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EFL play-offs: Relive some of the most memorable games

Sheffield United goalkeeper Steve Simonsen blazing this penalty over the crossbar was a truly memorable play-off moment – but does it feature among our 10-game shortlist?

The May spring Bank Holiday weekend would normally be a time when promotion hopes and dreams are either realised or shattered in dramatic fashion in the English Football League play-off finals.

League Two, League One and the Championship would all bring their seasons to a climax at Wembley, usually over consecutive days.

But, with the domestic season still suspended and in some cases already finalised, this year they are missing from their usual spot in the footballing calendar.

To make up for that, we have compiled 10 of the most memorable play-off matches and moments since the format began in the late 1980s. We are also giving you the chance to select your favourite from semi-final upsets to goal-filled frantic finals.

Make your selection below – the vote will close at 11:00 BST on Monday, 25 May and the final result will be visible shortly after the closing time.

Here are some more details about the 10 moments you can vote for…

1993: Swindon 4-3 Leicester

After the Premier League had completed its first season, clubs racing to get there from the First Division had seen what the promised land looked like.

In 1993, Newcastle United and West Ham had sewn up the two automatic promotion places, leaving Leicester City and Swindon Town to meet at Wembley to grab the third and final spot.

For Swindon, it was a return to the scene where they thought they had secured promotion three years earlier before breaches of league regulations, predominantly involving illegal payments to players, took it away from them.

Swindon – led by player-manager Glenn Hoddle – took a 3-0 lead, with Hoddle netting the first, and looked set for a routine win early in the second half.

Glenn Hoddle (second from right) masterminded Swindon’s promotion to the Premier League

But Leicester roared back as Julian Joachim, Steve Walsh and Steve Thompson all scored in the space of 12 minutes to make it 3-3.

With extra time looming, Swindon substitute Steve White was brought down by Leicester goalkeeper Kevin Poole and referee David Elleray pointed to the spot.

Up stepped Wales full-back Paul Bodin to convert and send the Robins to the Premier League.

Hoddle, however, would not be the man to lead them there, as four days after that Wembley victory he was appointed manager at Chelsea and a disastrous campaign followed as the Robins were immediately relegated back to the second tier.

1995: Bolton Wanderers 4-3 Reading (aet)

In the 1994-95 First Division season, the play-off final took on added significance as it decided the second of only two promotion places to the Premier League.

Reading would have been toasting automatic promotion in previous campaigns for finishing second in the regular season, but the top flight was trimming itself down from 22 teams to 20, meaning only two would go up.

The Royals made a fast start and were 2-0 up after just 12 minutes through Lee Nogan and Ady Williams.

Fabian de Freitas scored nine goals for Bolton – none more important than his two in the 1995 play-off final

It could have been an even better story by half-time but Keith Branagan saved Stuart Lovell’s penalty to keep Bolton in it.

Owen Coyle pulled one back with 15 minutes to play and then substitute Fabian de Freitas netted the equaliser in the 86th minute.

Bolton then pulled clear in extra time, Mixu Paatelainen and De Freitas both scoring before a Jimmy Quinn strike for Reading made for a nervy finish.

Bolton would go on to the Premier League, but without manager Bruce Rioch, who joined Arsenal in the summer, while Reading had to wait until 2006 before they would secure promotion to the top tier.

1998: Charlton 4-4 Sunderland (aet) – Charlton won 7-6 on penalties

It’s no exaggeration to say this First Division play-off final had it all… and then some.

In the regular season, Sunderland and Charlton both accumulated enough points to arguably deserve automatic promotion. But Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough managed to surpass the Addicks’ 88 points and Sunderland’s 90 during a thrilling race to the top flight.

A Wembley crowd of almost 78,000 witnessed a real see-saw of emotions after managers Peter Reid and Alan Curbishley had led out the two teams.

Sunderland fan Clive Mendonca fired Charlton into a 1-0 half-time lead but a Niall Quinn header and Kevin Phillips’ neat finish put the Mackems 2-1 up early in the second half.

Mendonca came up trumps again to level it a 2-2 before Quinn slotted in on the half-volley to restore Sunderland’s lead with the game nearing 90 minutes.

Michael Gray is comforted by Niall Quinn after missing the crucial spot-kick for Sunderland

However, Charlton centre-back Richard Rufus found the perfect time to score his first goal for the club with a header that made it 3-3 with five minutes remaining and meant supporters’ nerves would be shredded even thinner in extra time.

Neither team were quite done there as Nicky Sumberbee’s right-foot drive and another from Mendonca – completing a Wembley hat-trick – made it 4-4 to eventually force the match into penalties.

On a goal-filled afternoon, they just kept on coming in the shootout as the first 13 spot-kicks were scored.

