Division 1 Play-off final preview.

Last updated : 24 May 2003 By Dave Burgess

Well this is it.

After sorting your tickets, accommodation, travel arrangements, bought the new merchandise and finally entered the Millennium stadium there is a huge prize on offer to only one of two teams – a place in the Premiership.

This is as close as we’ve ever come to joining the most exciting domestic league in the world.

90, 120 minutes, even a repeat of last year’s penalty shoot out is all that separates one of the teams from joining the likes of Man United, Arsenal etc.

The thought of seeing Henry, Van Niestelrooy and Rooney at the Molineux is incredible.

We know too well that since our demise in the early eighties we’ve never played even a bit part, unlike our opponents.

Sheffield United were in the top flight for 4 seasons between 1990-94, two of which were in the first two seasons of the Premiership. However, since relegation in 1994 they’ve failed to negotiate the play-offs losing in one semi-final (1998) and one final (1997).

They’ve also generally floated around the top reaches of the table without having the extra bit of impetus to return to the top flight.

This season they’ve caught the eye and the headlines with two excellent cup runs that both ended at the semi-final stage.

However, not taking anything away from this, but all these ties were at home. Wolves over turned
Newcastle and Leicester at home but failed at Southampton so home advantage does help in these circumstances.

Also having seen Sheffield United’s 4-3 victory over
Forest in the second leg of the play-off final showed how determined and resilient they are, as well as creative.

However, with only a four point difference between 3rd and 5th places most people are stating this final is very hard to predict. Given the fact that Wolves outscored their opponents and also conceded fewer goals and it points to a close encounter as most of United’s games are close run things.

This season’s matches saw United win 3-1 at Wolves. I was impressed with the way they played that day but the personnel for Wolves is going to be quite removed from that starting line up. Also, this was in our worst spell of the season so I’m not reading too much into it apart from we saw what United are capable of.

In the fixture at
Bramhall Lane at the end of April, a last minute equaliser denied us all three points. Again the team sheet was different in terms of personnel but we exposed their defence.

However, we know that United have some excellent individuals as well as a deep squad. Michael Brown has shown himself to be a quality midfielder, scoring a phenomenal amount of goals this season. Up front they have the tricky and pacey Kabba.

Throughout the team they possess players with character, grit and determination hence their success this season. We saw last season that
Albion went up on a series of 1-0 victories and United are in that mold but better. They’ve also been able to get some match changing performances when players have come off the bench in particular respect to Peschisolido.

As for ourselves I think that the experience of Ince, Irwin and Rae will be vital over the build-up and game itself. The younger players have shown inevitable nerves in the last few weeks.
Murray for one has been a bit edgy not surprisingly in his first full season as a professional playing week in week out.

For Ince and Irwin there could be no better way to end their careers than to go out leading their last team to victory and a promotion to the Premier league.

Also the irony that West Brom are relegated and Wolves are promoted writes it’s own headlines but you could say a similar tag line with Sheffield Wednesday going into Division 2 this season.

All I can say in summary is that it’s going to be a fantastic day regardless of the outcome.

Having experienced the Millennium Stadium previously it murders the old Wembley for atmosphere and facilities.

I’m not predicating the result – that will take care of itself, but I’m going to remember the occasion and the fact we’ve reached the final after 3 previous failings at the semi-final stage.

To those who didn’t get a ticket then cheer us on from your living room or local pub – one big push from all supporters and Monday 4.55 p.m. could be a significant marker in Wolves history.

Come on the Wolves (one last big push)!

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