Top ten FL dramas
To help mark the 125-year anniversary of the Football League, Sky Sports casts a wistful eye over 10 memorable final days
Last Updated: 30/07/13 4:44pm
This year marks the 125th anniversary of the foundation of the Football League.
Over the years there have been many exciting, devastating and downright bizarre incidents in the Football League and the added pressure as clubs battle to gain promotion or avoid relegation on the final day means it is often the final 90 minutes of the season that provide the most memorable of moments.
Here, Sky Sports takes a look at 10 of the best last-day dramas from down the years.
Stockport County v Crystal Palace 2001
Crystal Palace arrived at Edgeley Park knowing they needed a win, coupled with a Huddersfield defeat, to avoid relegation to the third tier of English football. The odds were stacked against the Eagles, who had replaced manager Alan Smith with caretaker boss Steve Kember just a week before, in their bid to escape the drop.
With five minutes remaining Huddersfield were trailing Birmingham 2-1, but Stockport were containing Palace and threatening at the other end. The game was hanging in the balance and when Stockport had a huge shout for a handball in the Palace penalty area, the Eagles fans could have feared the worst. However, the appeal was turned down and the visitors drove forward with Dougie Freedman. The striker went alone and struck home a brilliant finish with just three minutes left to play. Palace were jubilant as they beat the drop at the expense of Huddersfield.
The final day of the 1998/99 season saw Carlisle meet Plymouth at Brunton Park. The home side needed a win to avoid relegation from the Football League, after Scarborough had beaten the same opponents in the week leading up to the season finale.
Heading into stoppage time the score was level at 1-1, meaning the Cumbrian side were going down. With just seconds remaining, however, they were awarded a corner. On-loan goalkeeper Jimmy Glass joined the attack and after Scott Dobie's header was parried by the Plymouth 'keeper, there was Glass to volley home a last-gasp winner. It was the last of just three appearances in a Carlisle shirt for the Swindon loanee, but his goal kept Carlisle up and etched his name into Football League folklore.
Back in the 1957/58 season, Lincoln City were plying their trade in the second tier of English football. The club had made a reasonable start to the campaign, but a nightmare run of form saw the bookmakers stop taking bets on the Imps going down.
The entered the final months of the season relegated in all but name. Even with five straight wins heading into the last game of the season, Lincoln were considered favourites to go down. A re-arranged fixture against a Cardiff side filled with Wales internationals were the opponents and anything but a win would send the home side down. They fell behind early in the second half, but an equaliser with 20 minutes left was followed by another with ten minutes to go before the win was sealed by a Ron Hambertson goal - regarded by many Imps fans as the best goal ever scored at their Sincil Bank ground. Six wins from six and Lincoln had pulled off the most improbable of escape acts.
2012/13 Promotion drama
Last season saw the final games in League One and Two played a week ahead of the last round of Championship fixtures. The big match on the weekend of the lower division climax was a League One promotion clash between Brentford and Doncaster. The visitors needed just a point to secure the second automatic promotion spot, while the Bees knew a win would see them leap-frog their opponents and head into the Championship themselves.
Deep into stoppage time and the score remained goalless, with Rovers fans starting to genuinely belief that their side were going up. That all changed as the hosts were awarded a 94th minute penalty to snatch promotion from their grasp. Marcello Trotta, on loan from Fulham, stepped up and crashed the spot kick against the crossbar. Doncaster broke and James Coppinger practically walked the ball home to secure not only promotion but also the league title, as Brentford fans and players alike were left stunned.
A week later and it was a similar story in the Championship. Hull City needed to avoid defeat and hope Watford failed to beat Leeds to reach the Premier League. An injury meant the game at Vicarage Road was nearly half an hour behind Hull's match at the KC Stadium. Hull were denied victory by a late Cardiff penalty, meaning a Watford win would have seen them promoted. However, they went down to 10 men and as they pushed for a late winner Leeds broke to go 2-1 up and dash the Hornets' promotion dream.
Torquay v Crewe 1987
Torquay faced Crewe at Plainmoor knowing a defeat would see them relegated from the Football League, and trailing 2-0 at half-time it looked ominous for the hosts.
