Sheffield Weds v Brighton: Jack Hunt and Liam Palmer enjoying battle for Owls shirt
Sheffield Wednesday defender Jack Hunt believes Brighton will return to Hillsborough today looking to gain revenge for their play-off heartache.
The Seagulls failed to beat Wednesday in four meetings last season, but the most painful memories stem from their semi-final with the Owls.
Chris Hughton’s Brighton arrived at Hillsborough five months ago, having just missed out to Middlesbrough on goal difference in the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League.
But an electric atmosphere helped the Owls clinch a 2-0 first-leg advantage – thanks to goals from Ross Wallace and Kieran Lee.
It proved decisive, with the return leg ending 1-1 to secure the Owls a Wembley showdown with Hull City.
Now both clubs are back battling it out in the Championship race for promotion, with just a single point separating them.
Last season, Brighton finished 15 points better off than Wednesday, and Owls right-back Hunt expects today’s visitors will be eager to make amends.
Reflecting on that play-off success, Hunt recalled: “It was a special night because they came so close to beating Middlesbrough and going up automatically.
“We knew we needed to take the game to them, and I thought we did that on the night.
“You could say we had a bit of luck with their injuries, finishing the game with 10 men, but I thought we were exceptional that night and it could have been a lot more than 2-0.
“The Arsenal game (a 3-0 League Cup win) was very special, because of the calibre of the opposition, but Brighton meant something to us.
“We knew if we got a victory and could go down to Brighton with a positive result, we were one step away from Wembley. I think they will be coming for revenge.
“We would like to start a bit better in games, but I don’t think we will be surprised by anything they do.”
Brighton are fourth, with 18 points from 10 games, a point better off than Wednesday, who sit eighth. After 10 games last season, the Owls had 15 points.
Teams who lose in the play-off final sometimes suffer a hangover the following season, but 25-year-old Hunt dismissed that question.
“No, not all all. We didn’t over-achieve last year, but we had a good season,” he said.
“We fell short, which was very disappointing. But I think if you had offered us the play-off final at the start of the season, everyone associated with Sheffield Wednesday would have taken it. Ninety minutes to get to the Premier League; unfortunately it didn’t work out.
“We can use that as a learning curve, and hopefully this season we won’t feel like that.”
The two league meetings between Brighton and Wednesday ended scoreless, meaning Brighton failed to win in four meetings last season.
Former Huddersfield Town defender Hunt – who has also had loan spells with Barnsley and Rotherham United – said: “They will be thinking of that more than us, but we can take great confidence in that. As long as we are on our game, I am sure we can stretch that run to five.
“The most important thing for us is we have won four out of our last five games.
“Even the Birmingham game, you could maybe say we deserved to win that. If Atdhe (Nuhiu) sticks the ball in the back of the net, then Birmingham don’t go straight up the other end and score.
“We are back at Hillsborough, and to get three points would give us a massive confidence boost – a good position in the league – going into the international break.”
Hunt has been fighting for the right-back shirt with Liam Palmer this season, but has spent time out of the team to build up his fitness after missing three weeks of pre-season.
A below-par display in the home loss to Leeds United on August 20 saw Hunt sidelined for a few weeks, but he has come back into contention, featuring in wins over Bristol City and Nottingham Forest.
“The manager said he wanted two people for each position, and that leaves him with lots of options,” said Hunt. “He’s using them very well this year.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to play every game, but the manager has got to make the decisions and that’s what he gets paid for.
“It’s healthy to have good competition. Liam and myself are enjoying our so-called battle, but the manager just uses us when he sees fit.
“We are very close off the pitch even though we are fighting for the same position. It doesn’t mean you still can’t be good friends and learn off each other.
“I missed three weeks of pre-season, which didn’t help me at all. I was playing quite a bit of catch-up.
“The manager spoke to me and it did me good to come out of the team, keep me on my toes and get some extra fitness work I needed.
“He said the Leeds game, I looked like I was playing within myself. I wasn’t playing with a lot of confidence, I felt my head was down and I don’t think I was performing like I can.
“To come out (of the team) gave me a little bit of a wake-up call.
“I am an attacking full-back, and like wingers sometimes don’t fire on all cylinders; I just wasn’t firing at the time.
“I feel like I am getting back to my best, the last two home games, I feel like I have put in solid performances.
“I would like to cause the opposition a few more problems, personally, but I am happy with how I have been the last two games.”