The five men to watch in the Football League play-off finals
It’s all-or-nothing this weekend at Wembley, as the iconic stadium welcomes six Football League sides who have battled their way here for a shot at the promised land of promotion.
In the Championship, it’s an all-Yorkshire clash as Sheffield Wednesday face Hull City, League One sees high-scoring Millwall up against resurgent Barnsley, while Plymouth Argyle’s huge travelling support will be watching the Pilgrims take on AFC Wimbledon.
Ahead of these three exciting clashes, here’s the lowdown on the five men to watch on a weekend of dramatic play-off action.
Abel Hernandez (Hull City, Championship)
Snapping up the former Copa Libertadores winner back in 2014 was an impressive coup from Tigers’ boss Steve Bruce, but convincing him to remain with the club in the Championship has been a managerial masterstoke.
Hernandez has netted 21 times in the second-tier, including a crucial strike away at Hillsborough in October 2015, and the Hull hitman’s physical presence, deft touch and striking prowess have made him the most crucial cog in the City machine.
A nightmare for defenders, with a near-perfect record of gobbling up close-range chances, Hernandez has netted in four of his last six outings, and having scored the opener in nine outings this season, there’s plenty of reason to suggest he can repeat the feat at 4/1 here.
Ross Wallace (Sheffield Wednesday, Championship)
It seemed the talented Wallace’s season might have been coming to a frustrating end after his controversial sending-off against MK Dons on matchday 43, but the 31-year-old returned to the fore in Wednesday’s play-off triumph against Brighton.
Wallace hasn’t been the Owls’ top man for much of the season – that would be Fernando Forestieri – but he’s suddenly burst into form in the past few months, and if recent performances are anything to go by, he looks the most likely man to make a decisive impact on the Championship final.
Having netted four times in his last six from midfield, scoring the last goal on three of those occasions, the former Burnley man looks outstanding value to strike last here at 18/1.
Sam Winnall (Barnsley, League Two)
When it comes to 50/50 tackles, outpacing defenders and one-on-one situations with keepers, Barnsley man Winnall couldn’t be more appropriately named.
His 23 crucial League One strikes (and counting) have sensationally taken the Tykes from bottom of the table in November to Wembley in May.
The pick of the bunch came in the 3-0 play-off semi-final win over Walsall, as Winnall’s jinking run and deft finish saw him cap off the scoring and realistically end the tie.
However, the 25-year-old has also proven himself an instinctive finisher – just check out his late winner at Swindon in January for proof – so expect him to score in the final at 8/5; regardless of whether it’s a simple tap-in or a wonder-goal.
Lyle Taylor (AFC Wimbledon, League Two)
Following two impressive loan stints at Ladbrokes Premiership side Partick Thistle, the Dons took a punt on Taylor last summer. And the £225k the south London outfit paid to tempt him away from then-parent club Scunthorpe United has proved to be an incredibly shrewd acquisition.
With 21 goals to his name in League Two so far, the Montserrat international appears to have saved his best form for the business end of the season, netting seven times in his previous nine outings.
Having scored in both of the last two meetings between the Wombles and fellow League Two finalists Argyle, there’s every reason to believe he could be the difference again on Monday – with 22/1 saying he scores the only goal in a 1-0 Dons victory.
Graham Carey (Plymouth Argyle, League Two)
The lynchpin in the Pilgrims’ midfield, Carey was brought to the Devon club last summer by his former boss at Ross County – Derek Adams. For many Argyle fans, convincing Carey to swap the Highlands for Home Park has been Adams’ most important bit of business.
With 11 goals and a bumper 15 assists in League Two this season, Carey has been the match-winner on numerous occasions for Argyle this season. However, a stunning late leveller to grab a 2-2 draw at promotion-chasing Cambridge showed he can just as often save a game when his side are up against it.
A skilful player with excellent end-product and an ability to perform on the big stage – having won trophies in Ireland and Scotland – a goal anytime under the Wembley arch could prove tempting at 14/5.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.