They began to build some pressure in the second half and pulled a goal back to make the score 2-1 heading into the final few minutes. Then, on 87 minutes, something wholly unexpected happened. A police dog got onto the pitch and sunk its teeth into the leg of Torquay right-back Jim McNichol. Play was stopped, four minutes were added on and as the clock ticked past 93 minutes, with McNichol still receiving treatment, the home side equalised to avoid relegation by the skin of their teeth.
Wrexham v Boston
The last day of the 2007 League Two season saw what was essentially a play-off match between Wrexham and Boston at the Racecourse Ground. The winner would stay up, while the loser would be relegated from the Football League.
Boston took the lead towards the end of the first half and at that stage were safe. However, a penalty 10 minutes into the second half brought Wrexham level and with less than five minutes remaining the game was still in the balance as Boston pushed for the goal that would keep them up. It was Wrexham who struck with just three minutes left - Chris Llewellyn smashed home to put the Welsh club 2-1 ahead before Mike Proctor sealed the win, and Wrexham's league status, with a third goal in the final minute.
Birmingham fans celebrate relegated players
When Barry Fry took charge of Birmingham in December 1993, the Midlands club were cut adrift at the bottom of Division One and heading into English football's third tier. Fry managed to turn the club's fortunes around to give City hope heading into the final game of the season.
They travelled to Tranmere for their final match knowing a win may not be enough to ensure survival, but there was at least hope. Fry's men prevailed 2-1, but a win for West Brom over Portsmouth meant the Blues were relegated. The team trudged into the dressing room, only to be informed by a policeman that the fans were demanding to see them on the pitch. Fearing the worst, Fry and his players emerged from the tunnel to be greeted by the site of the travelling support running towards them. The fans lifted the players up and marched them around Prenton Park, delighted by the upturn in form in the second half of the season - even if it was too late to prevent their relegation. The fans support was rewarded as they bounced straight back up the following season.
Sheffield Wednesday v Crystal Palace
There was more last-day drama for Crystal Palace in 2010, after their dramatic escape at Stockport nine years previous. They arrived at Hillsborough in the knowledge that a draw would keep them up and send the home side down to League One. Palace had huge debts and had already been deducted 10 points for going into administration. The prospect of relegation was one that could have had serious ramifications for the long-term future of the club.
The Eagles started well and took the lead midway through the first half through Alan Lee's header, before Leon Clarke capitalised on a Danny Butterfield error to draw Wednesday level. Luke Varney missed a glorious chance to put the hosts ahead when one-on-one, and was made to pay as Darren Ambrose slotted Palace in front again soon afterwards. Darren Purse equalised for Wednesday late on but it was too little, too late for Alan Irvine's side as they slipped into the third tier and Palace survived once more.
Burnley v Leyton Orient
The same year a dog was saving Torquay from relegation, Burnley were also in the mire at the bottom of the Football League. Whilst a draw would keep Torquay up, Burnley knew they needed a win and hope that one of Torquay and Lincoln lost.
We know the Gulls salvaged a point, not that Burnley did at the time, but that still left the Lancashire club needing to win and keep their fingers crossed for a Lincoln defeat. Kick-off was delayed by 20 minutes, and whilst Burnley managed to take a two-goal lead in the second half and the news that Lincoln had indeed lost filtered through, the crowd's torture continued as play-off chasing Orient pulled a goal back. The minutes dragged for Clarets fans, but finally the final whistle blew and Burnley were safe. Against the odds they had survived.
Barnet v Port Vale
The 7th May 2011 saw Barnet face Port Vale at Underhill, while relegation rivals Lincoln met Aldershot at Sincil Bank. The Imps led the Bees by two points going into the game, but needed a win to guarantee their safety due to an inferior goal difference. Barnet, meanwhile, simply had to win and hope Aldershot could do them a favour at Sincil Bank.
Unsurprisingly, both games were cagey affairs and at half-time they remained goalless. The crucial moment came just minutes into the second period as Barnet were awarded a penalty, much to the delight of the home crowd. Izale McLeod kept his nerve to score from the spot and as it stood Barnet were safe. That position was strengthened soon after as Aldershot took the lead at Lincoln just before the hour mark. Another Shots strike with 20 minutes left, and a third with three minutes remaining, meant it was all on Barnet and whether they could hold out for the win to keep them up. An excruciating six minutes of added time came and went and the Bees fans could celebrate another season in the Football League.