Rhodes fires Huddersfield to Wembley
Jordan Rhodes scored a late winner against Luton in the Championship play-off semi-final second leg to secure Huddersfield's place at Wembley this weekend. With the tie locked at 1-1 after an even encounter at Kenilworth Road, the Terriers were second-best in their own backyard for the majority of the return clash, reliant upon goalkeeper Lee Nicholls.
However, Rhodes converted an 82nd-minute free-kick from fellow sub Sorba Thomas at the back post to separate the sides. Town rode their luck at the John Smith's Stadium, in a game where they struggled to find their fluent best, but head coach Carlos Corberan preferred to focus on the positives post-match as Huddersfield defied the ante-post critics.
The Terriers, who finished 20th in the Championship last term and suffered a 5-1 defeat by Fulham in their first home game of the season, were expected to struggle. Despite working with a limited budget, Corberan - previously assistant to Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds - has masterminded a complete turnaround in fortunes thanks to astute signings and quality coaching.
Corberan said, "I'm really, really excited and motivated to take the team to Wembley. I think it is important that the players celebrate now because this was the target we had. From tomorrow we have a different target and we will plan and prepare for Wembley. We always believe in ourselves, and we know we're capable. We'll be ready for the challenge."
Samba the star for Nottingham Forest
Nottingham Forest beat Sheffield United on penalties to book their place in the play-off final despite losing a drama-packed semi-final second leg at the City Ground to the Blades. The Tricky Trees took a 2-1 advantage into their home tie and Brennan Johnson's sliding finish extended their aggregate lead before the Blades battled back after the interval.
Sheffield United sent the game to extra-time and Forest stopper Brice Samba produced a fine reflex save in the 115th minute to force the game to a shootout. The Congolese goalkeeper immediately gave the Reds the advantage by saving United's first two attempts and repeated the feat a third time to confirm the Tricky Trees' place at Wembley.
Victory marked an extraordinary turnaround from Nottingham Forest this season under Steve Cooper. The club made their worst start to a league campaign for more than a century - having taken just one point from their first seven games - but are now heading to England's national stadium for the very first time since 1992 under Brian Clough.
Cooper understandably paid tribute to Samba's efforts in goal when reviewing the second leg. He said, "Brice was brilliant, I'm not one for singling people out but it's difficult not to talk about how good he was in terms of the penalties, the saves, the distribution and the calmness. He is a big part of what we do. It's brilliant he got his big moment."
"To get through two legs of a semi-final play-off you have to do a bit of everything, you have to play well, have to suffer, have to have a bit of luck and dig in - all of the things you have to do to be a real team we have done. We are hopefully going to give so many people a day to remember but we know we still have another step to go to complete our ambitions."
This will be the fourth meeting between Huddersfield and Nottingham Forest in all competitions this season, with the Terriers winning once and Forest winning twice (one in the league and one in the FA Cup). Town have also held a slight W8-D2-L6 supremacy in head-to-head Championship head-to-heads going back to 2012/13.
Only Blackpool have won promotion via the EFL play-offs more often than Huddersfield 3.7011/4 but the Terriers start as reasonable outsiders at Wembley on Saturday. Carlos Corberan's charges have been in fantastic form since December (W16-D9-L2) and suffered only seven defeats in 44 showdowns against sides outside of the top-two (W23-D14-L7).
Nottingham Forest 2.206/5 have been the Championship's best performing side since Steve Cooper arrived in September. The former Swansea boss has guided the Reds from rock-bottom into promotion contenders, and has posted the best win ratio (59%) of any Forest manager since the club joined the Football League back in 1892-93 (W26-D10-L8).
It's dubbed the most valuable match in world football - promotion to the Premier League will boost the winners' coffers by at least £170m - and the magnitude of the match can often cripple clubs on their big day at Wembley. Perhaps unsurprisingly with so much at stake, Championship play-off finals are rarely high-scoring affairs.
Since the famous Sunderland 4-4 Charlton play-off final 24 years ago, 14 (64%) Championship curtain-closers have reached the 90 minute mark with Under 2.5 Goals 1.674/6 - 48% of those 23 encounters produced no more than a solitary strike, including six of the most recent nine.
Only five of the past 21 finals have paid out for Both Teams To Score 1.9010/11 backers, potentially highlighting the value in going against the grain and opposing goals. With that in mind, we can combine the two major goals markets by supporting Under 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score 'No' for a 2.001/1 shout via the Bet Builder on Betfair Sportsbook.