Championship play-off: Can Sheffield Wednesday beat Hull?
The drama of the 'richest contest in sport' is a fitting climax to the madness of the championship season
Never mind the glitz and glamour of the Champions League final on Saturday night, the biggest game of the weekend – or even the season – takes place at Wembley a few hours earlier when Hull City face Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship play-off final.
At stake is a place in the Premier League and all the attendant financial perks, which is how the game earned its cliched soubriquet: "The richest contest in sport."
It earned the title nearly ten years ago when a "quaint" £60m was on the line, says Matt Dickinson of The Times. "Now the stake is at least £170m, which is about as much as Atletico Madrid hope to earn in 12 months and they are competing for the Champions League tomorrow, not to be third up behind Burnley and Middlesbrough."
In some ways the mayhem of the play-off final is a fitting climax to the Championship season, he says. "All of football's madness – compelling, alarming – is to be found in the Championship: reckless financing, managers fired like rockets on Bonfire Night, big ambitions, fallen giants, boardrooms full of dreamers and chancers.
"It is a place of endless turbulence, and tomorrow's play-off final at Wembley is a celebration of its storminess."
In one corner there is Hull City, a club that has prospered thanks to the Premier League after reaching the promised land for the first time in their history in 2008. They are hoping for an immediate return to the top flight after relegation last season.
In the other corner is Sheffield Wednesday, a fallen giant of the game, who have not played in the top tier since 2000 and whose glory days came in the first half of the last century.
On paper, Hull have the upper hand. They have a more expensive squad, thanks to the riches accrued while in the Premier League, and finished fourth in the table with 83 points. Steve Bruce, their manager, is hoping to win promotion to the top flight for a record fourth time.
Wednesday, on the other hand, have fewer stars and only just sneaked into the play-offs before stunning favourites, Brighton, in the semi-final. They are led by Portuguese mananger Carlos Carvalhal, who believes he has "woken a giant" at Hillsborough.
In Fernando Forestieri the Owls have a player who could change the game in their favour. Ian Holloway of Sky Sports is backing them to shock the Tigers.
"I've just got a sneaky feeling Wednesday, who believe they're on the way back, will be celebrating in the Wembley sunshine on Saturday after a dramatic extra-time victory," he says.