Football

Five of the greatest Play-off Finals ever

1998 First Division Play-Off Final: Charlton 4-4 Sunderland

Every so often a Play-Off Final really delivers and that was certainly the case in May 1998 when Charlton and Sunderland met in what has gone down as “arguably the most dramatic game of football in Wembley’s history”.

In a game which swung this way and that, Charlton took the lead through Clive Mendonca, a man who’d been prolific for the Addicks throughout the season. Sunderland hit back early in the second half through Niall Quinn and then got in-front themselves through a certain Kevin Phillips.

The Black Cats looked to be taking a stranglehold on the game, only for Mendonca and Charlton to level it at 2-2. Twice more Sunderland would nudge ahead, through Quinn’s second and then Nicky Summerbee in Extra Time. But twice more Charlton would fight back. Richard Rufus and then Mendonca in the 103rd minute to complete a memorable hat-trick.

All this meant a penalty shoot-out to decide the winner and after 13 successful spot kicks, Sunderland’s Michael Gray was the unfortunate man to miss. Cue delirium in the Charlton end and absolute despair among the Black Cats.

2010 Championship Play-off Final: Blackpool 3-2 Cardiff City

A breathless 45 minutes of football at Wembley saw Blackpool twice recover from a goal down to level it up at 2-2 before Brett Ormerod netted the goal that would ultimately send the Tangerines to the promised land.

Incredibly it was Ormerod who nine years earlier, had also scored in Blackpool’s 4-2 victory over Leyton Orient in the Third Division play-off final.

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Under the management of Ian Holloway and inspired by captain Charlie Adam, Blackpool had defied fans and pundits alike all season and they did so again as underdogs in the Final. The feat even left the usually vocal Holloway speechless:

“I can’t put this achievement into words. I usually like a chat but all I can say is that I’m bursting with pride.”

Holloway would go on to delight the football world with his hilarious post match interviews. Who can forget this classic line…

1999 Second Division Play-off Final: Gillingham 2-2 Manchester City

Just five days ago, Manchester City completed the domestic treble. Boasting a squad of world class players on multi-million pound contracts, the club is now one of the leading teams in European football.

But all that may not have ever come about had Paul Dickov not struck deep into added time at Wembley in 1999.

It all could have been very different, with City trailing Gillingham 2-0 with just seconds left of normal time. The match seemed all but over and even when Kevin Horlock halved the deficit and the game entered injury time, few thought Joe Royle’s side would find an equaliser.

But with the clock running down, the ball landed at the feet of Dickov inside the box and he slammed the ball beyond Gill’s keeper Vince Bartram to send the tie to Extra Time and keep City’s hopes alive. As if the story wasn’t incredible enough as it is, it turned out Dickov and Bartram had been each other’s Best Men at their weddings. You couldn’t write the script.

After a goalless extra time period, the game went to penalties and it was City’s keeper Nicky Weaver who would emerge the hero, saving two spot-kicks to clinch promotion and begin the club’s journey to where they are today.

1992/93 First Division Play-off Final: Swindon Town 4-3 Leicester City

Ask football fans if they can recall every team to have played in the Premier League since its inception in 1992 and one of the names that may well elude them is that of Swindon Town.

It’s hard to believe that The Robins, now languishing in League Two, once graced the top flight but that was the reality in 1993 when they secured promotion through a dramatic Play-off Final against Leicester City. 

Then, under Player-Manager Glenn Hoddle, Swindon were playing some delightful football and raced into a 3-0 lead before the hour mark. A blistering 12 minute spell saw Leicester score three times to level the game but Swindon rallied again with just six minutes remaining, securing promotion through a Paul Bodin penalty.

 

1994/95 First Division Play-off Final: Bolton Wanderers 4-3 Reading

Reading had finished second in the First Division in the 1994/95 season but found themselves in the play-offs as the Premier League had opted to reduce its numbers from 22 to 20 ahead of the upcoming campaign.

Unfortunately for the Royals that change at the top would prove costly as they missed out on promotion following an epic final against Bolton Wanderers.

Reading found themselves two goals up and with a penalty to extend that lead still further. But, after missing the spot-kick, Bolton twice rallied late on take the match to Extra Time. The Trotters would net two more in the resulting thirty minutes and despite registering the seventh goal of an extraordinary encounter, the Royals were the beaten side.

 

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