So the regular season is over and done with and to take stock over the past season I would say that it has been a rollercoaster ride.
The ultimate target was automatic promotion. Was that achievable? I’ll let you be the judge of that but personally I thought Brighton and Newcastle were good value for the top two places. I say this for very different reasons too.
At Newcastle the pressure and expectation to bounce straight back up was enormous, and to their credit they have achieved what they set out to do. Brighton, on the other hand, have picked themselves up after the massive disappointment of last seasons play offs and have also achieved their number one aim, promotion to the Premier League.
Overall, you have to say that the season has been a success, and to end up finishing fourth and securing a play off place before the final game of the season against Fulham was a great achievement. I don’t think anyone would have been looking forward to a do or die match against Fulham to be honest and credit to the players and staff for doing so.
The game on Sunday was a bit of a non-entity. It’s a shame because there was a super turnout of over 33,000 wanting to show their appreciation to the players and yet Carlos Carvalhal did exactly the right thing in resting the number of players that he did.
There is a counter argument that you wouldn’t choose to go into the play-offs on the back of a defeat but I don’t believe anyone will read anything into the result at all. It is far more important to keep people fit and come the first leg at Huddersfield on Sunday every player should be raring to go.
It will be interesting to see how Carvalhal approaches the first leg, which is away from home. Obviously last year’s victory in the two legged semi final over Brighton was played the opposite way round and we took a very deserved two goal lead down to the Amex stadium. Will he be a bit more cautious and put the emphasis on keeping a clean sheet or will he send them out to play their usual way and not worry about Huddersfield?
Personally, I would like us approach the match in sections. For the start of the game we have to be solid and difficult to break down, you ideally want to quieten the home fans and the best way of doing this is keeping possession of the football.
At times this season, we have been guilty of probably doing this too much, but Sunday’s game is the perfect time for us to do this, especially the first 30 minutes. If the Huddersfield supporters get frustrated, this will soon spill down onto the pitch and that’s when you can knock teams out of their stride. In the latter parts of the game you would imagine Huddersfield will push for a positive result and hopefully leave some space for us to exploit.
Ideally if we can keep a clean sheet away from home it should set up another magnificent match at Hillsborough.
As we enter the play-offs, I’m more confident than I was at this stage last year. The squad is more than capable of beating any of the other three teams.
As we all know, the prize for success is beyond all recognition. To return to the Premier League at a time when it is arguably the best league in the world would be some feat, especially when you think where the club were not so many years ago.
This is obviously not only testament to Dejphon Chansiri and the work he has done but also Milan Mandaric, who dragged us from the doldrums and set the ship sailing on an even keel. I am sure he will have an eye on the results over the next few weeks and if we can get to the promised land will have himself a wry smile of satisfaction.
*Jon Newsome is the owner of prestige, sports and performance cars specialists, Automarques 21-23 Leigh Street, Sheffield S9 2PR