Having achieved their highest league finish for 35 years with an excellent fifth place in the Championship, good enough for a promotion play-off spot, Huddersfield Town are now just one match away from the Premier League. In two weeks, just two days after Chelsea play Arsenal at Wembley in the FA Cup final, they will take on Reading in the Richest Game in Football, with the winners joining Newcastle and Brighton as the newest members of the Premier League.
Two Chelsea loanees played a crucial part in Huddersfield getting this far, and while Kasey Palmer’s season unfortunately was cut shot by injury, Izzy Brown has been a standout performer ever since joining in January. It was no different on Wednesday.
Huddersfield’s promotion play-off first leg at home to Sheffield Wednesday ended in a goalless draw with neither side really creating much; in the second leg the best chance in the game probably fell to Brown, who failed to put Elias Kachunga’s cross past arguably the best keeper in the Championship, Keiran Westwood. Brown’s effort was saved and then grazed the upright on its way out. Nevertheless, the youngster continued to work and in the 73rd minute, played an excellent through ball from midfield down the right channel to substitute Colin Quaner, whose cross was bundled into the net for the equalizer by a combination of Nahki Wells and a defender. Brown’s ‘pre-assist’ helped cancel out Steven Fletcher’s opener, which had put Wednesday in front earlier in the second half.
The game ended 1-1 after 90 minutes and went to extra-time, six minutes into which Brown was taken off for Jack Payne, a relatively more defensive-minded midfielder. Penalties eventually ensued. The home side went first, but former Chelsea player Sam Hutchinson’s effort was saved by Liverpool loanee Dan Ward. All the subsequent players scored until the fifth round, when Brown’s replacement, Jack Payne, missed the penalty that could’ve sent Huddersfield to Wembley. But Ward saved Fernando Forestieri’s penalty just after, meaning that Huddersfield went through 3-4.
Brown’s Huddersfield will thus fight it out against a Reading side managed by former Manchester United star Jaap Stam and also featuring former Chelsea youth star (and first-team debutant) John Swift. The rigid, well-drilled Reading side edged flamboyant Fulham by a goal to none in the second leg of their play-off fixture to win 2-1 on aggregate. Tomáš Kalas started both legs for Fulham and unfortunately conceded a penalty via handball, which was converted by Yann Kermorgant in the second leg and ultimately led to the Cottagers’ downfall. Fellow Chelsea loanee Lucas Piazon fought back from injury to make an ineffective substitute appearance in the second leg.
So there we have it, Reading versus Huddersfield in the final. South versus North, former Chelsea versus current Chelsea. From a purely Chelsea standpoint, it might be beneficial if Huddersfield go up, as they might be willing to take Brown or Palmer on loan once more and provide them with some valuable Premier League experience. Good luck to Izzy Brown, Kasey Palmer and everyone involved!
Incidentally, this isn’t the first time in recent history that a Chelsea loanee has been involved in a promotion play-off final. Nathaniel Chalobah (Watford, 12/13) and Patrick Bamford (Derby County, 13/14 and Middlesbrough, 14/15) have both contested the fixture in the past, but failed to win on all three occasions. Can Brown change that trend? May 29, mark your calendars!