The Championship play-off final is oft-cited as the richest game in football, but how often is it any good? We have ranked the last 15 since new Wembley was its host…
16) 2013 – Crystal Palace 1-0 Watford
Some will say it’s unfairly ranked bottom because it failed to live up the ‘Deeeeeeney’ moment of the semi-final, but no final could. Those who were unfortunate enough to watch it will remember it was just a sh*t final. Kevin Philips’ extra time penalty even denied us a first shootout of the 21st century. Absolute dross.
15) 2017 – Huddersfield 0-0 Reading (Huddersfield won 4-3 on penalties)
This at least had a penalty shoot-out. That was about it. It avoids bottom place for having given us a new Premier League outfit, the spot-kicks, and has nothing to do with Winty being a Huddersfield fan. Honest.
14) 2022 – Huddersfield 0-1 Nottingham Forest
Prompting a recruitment drive like no other, Forest ended their two-decade exile from the Premier League with a scruffy win earned via an own goal off on-loan Chelsea defender Levi Colwill. Huddersfield rallied and made claims for a couple of penalties but the Terriers failed to muster a shot on target.
13) 2007 – Derby County 1-0 West Brom
This was the first Championship final to be played at the new Wembley Stadium and was more of a precursor to the finals listed above as to the ones coming further in the list. They do get good, I promise. This did give us Derby’s record low points tally in the Premier League. Still, at least things have come good at Pride Park eventually. Right? Right?!
12) 2015 – Norwich City 2-0 Middlesbrough
This one comes with the caveat that it’s the only Championship play-off final I didn’t watch live. I must have had a life that year, unlike this final which was a damp squib from a neutral and Middlesbrough perspective. Cameron Jerome and Nathan Redmond each scored in the opening quarter of an hour and…that was it.
11) 2021 – Brentford 2-0 Swansea City
Not quite played behind closed doors – over 11,000 fans were allowed into Wembley for this one – but it was not the occasion Brentford’s eventual promotion to the Premier League deserved. Like Norwich’s win over Middlesbrough six years previously, this was over inside the first quarter of the game. Ivan Toney and Emiliano asserted Brentford’s dominance having lost out in a more entertaining final the previous season (spoilers). Swansea never looked like getting promoted on the day.
10) 2020 – Fulham 2-1 Brentford
Well the spoiler didn’t take too long to arrive. A goalless 90 minutes gave way to a relative glut in extra time, which all started with Joe Bryan’s audacious free kick and then a less spectacular goal to all but make sure with three minutes to go. Henrik Dalsgaard’s 124th minute consolation was celebrated nowhere near as vividly as the two Brentford goals the following year. An indictment on a goal that didn’t matter, or the fact this was played entirely behind closed doors? You decide.
9) 2016 – Hull City 1-0 Sheffield Wednesday
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. This wasn’t a classic by any means – it’s not even Hull’s most entertaining 1-0 victory of the Wembley era play-off finals. Curses to those spoilers again. Mo Diame’s strike was special, but it was no Dean Windass. We’ve basically written that entry here too; that’s what I call efficient writing.
8) 2009 – Burnley 1-0 Sheffield United
Sorry, Steel City. Wade Elliot’s strike was a stunner, and the game itself was end-to-end with only that strike to separate the sides on a day that brought Burnley to the Premier League for the first time. Pure Barclays heritage.
7) 2018 – Fulham 1-0 Aston Villa
There sure have been a lot of 1-0s, haven’t there? Why do we love the play-offs so much again? Still, some 1-0s are better than others, and this was amongst the former category. Two fallen giants of the English game striving to fight their way back up traded blow for blow throughout the 90 minutes, but it was Tom Cairney’s composed finish which separated the two come full time. And we’re sure Fulham made a real fist of staying in the Premier League from then until now.
6) 2014 – QPR 1-0 Derby County
Now we’re talking. If I’m honest, I can’t remember much of the 90 minutes itself, but football is about moments. Bobby Zamora’s last-minute strike after Richard Keogh’s devastating mistake is a moment that still lives in Championship folklore. Still, at least things have come good at Pride Park eventually. Right? Right?!
5) 2008 – Hull City 1-0 Bristol City
We’ve made it. We’ve finally made it. The last 1-0 of the list is undoubtedly the best. The 90 minutes were decent, but it was Dean Windass’ wonder strike and even sweeter celebrations immediately after and at full time which live long in the memory. Like Preston in the pre-Wembley days of the early 2000s, you feel for Bristol City having been 90 minutes from the Premier League and still being yet to taste the velvety notes of the promised land. For Hull, a first ever season in the top flight beckoned, and they made a good go of that too.
4) 2019 – Aston Villa 2-1 Derby County
After being narrowed out by Fulham the year before, Aston Villa had no intention of going down to a team clad in black and white two summers running. Anwar El Ghazi and John McGinn were the match winners for a much improved Villa side from 12 months previously under the stewardship of boyhood fan Dean Smith. Jack Marriot’s consolation strike was of course a big factor in Frank Lampard earning the Chelsea job, as well as taking Derby from sixth place to sixth place. Still, at least things have come good at Pride Park…
3) 2012 – West Ham 2-1 Blackpool
Now we’re into classic territory, albeit, this isn’t a final that many neutrals seem to recall. Blackpool had been expected to struggle back in the Championship after their thrilling sojourn to the Premier League, but made a second play-off final in as many second-tier seasons. Carlton Cole opened the scoring in the first half for the favourites between two sides chasing an instant return to the top flight. Tom Ince levelled early in the second half on one of the sunniest finals in recent memory, but Ricardo Vaz Te proved to be the difference in the dying embers to seal a dramatic victory for the Hammers.
2) 2011 – Swansea 4-2 Reading
The year before that West Ham v Blackpool clash provided a game with twice the goals and multiple times the entertainment. Scott Sinclair scored a hat-trick including two from the penalty spot in a game that looked dead and buried at 3-0 to the Swans. Brendan Rodgers proved victorious against his former employers who were second best for much of the afternoon even when launching their potential ‘not quite’ comeback. That we got multiple years of Swansea doing Swansea things in the Premier League as a result almost pushed this into first place. Alas…
1) 2010 – Blackpool 3-2 Cardiff City
The goals all came in the first half as Blackpool and Cardiff traded blows in their respective attempts to make their Premier League debuts, but the entertainment lasted throughout. Cardiff twice took the lead either side of Charlie Adam’s wondrous free-kick, before Gary Taylor-Fletcher’s scrappy equaliser and then Brett Ormerod finishing with aplomb at the far post in a five-goal thriller of a first half. Relegation favourites at the start of the season, Blackpool finished the job at Wembley with a staunch rearguard action in the second 45 minutes before entertaining us all in the Premier League in their ultimately unsuccessful attempt to stay up.
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