The battle between the league’s third to sixth-best teams for the one remaining Premier League place at the end of the season has produced some of the most enthralling spectacles.
While much of the focus in England revolves around the Premier League, in reality a lot of the excitement and passion comes from the country’s second tier, the Championship.
The battle between the league’s third to sixth-best teams for the one remaining Premier League place at the end of the season has produced some of the most enthralling spectacles in recent memory. Here are the top three Championship playoff matches in the 21st century.
In 2010, Blackpool celebrated ascension to England’s top flight for the first time since 1971 with a historical victory over Cardiff in the final, a very different fate compared to their start to 2022-23. The Seasiders have won just six of their opening 26 games, giving them The Championship odds of 5/4 to go down to League One. Fellow 2010 finalists Cardiff are also among pundits Championship betting tips to face the drop with odds of 16/5, although it was a very different story 12 years earlier.
Blackpool had seen off Nottingham Forest 6-4 on aggregate in the semi-finals, while Cardiff had scrapped past Leicester on penalties. It was a similarly tight affair in the final too, with Michael Chopra and Charlie Adam making it one apiece within 15 minutes. A Joe Ledley goal was cancelled out by Blackpool’s Gary Taylor-Fletcher four minutes later, before a 45th-minute Brett Ormerod strike made it 3-2. Ian Holloway’s side had originally snuck into the playoffs in sixth place, before somehow landing themselves a Premier League spot in dramatic fashion.
The Leeds-Derby rivalry was already rife when the two sides met in the 2019 semi-finals, with the Whites being found to have sent a spy to the Rams’ training ground before a league meeting earlier that season. Marcelo Bielsa’s side narrowly missed out on automatic promotion in third, while Derby – under the management of Frank Lampard – had scraped into contention with a sixth-placed finish, one point ahead of Middlesbrough. The pair’s first meeting gave Leeds a 1-0 lead to take to Elland Road in the second leg.
But Bielsa’s side couldn’t take advantage despite a Stuart Dallas opener on 23 minutes. Two Derby goals on either side of halftime made it 2-2 on aggregate, before a Harry Wilson penalty put his side in the ascendency. Leeds fought back with Dallas’ second goal just after the hour mark, before Jack Marriott’s second of the match just five minutes from time made it 4-3 and silenced the home crowd. Cue rapturous celebrations from the Derby faithful, both in the stadium and in the dressing room.
Most football fans remember this game, whether they witnessed the moment live or not. Watford had finished the season in third, just two points off Hull in the automatic promotion places. Leicester, meanwhile, had very differing fortunes, finishing in sixth on goal difference ahead of Bolton. Leicester had used the King Power to their advantage in the first leg, securing a 1-0 win to take to Vicarage Road in the second.
A brace from Matej Vydra and one from David Nugent left the game delicately poised going into the final embers, with Watford showing grit and determination to claw their way back into the game. These efforts were not rewarded, however, with Leicester awarded a penalty at 96 minutes. Anthony Knockaert’s effort was saved by Hornets goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, who also parried the rebound before the ball was eventually cleared, setting up a counterattack led by Fernando Forestieri. He found Troy Deeney with a floated cross which rifled home from the edge of the box, sending Watford through and writing his name into Championship playoff folklore.
The Championship continues to be not only one of the most competitive leagues in the country, but arguably in Europe too. These examples are a testament to that, with nothing guaranteed from the first game of the season right to the last kick of the ball.
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