The richest prize in sport is tantalizingly within reach as three teams are still standing in the EFL Championship. Only one of Huddersfield, Sheffield United, and Nottingham Forest can join Fulham and Bournemouth in next season’s Premier League; the battle to escape the playoffs is now well underway. The first spot in the final has been booked by Huddersfield with one of Sheffield United or Nottingham Forest joining them at Wembley on May 29.
Here’s the schedule and latest updates:
(All times U.S./Eastern)
Friday, May 13
Luton Town 1, Huddersfield Town 1
Saturday, May 14
Sheffield United 1, Nottingham Forest 2
Monday, May 16
Huddersfield Town 1, Luton Town 0
Tuesday, May 17
Nottingham Forest vs. Sheffield United, 2:45 p.m. on ESPN+
Sunday, May 29
Sheffield United/Nottingham Forest vs. Huddersfield, TBD on ESPN+
Homefield advantage sees the Terriers through
The first place in the final has been secured with Jordan Rhodes breaking the deadlock in the 82nd minute for the 1-0 victory (2-1 on aggregate) over Luton Town. Sorba Thomas delivered the assist after being introduced in the match after the 61st minute. There will be a slight worry for the final as Danny Ward had to be withdrawn before the half, but there is ample time (almost two weeks to go before the final) for the Terrier’s top scorer to recover.
Things were level after the first leg where Daniel Sinani’s early strike was canceled out before the interval by Sonny Bradley in a tense affair in Bedfordshire. Luton were chasing a top-flight berth that would have capped eight-year rise from non-league to Premier League, it was to be expected that Luton would show nerves early on. But they were able to battle with Huddersfield across both legs until they ran out of steam late in the second leg.
The Terriers thought they were already ahead when Tom Lees hit the back of the net, but his chance was ruled out due to a foul. The set play dominance was a sign of things to come. Ward was replaced by Jordan Rhodes, who knows a thing or two about scoring in big moments. After Sorba Thomas entered the game, the Terriers were able to create more chances, which led to their eventual winner and a spot at Wembley. Tuesday will determine if Nottingham Forest will join or if Sheffield United can come back away from home.
Luton may have gone out of the playoffs but their impressive run will hopefully be something that they can build on next season. Compared to the high rollers of the Championship, spending a paltry $1.8 million on their squad deserves a pat on the back of the recruitment team. If Luton can keep improving, they could be right back in the playoffs next season with an improved side.
For Huddersfield, they’ll hope that Ward is fit for the final. If he isn’t, Rhodes will be up for the job as will their defense. Lee Nicholls made six saves in the second leg and considering the strength of the attacks that he could face, he’ll be called on again at Wembley.
First blood Forest
Forest are in a strong position heading into their second leg with the Blades after their 2-1 win at Bramall Lane through Colback’s early strike and Johnson’s second half effort on Saturday. Berge pulled one back for the hosts in added time.
The game started well for Paul Heckingbottom’s men in front of a raucous crowd with Sander Berge unlucky to have his shouts for a penalty waved away after tangling with James Garner. However, the visitors took the lead shortly afterwards with Sam Surridge setting up Philip Zinkernagel for an effort which was saved by Wes Foderingham before Colback finished from the rebound.
The home goalkeeper would be needed again in the opening half, but the next opportunity went the Blades’ way with John Egan’s header from a Berge corner cleared off the line by Surridge. Foderingham then produced a superb double save to deny Surridge and then Brennan Johnson in quick succession towards the end of an absorbing opening half in Sheffield which Forest really should have led more comfortably.
Johnson, one of the revelations of the season, doubled Forest’s lead after 71 minutes when the 20-year-old finished after John Fleck had initially blocked a Joe Lolley effort. Brennan’s father, former Reds favorite David, also scored for the club against the Blades in the playoff semifinals 19 years ago.
The drama was not over there with a vital Egan block to deny Johnson a second after Djed Spence had teed him up before Berge got a touch on Jack Robinson’s header with some questionable goalkeeping from Brice Samba which means that there is now all to play for in Nottingham next week.