Huddersfield Town confirmed their place in the play-off final with a tense penalty shootout win over Sheffield Wednesday. The Terriers came into the tie as outsiders, due to their poor record against their Yorkshire rivals. However, they fought hard and managed to recover from a goal down to take the tie all the way to penalties. Danny Ward produced a save from Fernando Forestieri’s penalty to win the tie for his side and finally end their awful recent record against Wednesday. Here are three things that we learnt…
The play-offs remain unpredictable
The majority of pundits were expecting a Fulham versus Sheffield Wednesday play-off final when the semi-finals were decided. However, it will be Reading and Huddersfield Town that will be competing at Wembley. This shows how unpredictable the play-offs are and both teams will go into the match at the end of the month with a great chance of reaching the Premier League. Although Reading have recent top flight experience, the Terriers have provided the feel-good story of the Championship season under David Wagner. It is all to play for in the final.
After their end to the season, Huddersfield were written off as potential winners of the play-offs, as they three of their last four matches of the campaign. Wagner chose to rest key players to keep them fresh for the play-offs and it is a decision that has been vindicated now. Their fitness was pushed to the limit as they had to play at a high intensity for 120 minutes and they passed that test. It wasn’t pretty on Wednesday, but they got the job done and are now only one match away from reaching the Premier League for the first time in their history.
Wednesday are always the bridesmaid and never the bride
Sheffield Wednesday managed to bounce back from their play-off final defeat last season and finish in the top six for the second successive season. They would have hoped that their experience would have been an advantage in this tie, but they came up short once again. The play-offs are cruel and there is no margin for error. The Owls know that better than any other side as they have now failed to win them in two consecutive campaigns.
Before the second-leg, there were rumours about the future of Carlos Carvalhal and they came at the worst possible time for the club. Concentration levels have to be at an all-time high during the play-offs and Wednesday weren’t completely at it against Huddersfield. They were poor in the build-up to the Huddersfield goal and were lucky not to concede a penalty during extra-time. It will go down as a disappointment for the club as they have been one of the best sides in the Championship across the last two seasons, but they haven’t won promotion in either. That said, they have a good squad and have the finances to push on to challenge for automatic promotion next season.
Michael Hefele showed why he is a terrace favourite
The centre-back was excellent throughout the 120 minutes and played a huge role as Huddersfield reached the play-off final. He was dominant in the air as he usually is, with seven successful aerial duels. In addition to that, he completed five ball recoveries and five clearances to help Huddersfield restrict Wednesday to only one goal. Towards the end of the season, the Terriers were shaky at the back and finished the campaign with a negative goal difference. They were back to their defensive best at Hillsborough and Hefele had a huge part to play in that.
There was a great game-saving block in extra time to prevent Fernando Forestieri and it proved to be a turning point in the tie. After that point, it was Huddersfield that were the more threatening and they finished the 120 minutes with the upper hand. Hefele was one of the star men during the match, but his contribution didn’t stop there. He stepped up during the penalty shoot-out and scored to put his side into a two-goal lead. It was a great performance and he will be equally as important in the final.