Tomorrow, Huddersfield Town face Reading in what is dubbed the richest game in football. However, looking at the media coverage in the past week, would you even know it?
Considering up until the end of the regulatory season, Chris Wood of seventh place Leeds United was the poster boy of the Sky Sports playoffs package, it was clear that media outlets had their story-lines and plots written for the playoffs already.
However, Reading and Town did anything but follow the plot. Although Reading finished third, ahead of ‘they’re going to walk the playoffs’ Fulham and ‘this massive club belongs in the Premier League’ Sheffield Wednesday, bizarrely the Royals have been doubted all season.
One of the main set of doubters were statisticians who were adamant that they wouldn’t be able to continue their promotion challenge under Japp Stam and inevitably, they’d fall out of the playoffs. But, it didn’t happen.
After Jordan Obita initially sent Reading fans into delirium at Craven Cottage before a well worked Fulham goal saw Tom Cairney equalise. The playoff tie was decided by a clinically dispatched Yann Kermogant penalty. Up until this semi-final, it appeared to be a formality that Fulham would steamroll past the Royals and win the playoffs at a canter.
Instead, Reading put in one of the best defensive performances over 180+ minutes that I have seen in the playoffs. A tight shape and a clear game plan were the key to success against a free-scoring fluid Fulham side.
After Fulham’s defeat, there were some unsavoury comments that Reading were boring and football should mourn the loss that Fulham were defeated, when in fact, Reading were more than worthy of the victory.
Similarly, the same could’ve been said for Sheffield Wednesday. After ninety minutes, Carlos Carvalhal’s side had a one match shoot-out for the final at Hillsborough. Ahead of a sell-out crowd, it was expected that an experienced Sheffield Wednesday outfit who had yet to concede a goal against Huddersfield Town despite facing them three times would come out as comfortable victors.
Despite Sheffield Wednesday being the heavy favourites, David Wagner showed bravery, like Stam, to stick to the game plan of pressing forward, not allowing Sheffield Wednesday to settle into the game. Once Sheffield Wednesday did settle, the South Yorkshire side took the lead through a Steven Fletcher header.
At this point, the predictions of a comfortable Sheffield Wednesday victory would come to fruition but the West Yorkshire side showed strength and character to continue to push forward and gain a well-deserved equaliser with a missed Fernando Forestieri penalty being the difference as Huddersfield Town were going to Wembley.
The victories of both Reading and Huddersfield Town seemed to shellshock pundits, statisticians and expert fans alike. The final comically dubbed as the tinpot final was actually happening. There was no Leeds United who ‘after years upon years of agony were finally going to return to the Premier League’. Nor were Sheffield Wednesday, ‘a club of such stature that they deserved their place in the Premier League’. Not even attractive footballing side Fulham who according to pundits ‘had timed their form to perfection and were without a shadow of a doubt the best side in playoffs’. Instead, ‘tinpot Reading’ and ‘little old Huddersfield’ were in the richest game in football.
With very little football (aside from the exciting Premier League run-in where the title, relegation and majority of the European places had already been decided), finally, Huddersfield and Reading would get the praise that they deserved. We were wrong once again.
Huddersfield and Reading had somehow in a 46+ game season gatecrashed the playoff final. Two sides that had spent the entire season in and around the playoffs. Two sides that had gone from battling at the bottom to battling at the top. From potential relegation to potential promotion. Somehow, these two sides were not worthy of a place in the Premier League or even worthy of having a presence in the final. Rather than the two clubs receive the praise that they deserved, they were patronised and belittled like they had all season.
Aside from the tokenistic articles of players and managers from newspapers who felt compelled to give Huddersfield and Reading coverage as there was a collective realisation that this is actually the final, a minute-long Sky Sports advert of agony and ecstasy was your best bet for coverage. This complete disregard for the final from fans and pundits alike created an unusual alliance.
Despite there being a mere 196 miles between the two towns, there has been an unusual alliance forged between the two sets of fans. Unusual, in that, there is no connection between the two clubs aside from the seemingly hundreds of FA Cup fixtures between the two sides. The alliance is built on defiance.
Defiance that we deserve to be exactly where we are. We are not sides that have spent for success. We are not sides that suffer from delusion from grandeur, simply because we have a well-known name or having past glories to fall upon to mask our failings. From a season of being underdogs, having defied every prediction, every pundit across the country… well, it all culminates tomorrow.
We deserve to be in this final. So regardless of the result, be it a Huddersfield win or a Reading victory, I will be celebrating the season where we defied the odds and showed that attendance statistics or the unquantifiable size of the club makes a difference. Belief, togetherness and fight can be enough to go all the way. One way or another, a worthy club will be in the Premier League come 5 pm tomorrow.