Five Best EFL Play-off Matches Ever

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There is nothing quite like the drama and excitement that comes with the EFL play-offs!

Watford captain Troy Deeney

The end-of-season play-offs in the EFL gives teams battling in the top half of the table in the second half of the season the chance to keep their promotion dreams alive.

There have been many memorable moments and games in Championship play-off history as the top six in the second tier fight it out for the remaining lucrative top-flight place.

Here we look back at the top 5 best-ever Championship play-off games.

Blackpool 3 Cardiff City 2 – Play-off Final, May 2010

Blackpool secured their place in the Premier League for the first time thanks to a memorable win over Cardiff in 2010, winning 3-2 with all the goals coming in a crazy first half at a baked Wembley.

Michael Chopra put the Bluebirds in front inside the first 10 minutes but Charlie Adam’s inch-perfect free-kick after 13 minutes levelled it up early on. Then Joe Ledley struck to give the Welsh side a 2-1 lead but Gary Taylor-Fletcher equalised again for the Seasiders from close range after City failed to clear a corner.

In first-half injury time, DJ Campbell ran at the Cardiff defence and the ball eventually deflected into the path of veteran striker Brett Ormerod, who poked it past David Marshall. Cardiff defender Darcy Blake even had time to see a goal ruled out at the other end before the break but it was 3-2 as the teams went in for the interval and the goals gave way to tension in the second period with no further additions to the scoreboard.

Bolton 4 Reading 3 – Play-off Final May 1995

Reading had one foot in the Premier League when they went 2-0 up at Wembley in the play-off final of 1995 thanks to goals inside the first 13 minutes from Lee Nogan and Ady Williams. Reading then also missed a penalty before the break that probably would have sealed victory and a top-flight place there and then but Bolton never gave up and halved the deficit with 15 minutes to go when Owen Coyle struck.

Substitute Fabian de Freitas then sent the Trotters fans wild with an equaliser with just four minutes to go to send the game to extra-time. Mixu Paatelainen completed the amazing turnaround when he made it 3-2 in the additional period before De Freitas scored his second of the game to give Wanderers a two-goal cushion. Jimmy Quinn made it 4-3 to ensure the most nervy of finishes but Bolton clung on to secure their place in the top flight.

Swindon 4 Leicester City 3 – Play-off Final, May 1993

This was Glenn Hoddle’s parting gift to Swindon as the player-manager guided the club up to the top flight for the first time in their history when they edged past a spirited Leicester before taking over as Chelsea boss four days later.

Hoddle scored the opener for Town and they duly raced into what looked like an unassailable 3-0 lead at Wembley only for the Foxes to hit back in stunning fashion. Craig Maskell and Shaun Taylor had put Hoddle’s side in complete control early in the second half but Julian Joachim, Steve Walsh and Steven Thompson all got on the scoresheet to make it 3-3. With extra-time looming, Paul Bodin scored from the penalty spot to win it for Swindon, who hoped the success would persuade Hoddle to stay on but he confirmed his exit in the following days.

Watford 3 Leicester City 1 – Semi-final second leg, May 2013

After Leicester had won the first leg 1-0, the second leg of this classic nine years ago at Vicarage Road was heading for extra-time with the Hornets 2-1 up at home thanks to a double from Matej Vydra. However, the extra 30 minutes were not required thanks to one of the most dramatic endings to a match anywhere, ever.

With six minutes of injury time played, Leicester were awarded a soft penalty with the responsibility falling on the shoulders of Anthony Knockaert to score from 12 yards to send Nigel Pearson’s side to Wembley. His effort, and follow-up, were superbly saved by Watford keeper Manuel Almunia, though, and the ball stayed in play. Incredibly, Watford raced straight down the other end and Troy Deeney smashed home to make it 3-1 on the day, sending Gianfranco Zola’s men to Wembley instead.

It sparked wild celebrations and a jubilant pitch invasion as Watford went from despair to ecstasy in the space of 15 amazing seconds.

Charlton 4 Sunderland 4 (Charlton won 7-6 on penalties) – Play-off Final, May 1998

This is remembered as one of the all-time great club games to have taken place at Wembley as Charlton and Sunderland went at it under the Twin Towers.

Clive Mendonca opened the scoring for the Addicks and would go on to become the first player to score a hat-trick in a play-off final in a humdinger of a game. Niall Quinn scored twice and Kevin Phillips added another for the Wearsiders in normal time but a Richard Rufus header for Charlton with five minutes of the 90 left made it 3-3 to force extra time. Nicky Summerbee edged Sunderland ahead again in the extended period but Mendonca hit back with his third of the game.

With the tension rising after both teams had scored their first six penalties, Shaun Newton made it 7-6 to Charlton meaning Michael Gray needed to net to keep Sunderland in the shoot-out, but his nervous effort was kept out by Charlton goalkeeper Sasa Ilic.

A sports journalist for over 15 years, Aidan has been part of written and audio coverage on a wide-ranging number of events. Having played and coached at amateur level, he offers in-depth insight and opinion into the world of football in particular.
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