IN games as big and potentially lucrative as today’s Championship play-off final between Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday, it is usually the fine margins that determine the winner.
There will be a number of key individual duels going on this evening out on the Wembley pitch but, here, Sean Wilson picks out a couple of key head-to-head battles which are likely to prove vital to the final outcome.
Fernando Forestieri vs Curtis Davies
Labelled as Sheffield Wednesday’s ‘talisman’ by Hull manager Steve Bruce, the former Watford man plays just off main striker Gary Hooper, and has developed a good understanding with him. His penchant for roaming in the final third has caused many a defender to lose track of him, and he has 15 league goals to show for it – more than any other Wednesday player.
Tasked with stopping him will be Hull City’s centre-back Curtis Davies. By far the quicker of Hull’s central defenders (the other being Michael Dawson), it will likely fall to Davies to handle Forestieri’s quick bursts and incisive movement. Only Middlesborough conceded fewer goals than Hull in the league this season, and for the Tigers to maintain that record, Davies will need to keep Wednesday’s most potent attacker on a short leash. Factor in first-choice goalkeeper Allan MacGregor’s absence, and the weight of responsibility shouldered by the centre-backs begins to become apparent.
Abel Hernandez vs Keiren Westwood
At the other end of the pitch, Hull’s own top scorer in Abel Hernandez will be looking to repeat his heroics from the semi-finals, after netting the opener in their 3-0 first-leg dismantling of Derby. He has 21 Championship goals to his name this term, making him the league’s joint-second top-scorer. The Uruguayan is Hull’s main attacking threat by miles, with more than twice as many goals as any other Hull player in the league.
While the Owls’ defence will hope to handle the striker, they will also trust in the goalkeeping instincts of Keiren Westwood behind them to bail them out should they need it. He has not conceded more than one goal in a game this calendar year, and will need to be on top form to keep a clean sheet against the in-form Hernandez.