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Championship Playoff Final: How Huddersfield Town v Nottingham Forest got to Wembley

Not many would have predicted this to be the playoff final at the beginning of the season but both Huddersfield and Nottingham Forest are potentially 90 minutes away from a place in next season's Premier League.

It is a clash of third against fourth in club football's most valuable game as two up-and-coming managers have defied the odds to get to Wembley this season.

Carlos Corberan's Huddersfield defeated Luton Town over two legs with Jordan Rhodes' late winner in the second leg proving the difference between the two sides.

Forest's playoff path was much tenser. After 120 minutes of the second leg, the tie was finely poised at 3-3 but Brice Samba made three saves in the ensuing penalty shootout to be the Tricky Trees' hero.

Forest are 23/20 to win the playoff final with Huddersfield available at 12/5.

Terriers tighten up at the back

When Corberan took over at the beginning of last season, Huddersfield fans may have been forgiven for thinking that Marcelo Bielsa-style football was coming their way, given the Spaniard was Leeds' under-23 manager during the Argentine's reign.

It didn't quite pan out that way. Huddersfield finished 20th on 49 points and only managed three wins in the New Year, while they had the worst defensive record of any team.

Sacking Corberan perhaps would have been expected given how volatile the business is these days but the Terriers decided to stick with him and they have improved ten-fold - not something many would have predicted given their summer business largely consisted of free transfers and loans.

However, they have been in the top six for much of the season and two losses in 26 games saw them finish third, conceding 24 fewer goals in 2020/21.

Blend of youth and experience helps Town

Corberan's squad has great balance with young and exuberant players dovetailing nicely with older and more robust pros.

At the back, former Sheffield Wednesday defender Tom Lees has been a calming presence while Jonathan Hogg, now the only survivor from their previous stint in the top flight, has been outstanding.

At the other end of the scale, Sorba Thomas' emergence has been a big factor in the ascent with the Welsh international providing pace and excellent delivery out wide while Lewis O'Brien's bustling energy and industry in midfield has given them some steel.

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Cooper concocts a transformation at Forest

When Steve Cooper took over in late September, with Forest having taken a solitary point from seven games, surviving in the Championship would have been regarded as a good season.

However, what has since transpired is nothing short of remarkable and Cooper may well have been celebrating automatic promotion if he had been in charge the whole season.

After two excellent campaigns at Swansea where they achieved back-to-back playoff places, Cooper was trusted to bring his style of football to the City Ground.

His back-three formation has worked splendidly and he has got the best out of previously underperforming players as well as raw, younger players.

Brennan Johnson has been outstanding for Forest this season with his movement and skill dazzling defences, while Ryan Yates has reinvented himself as a goalscoring midfielder.

Djed Spence, whom Middlesbrough somehow let go on loan, has also been magnificent and seen his name linked with moves to some of Europe's biggest clubs.

Clever transfer business strengthens Forest

When January came around, Forest were lying ninth in the table - a playoff charge was on but they needed to strengthen their fairly paper-thin squad.

Central defender Steve Cook was a shrewd acquisition from Bournemouth having previously earned promotion to the top flight and been a mainstay there for several seasons.

Meanwhile, Sam Surridge and Keinan Davis bolstered their frontline with Surridge, in particular, having an excellent impact scoring eight goals in the second half of the season

Two young managers go head to head

Corberan and Cooper have used this season to further establish their reputations and whoever comes out on top will be hot property.

Both managers started life coaching younger players - Corberan with Leeds' under 23 side and Cooper with England's under 17s whom he notoriously guided to a World Cup win.

That means both are in touch with the ever-changing modern iteration of the game, and both have been able to get the best out of younger players.

It will be a fascinating battle between two sides who operate with the same back-three formation and who have won multiple admirers this season.

Forest's season actually got up and running in September with a 2-0 win away at Huddersfield though the Terriers won the reverse fixture in December.

It promises to be a very close battle and there would be few surprises if extra time was required.

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