being the two teams fighting it out for a share of Premier League riches you may very well be a rich man yourself.
With both teams entering the play-offs in scratchy form, Hull City played two somewhat bizarre semi-final games, beating Derby County comfortably 3-0 away, then nearly letting it slip, losing 2-0 at the KC Stadium. Wednesday meanwhile provided a shock by beating a 10-man Brighton at an absolutely rocking Hillsborough before earning a 1-1 draw at The Amex.
Hull’s side is choc-full of warm, familiar Premier League faces, with the likes of Tom Huddlestone, Jake Livermore, Mohamed Diame and Robert Snodgrass all still featuring for the Tigers. Abel Hernandez, who struggled to find form the previous season in the Premier League has taken the Championship by storm scoring 21 league goals. There have been other highlights with left-back Andrew Robertson establishing himself as one of the best fullbacks in the league.
Wednesday on the other hand aren’t overly blessed with Premier League experience and should they come up will have to strengthen, which will be made easier given their backing by Thai tycoon and chairman Dejphon Chansiri.
But they’ve made it this far with a couple of Championship favourites and some clever loan-signings. Left-back Daniel Pudil, on-loan from Watford, has been a mainstay in defence while Jack Hunt whose loan move from Crystal Palace was made permanent in January, gets up and down the opposite side to give Wednesday even more threat from out-wide.
Because operating out wide, or through the middle, or usually wherever his unique style of hustle and bustle leads him, is ‘Fessi’, or Championship Messi, Fernando Forestieri. It was decided the Italian would be left behind in the second tier by Watford when they were promoted last year. Wednesday snapped him up for a fee of around £3 million and haven’t looked back as he’s put-away 15 goals and assisted six for his team mates.
Should they go up, there will be big question marks on whether he can do it at the highest level. But it is Forestieri who holds the key to his team overcoming a more-experienced Hull side this weekend, when he’s on, everyone’s on. In full flow, Championship sides have found him hard to stop, and it’s almost as though the team sees it and responds in kind, threading the ball in his direction at every opportunity.
He’s not been without help, Barry Bannan and Kieran Lee have been midfield regulars, both providing bundles of energy and quick passing in the middle, while Ross Wallace has popped up from out wide with important goals including two in the play-off semi-final games, signalling the former Burnley man’s desire for another crack at the Premier League.
Centre-backs, captain Glenn Loovens and vice-captain Tom Lees will have to deal with Hernandez if they’re win promotion, it was Hernandez who scored for Hull at Hillsborough back in October in a 1-1 draw which saw Forestieri grab Wednesday’s goal.
The Italian was sent off in a bad-tempered 0-0 draw at the KC in January. And these two games give a flavour of what might be a tight affair at Wembley, it will be a few moments, individual magic that will make Premier League dreams come true.