CAN Brighton overturn their 2-0 deficit in the Championship play-off semi-final second leg against Sheffield Wednesday? We asked Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) for the best bet.
Brighton v Sheffield Wednesday | Monday 19.45 | Sky Sports 1
Legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankley said, “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”
Strikers reckon scoring goals is better than sex and die-hard supporters spend years of lives and thousands of pounds following their sides in pursuit of that one night of glory.
There’s no doubt football brings it’s highs but Brighton fans can be forgiven for feeling lower than a snake’s belly after suffering a very real Friday the 13th nightmare that’s left the Seagulls with a serious mountain to climb on Monday.
No side in Championship play-off history has overturned a two-goal deficit after the first leg to reach Wembley and with Chris Hughton’s charges claiming only six of their 24 regular season victories by that margin, the task awaiting the Seasiders looks mighty tough.
The Brighton boss put a brave face on when dealing with the media saying, “It’s a scoreline that’s achievable. The worry was that it would be three or four which would make it very difficult. But it is achievable.”
Hughton’s certainly not wrong but just about everything that could go wrong did at Hillsborough with Albion seeing four players leave the field injured leaving the visitors to play the final 30 minutes with 10 men despite trailing 2-0.
Centre-half Connor Goldson, top-scorer Tomer Hemed, dependable midfielder Steve Sidwell and X-Factor wideman Anthony Knockaert are all highly unlikely to return on Monday night leaving the hosts without 10 players. It’s fair to say the home side’s resources are stretched to the limit.
Fortunately, centre-back Lewis Dunk returns from suspension but Hughton faces Sheffield Wednesday without four players that have been a spine of Brighton’s success this season, a situation that’s likely to undermine any potential for a famous comeback at the Amex.
Still, you wouldn’t bet against the Seagulls giving it a right good go. It’s been easily forgotten that Brighton caused the Owls problems from set-plays – Hemed hitting a post on one occasion – and in James Wilson, Jamie Murphy and Kazenga Lua-Lua, the hosts have players capable of stretching and hurting Wednesday.
The Seasiders aim of containment at Hillsborough turned into a damage limitation exercise but with a vociferous home support backing them, Hughton’s men will be game for a battle as bid to add to their impressive tally of 15 wins from 23 Amex outings this term.
But considering the trend mentioned in paragraph three, the lack of available bodies and Brighton’s irregular number of convincing victories this season, 5/1 (Paddy Power) quotes on the Seagulls progressing look about right.
The hosts W1-D3-L1 when welcoming top-six teams to the Amex and that sole success came against Hull way back in September so Sheffield Wednesday should be confident enough to see the tie out.
The Owls have suffered just four losses by a two-goal margin under Carlos Carvalhal but three of those did come on the road whilst both Burnley and Middlesbrough dispatched the visitors by scorelines that would bring extra-time. However, both those defeats to the top-two came back in the summer of 2015.
Wednesday produced a polished and slick attacking performance at Hillsborough and although the visitors’ preference is for controlling possession football, you get the impression they’ll be happy to play on the counter-attack here.
Friday night’s triumph was Wednesday’s first against a top-six side this season (W1-D7-L3) and although their away record (W6-D9-L8) doesn’t exactly standout from the crowd, Carvalhal’s troops have the quality to pack a punch when it matters and you wouldn’t rule the guests out from scoring.
The Owls have scored in 10 of their last 11 fixtures and whilst they failed to twist the knife in the first leg they most definitely did turn up for their biggest match in 16 years. Whether they decide to stick or twist here, they’ll be well aware how fragile the current scoreline can be so they’d be foolish to shut up shop.
For neutrals, Brighton scoring first would be the perfect scenario but whatever the lay of the land, I’m really quite surprised to see Under 2.5 Goals the favoured option from the bookmakers coming into this contest.
With Brighton desperate for an avenue back into the tie and chucking men forward, Wednesday can counter and exploit the space left in behind. Without an away goals rule, the home side know a goal from the visitors isn’t necessary fatal and so taking a goals approach looks the wisest option.
Over 2.5 Goals can be supported at 13/10 (Coral) and has proven profitable in eight of the last 10 Championship play-off second legs – the average goals over those 10 tussles was a bulky 3.40 per-game with Over 3.5 Goals banking in half of those fixtures.
If we go back further, 16/30 (53%) of second leg matches featured three or more goals giving us both short and long-term backing to support Over 2.5 Goals – the 13/10 offered suggests just a 43% chance of success, which just seems wrong. Therefore, I’m happy to make it my main and major play for Monday night.
Brighton v Sheffield Wednesday – Over 2.5 Goals (13/10 Coral)