Jun. 03, 2017
Championship Play-Off Final Preview: Huddersfield Town v Reading
Stretching 46 league matches, two tense play-off semi-finals, and nine gruelling months of football, Jaap Stam’s Reading and David Wagner’s Huddersfield Town have defied the odds to reach the Championship play-off final at Wembley. One of those clubs is now just 90 minutes away from the Premier League.
Having booked their place in the 2016/17 play-off final 24 hours earlier, Berkshire-based Reading could only watch on and await their opposition for a match that appears to be worth in excess of £170 million.
A place in the Premier League is at stake for Reading and Huddersfield, as they face-off at the home of English football.
And, over two hours later, as a dramatic penalty shootout finally came to its conclusion with goalkeeper Danny Ward diving to his right to save a Fernando Forestieri spot kick, that opposition was confirmed as Huddersfield Town.
But how did these two sides compare when they went head-to-head during the regular season? How did they book their places at Wembley? Who are their key men?
And how can you watch this most crucial of fixtures unfold?
Saturday 24 September, 2016: Reading 1-0 Huddersfield (Beerens, 41)
The two sides first met way back in September, where Reading boosted their promotion hopes by beating a then-top Huddersfield by a goal to nil, moving to fourth and knocking the Terriers off the top in the process.
It was just the second time Wagner’s side had tasted defeat all season, as influential winger Rajiv van La Parra saw red for two bookable offences before the half-hour mark.
And the battle got that much harder for the Yorkshire club as Reading’s Dutch midfielder Roy Beerens scored the decisive goal after his deflected shot found its way past Ward before half-time.
Tuesday 21 February, 2017: Huddersfield 1-0 Reading (Billing, 82)
Having been replaced in the automatic promotion spots by eventual champions Newcastle United and runners-up Brighton, Huddersfield moved to within four points of the second-place side, as their earlier misfortunes reversed against Staam’s men.
Another close game between the two sides, it was Phillip Billing’s late volley that ensured Town’s revenge against the Royals.
The goal came after Reading stopper Ali Al-Habsi had furthered van La Parra’s frustrations against this opposition, saving the winger’s first-half penalty in what was yet another excellent display by the ‘keeper.
How they got to Wembley
The first club to book their place in the most expensive match in domestic football, Reading ended Fulham’s superb end-of-season form with a 2-1 aggregate victory over Slovisa Jokanovic’s side.
The play-off finalists held a temporary lead when Jordan Obita found the net with a wonderful finish, before Fulham captain Tom Cairney headed his side level ten minutes later.
Fulham captain Tom Cairney denied Reading a first leg victory at Craven Cottage.
An excellent away draw did come with a price to pay however, as central defender Paul McShane saw red for a reckless challenge late on, forcing him to miss the second leg.
But Staam’s decision to bring Tiago Ilori and Joey van den Berg into the back four proved masterful, with a tight second leg eventually decided by Yann Kermorgant’s second-half penalty, after Tomas Kalas had been penalised for handling in the area.
A dominant Huddersfield side were ruing their inability to find the net as a disappointing contest against Sheffield Wednesday finished goalless at the John Smith’s Stadium.
With Chelsea loanee Isaiah Brown striking the upright and Nahi Wells twice denied in fine fashion by Wednesday’s Keiren Westwood, it looked as though Town’s luck was running out when it mattered most.
And, as former Burnley, Wolves, and Sunderland striker Stephen Fletcher headed the Owls in front at Hillsborough, those hopes of reaching the ‘promised land’ were quickly fading away.
However, a Tom Lees own goal took the tie to extra-time, and that allowed Huddersfield ‘keeper Ward to send his side to Wembley, keeping out Forestieri’s vital penalty.
Reading’s seasoned campaigner, Yann Kermorgant has enjoyed a huge amount of success since moving to England and to Leicester City in 2009.
Preparing for a memorable 500th club career appearance at Wembley, the 35 year-old calmly netted the winner from the penalty spot against Fulham to score his 19th goal of the season, and it would take a brave man to bet against the in-form striker netting a 20th in the final.
Another player who has enjoyed the best years of his career since moving to England, Omani stopper Al-Habsi knows what it takes to cut it in the Premier League, playing over 100 times in England’s top flight for Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic.
Named in the Championship team of the year, Al-Habsi is a major reason why Staam’s side have booked their place in the most expensive match in football.
A standout player during his years in Chelsea’s youth teams, ‘Izzy’ Brown was loaned from the Premier League champions on 7 January, just a day after his contract with relegated Rotherham United was terminated.
A versatile player who can play anywhere along the front line or in the now fashionable ‘number ten’ role, Brown has chipped in with five assists this season, and also netted an eighth goal of his own against Wolves, securing his side’s place in the top six.
England youth star Isaiah Brown has enjoyed an exceptional 2017 with Huddersfield.
A contender for Championship player of the season, Australian international Aaron Mooy has been another outstanding loan signing by Wagner, joining the club from Manchester City at the start of July 2016.
Town fans’ player of the season, Mooy has been an ever-present in partnering Jonathan Hogg in the middle of the park this season, featuring in an exceptional 47 Championship fixtures.
How to Watch
Date: Monday 29 May, 2017
Time: 15:00 BST
Channel: Sky Sports 1
Huddersfield 0-1 Reading
This one really could go either way, with two committed sides who have continually battled against the odds to make it to Wembley. I am going for a Yann Kermorgant winner to come midway through the second half, but – given what Huddersfield have achieved this season – am not writing off their chances when it matters most.
One thing is for sure, this is not one to miss.
Reading fans will be hoping to celebrate another promotion to the Premier League.