Play-Off football grips audiences this weekend as the last chance for promotion takes place. The Championship version has been dubbed “The Richest Game in Football” due to the financial incentives received by playing in the Premier League and it’ll be Aston Villa or Derby County who take that spot. Here, SportPesa looks back at some famous Play-Off games.
Watford v Leicester City, 2013
Still a social media guilty pleasure, Troy Deeney’s winner for Watford in the Championship Play-Off semi-final in 2013 against Leicester is undoubtedly one of football’s craziest passages of play. With a place in the Premiership at stake, both sides had approached this game intent on going all out for the win and when Leicester were awarded a penalty in the final minute with the aggregate score tied at 2-2, Anthony Knockaert had the perfect opportunity to put the Midlands side in the ascendancy. Instead, what transpired was 30 seconds of unlikely madness.
After seeing his spot kick saved by Manuel Almunia, Knockaert failed to convert the rebound as the Spanish goalkeeper thwarted his feeble strike. Watford countered quickly and when Fernando Foriesteri’s accurate cross was nodded into the path of Deeney by Jonathan Hogg, the Watford Talisman fired the ball into the net from 12 yards out to send Vicarage Road into a frenzy. Ultimately, this was as good as it got for Watford as they beaten in the final by Crystal Palace.
Manchester City v Gillingham, 1999
Without Paul Dickov’s miraculous equalizer against Gillingham in the 1999 League One Play-Off final, Manchester City’s current status as the finest team in England would be the stuff of fantasy. A freefalling club in the latter half of the 1990s, City found themselves in the third tier of English football in 1998, and it looked like they would be staying there after going 2-0 down to Gillingham at Wembley.
Displaying a stubbornness that is familiar with their team today, City rallied to level the score and it was Dickov’s strike that forced the game into extra time. No more goals followed so the match went to penalties and that is where City’ goalkeeper, Nicky Weaver, became a club icon. Victory that day propelled City back up the leagues, and less than a decade later they were the richest club in the world after being bought by the wealthy Abu Dhabi group. A transaction that wouldn’t have taken place if City were still languishing outside the Premier League.
Swindon Town v Leicester City, 1993
When Glenn Hoddle took over management duties at Swindon Town in 1991, the ballplaying midfielder tried his utmost to install an exciting brand of football at the Wiltshire club. His presence was felt immediately as he saved them from relegation, and in the 1992-93 season, Swindon demonstrated that they had bought into Hoddle’s ideas as they finished the season in the Play-Off places and ultimately making the final against Leicester City.
Winning 3-0 after 53 minutes, Swindon were pegged back 20 minutes later as Leicester, inspired by star youngster, Julian Joachim, staged a stunning comeback to make the game 3-3. Swindon defended nervously as Leicester grabbed the initiative, but a Paul Bodin penalty six minutes from time sent The Robins to the Premier League where they could only last one season.
Blackpool v Cardiff City, 2010
Tipped for relegation at the start of 2009-10 season, Blackpool were the Championship’s surprise package as they went on several impressive runs under the guidance of Neil Warnock and secured a place in the Play-Offs. After eliminating Nottingham Forest in the semis, Blackpool headed to Wembley in a confident mood, but they were underdogs on the day as they came up against a very talented Cardiff side who were expected to become Wales’ first Premier League club.
A frenetic first half saw five goals scored as the drama reached unbearable levels for both sets of supporters. Michael Chopra gave Cardiff an early lead, but Charlie Adam made scores level almost immediately. Joe Ledley restored Cardiff’s advantage on 37 minutes, but once again, Blackpool fired back straightaway as Gary Taylor fletcher scored to make it 2-2, before Brett Ormerod made it 3-2 for The Tangerines in first half stoppage time. With another entertaining half expected, both sides couldn’t maintain their herculean efforts and no more goals were scored. Against all the odds, all season long, Blackpool had been promoted to the Premier League.
Charlton Athletic v Sunderland, 1998
It’s took a miraculous effort from both Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest to prevent Charlton Athletic and Sunderland from gaining automatic promotion in 1998 as both sides finished extremely close to the 90-point mark. Instead, the sides met at Wembley ibn the Play-Off final and what transpired was one of the greatest games ever staged at the famed venue.
Charlton struck first through Clive Mendonca, but after that it was Sunderland who kept taking the initiative as they led three times afterwards. Mendonca managed to score a hattrick to tie the game at 4-4 in Extra Time ensuring that the game went to a dreaded penalty shoot-out. All spot kicks were scored until Michael Gray’s tame effort was saved by Sasa Ilic meaning that The Addicks were headed to the Premier League.