Huddersfield Town and Nottingham Forest will square off at Wembley Stadium on Sunday with a place in the Premier League the reward for the winner.
Helped by a strong second half to the season, the two clubs finished in third and fourth place respectively in the Championship standings, and will feel that they deserve the opportunity to join Fulham and Bournemouth in the top flight.
Last season, Huddersfield and Forest finished in 20th and 17th position respectively. This campaign, there was a time when Forest occupied bottom spot in the division.
However, such is the unpredictability of the Championship that the two clubs will square off for the coveted last place in the Premier League, and their spots in the showpiece are justified after outstanding years in the second tier.
Between December 4 and March 11, Huddersfield put together a 17-match unbeaten streak in the league, and just two defeats have come from 28 matches at this level.
Meanwhile, since Steve Cooper’s first game in charge on September 25, Forest have accumulated 76 points from 38 games, the best return in the Championship regular campaign over that period.
The East Midlands outfit also conceded five goals fewer than any other team during that period, while the two clubs lost fewer games than Fulham and Bournemouth over the same stint.
Nevertheless, the playoffs were not straightforward for both clubs. Huddersfield were pushed all the way by Luton Town, the Terriers requiring a late Jordan Rhodes in the second leg at the John Smith’s Stadium to prevail 2-1 on aggregate.
The drama was saved for Forest’s reverse fixture with Sheffield United, Cooper’s team seemingly home and dry when leading 3-1 on aggregate at half time at the City Ground before the Blades took the game to extra time, even almost winning the tie in the final seconds of the added 30 minutes.
All of the momentum was with the visitors until the heroics of Forest goalkeeper Brice Samba, who saved three penalties to earn his team a spot at Wembley.
The fact that Forest wilted under the weight of expectancy during normal time will only encourage Huddersfield boss Carlos Corberan, and his team were one of just a few teams to win a league fixture at the City Ground during 2020-21.
All things considered, however, that probably counts for little now. The money and prestige on offer means that both teams will be under intense pressure on Sunday, even if it is Forest who will be looking to end a 23-year absence from the big time.
Huddersfield supporters will be taking the positives from their last two playoff finals ending in victory, most notably five years ago when they defeated Reading on penalties to earn a first-ever appearance in the Premier League.
Huddersfield Town Championship form:
Nottingham Forest Championship form:
We say: Huddersfield Town 1-2 Nottingham Forest
While Forest are naturally regarded as the favourites for this contest, they showed their vulnerabilities during the second leg versus Sheffield United, something which will only encourage their opponents.
Nevertheless, if Cooper’s side get it right on Sunday, they should have too much firepower for the Terriers, even if the game itself should be competitive.