Sadly for Michael Gray, his tame effort saved by Charlton goalkeeper Sasa Ilic will be one of the abiding memories for both teams.

That moment sent one red and white half of Wembley into ecstasy and the other into despair. The finest of fine margins ultimately deciding an unforgettable play-off final.

1999: Gillingham 2-2 Manchester City (City won 3-1 on penalties)

Hard to believe as it may be now, 21 years ago Manchester City were a third-tier club.

Two relegations in three seasons had left City playing in what was then called Division Two.

Even then City had long been known as a team who didn’t do things the easy way, and so it proved at the old Wembley.

Gillingham opened the scoring in the 81st minute through Carl Asaba before Bob Taylor seemingly put the final to bed with a second in the 86th minute.

Nicky Weaver, a former England U21 goalkeeper, was Manchester City’s hero in the penalty shootout

But Kevin Horlock pulled one back with one minute to go and, in the dying seconds of injury time, Paul Dickov scored what is now City’s second most famous late, late goal.

After no further strikes in extra-time the final was decided by penalties, with 20-year-old Nicky Weaver making three saves to send City back up to the First Division.

By and large things have gone fairly well since then.

2000: Ipswich Town 5-3 Bolton Wanderers (Ipswich won 7-5 on aggregate)

Having fallen at the First Division play-off semi-finals the three previous seasons, Ipswich fans might have been dreading another do-or-die meeting with Bolton.

What’s more, the Trotters had knocked out Ipswich the season before on away goals after extra time and boss Sam Allardyce must have felt in complete control when Dean Holdsworth and Eidur Gudjohnsen put them 2-0 ahead early in the first leg.

But a Marcus Stewart double made it 2-2 and set up what would be an eventful second leg at Portman Road three days later.

Ultimately, it would prove to be about two men – Town midfield maestro Jim Magilton for his hat-trick and referee Barry Knight for his contentious decision to both send off two Bolton players and award the hosts three penalties.

Bolton, though, almost escaped with victory as they led three times through a Dean Holdsworth double and Allan Johnston’s volley. Jussi Jaaskelainen had also saved a Magilton penalty at 2-1 in the first half.

Within 18 months of earning promotion, Ipswich were beating Italian giants Inter in the Uefa Cup

But Magilton would make amends and net a last-gasp equaliser in the 90th minute to make it 3-3 on the night and 5-5 on aggregate. The tide finally seemed to turn Ipswich’s way as extra-time loomed.

First Bolton centre-back Mike Whitlow was shown a second yellow card in stoppage time and then Paul Ritchie hauled down David Johnson in the first period of extra-time, allowing Jamie Clapham to convert the spot-kick.

Robbie Elliott would also see red soon after meaning Bolton finished the night with nine players.

Martijn Reuser’s goal in the second period made it 5-3 and booked Ipswich’s place at Wembley to spark a jubilant pitch invasion.

Dutch winger Reuser would go on to net the decisive goal in a 4-2 final victory against Barnsley later that month.

2010: Blackpool 3-2 Cardiff City

A sun-baked late May afternoon saw Blackpool and Cardiff City go head-to-head in the Championship play-off final.

It had taken two pretty dramatic semi-final ties to pair them together as Cardiff kept their nerve to beat Leicester City on penalties and Blackpool stunned Nottingham Forest with a 4-3 second-leg victory at the City Ground.

Despite the roasting Wembley temperatures, there would be no slow start to this final. All five of the goals came in the first half.

Twice Cardiff went ahead through Michael Chopra and Joe Ledley, only for a Charlie Adam free-kick and a Gary Taylor-Fletcher finish to cancel those goals out.

Charlie Adam’s (right) performances for Blackpool in the Premier League earned the Scotland midfielder a move to Liverpool

With seconds to go until the break, Brett Ormerod struck to put Blackpool ahead for the first time – a lead they would not relinquish.

It was a sweet moment for Ormerod, who had previously netted for Blackpool in a League Two play-off final victory against Leyton Orient in 2001.

It also secured for the Tangerines top-flight football for the first time in nearly 40 years as Ian Holloway capped a remarkable first season in charge at Bloomfield Road.

2013: Watford 3-1 Leicester City (Watford won 3-2 on aggregate)

Surely no single minute encapsulates the brilliance of the play-offs quite like the final 60 seconds of the Championship play-off semi-final between Watford and Leicester in 2013.

With the aggregate score tied at 2-2, Foxes winger Anthony Knockaert was awarded a debatable late penalty.

Gianfranco Zola’s joy was short-lived, as his Watford side lost to Crystal Palace in the play-off final

The Frenchman took the kick himself but was denied by Hornets keeper Manuel Almunia both from the spot and the rebound and the home side cleared the ball to safety. And then some.

Forward Fernando Forestieri was played through down the right and his deep cross was headed back across goal by Jonathan Hogg for Watford talisman Troy Deeney to slam past the despairing dive of Kasper Schmeichel in the Leicester goal.

Cue complete pandemonium at Vicarage Road, with Deeney tearing off his shirt and leaping into the stand, fans storming the pitch and then Watford boss Gianfranco Zola taking a tumble as he sprinted to join in the celebrations.

2015: Swindon 5-5 Sheffield United (Swindon won 7-6 on aggregate)

Purely in terms of goals, this is the play-off semi-final that all play-off semi-finals aspire to be like.

Leading 2-1 from the first leg at Bramall Lane, Swindon raced into a 3-0 lead in 18 minutes at the County Ground to stretch their aggregate advantage to 5-1 and seemingly end the tie as a contest.

However, the Blades pulled two goals back before the break to give themselves the merest glimmers of hope before the second half.

Michael Smith’s second of the game looked to have put it to bed again only for Ben Davies to pull the Blades back to within two with 25 minutes to go.

Swindon fans poured on to the pitch in celebration after their victory over Sheffield United. Two weeks later, they lost 4-0 in the final at Wembley

Jonathan Obika’s 84th-minute strike, which made it 7-4 on aggregate, proved to be decisive as Matty Done and Che Adams both scored for the visitors in the final two minutes to level the score at 5-5 on the night.

The hosts then had to see out nine minutes of time added on at the end of what remains both the highest scoring single play-off match and the highest scoring semi-final.

This was as good as it got for Swindon as they lost 4-0 to Preston in the League One final.

2017: Exeter 3-2 Carlisle, Luton 3-3 Blackpool

We’re bending our own rules here a little bit, admittedly, but it’s with good reason.

The first legs of the 2017 League Two play-off semi-finals were both entertaining matches in their own right, as Carlisle drew 3-3 with Exeter and Blackpool secured a 3-2 home win over Luton.

Could the return legs, which were both played at the same time on Thursday, 18 May match them? Could they ever.

First, at St James Park an Ollie Watkins double looked to have the Grecians home and hosed only for Jason Kennedy and John O’Sullivan to score in the final 10 minutes for the visitors to make it 5-5 on aggregate.

With the game now surely set for extra time, Reading loanee Jack Stacey, who had spent time on loan with the Cumbrians in the previous campaign, slammed home a winner in the 95th minute.

Blackpool got past Luton in a semi-final thriller before beating Exeter at Wembley to win promotion from League Two

Not to be outdone by events in Devon, the Hatters and Tangerines were playing out a classic of their own.

Nathan Delfouneso put the Lancashire side in control with the first goal of the night, making it 4-2 on aggregate.

But Nathan Jones’ men refused to lay down and completely turned the tie on its head thanks to an own goal from Kelvin Mellor and strikes by Scott Cuthbert and Danny Hylton.

With their two-goal lead having turned into a one-goal deficit Blackpool could have buckled but Armand Gnanduillet got them back on level terms with 15 minutes to go and, just as in the other game, there was to be late, late drama.

Jordan Cook’s attempted clearance hit goalkeeper Scott Moore and went in to level the game at 3-3 and give Blackpool victory – also in the 95th minute and also 6-5 on aggregate.

Unsurprisingly the final failed to match the excitement of the semis, as Blackpool won 2-1.

2019: Leeds 2-4 Derby (Derby win 4-3 on aggregate)

The stage was set for this play-off classic as far back as January when, before the second league meeting between the two at Elland Road, a member of Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa’s staff was found watching the Rams train from a public footpath, much to the outrage of Derby manager Frank Lampard.

Leeds won the game 2-0 but the discussions about ‘Spygate’ rumbled on for weeks and the Whites were eventually fined £200,000, a bill which Bielsa himself paid.

It was inevitable, then, that the pair would end up being matched up again in that season’s play-offs.

Derby County: Frank Lampard’s jubilation at Leeds’ expense

Leeds went into the second leg with a 1-0 lead and an early Stuart Dallas goal added to their advantage.

However, a dreadful defensive mix up just before half-time saw Jack Marriott level on the night and quick goals from loanees Mason Mount and Harry Wilson put Derby 3-1 in front in a crazy 13-minute turnaround.

Dallas scored again to level it up at 3-3 on aggregate but Leeds then had defender Gaetano Berardi sent off and the Rams made the most of their numerical advantage when Marriott poked home in the dying minutes.

The result meant Derby became the first team in Championship play-off history to lose the first leg at home and reach the final.


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