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Top Ten: Play-off finals

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  • 5 looks back at some of the greatest play-off finals

With this season's play-off finals around the corner, has decided to look back and give you our pick of the bunch! What do you make of our top 10? Did we leave any classic games out? Send us your views and your experiences!

Division One 1998 - Charlton 4 Sunderland 4 (aet) Charlton won 7-6 on penalties

The pick of the bunch has to be Charlton's epic 7-6 penalty shoot-out success over Sunderland at Wembley.

Without researching it is difficult to remember who scored Charlton's winning penalty, but it is fair to say everyone remembers Michael Gray unfortunately missing The Black Cats' last spot-kick that put The Addicks in the Premier League.

Niall Quinn's second of the game meant Sunderland were just five minutes from promotion until Richard Rufus sent the game into extra-time.

The North East side regained their lead through Nicky Summerbee, but Clive Mendonca's completed his hat-trick on 103 minutes to send the contest to a dreaded shoot-out.

After some research, it was Shaun Newton who put The Addicks 7-6 up, but they needed Gray's miss to spark scenes of joy from Alan Curbishley's side in the Wembley sun.

Division Two 1988 - Middlesbrough 2 Chelsea 1

The first team promoted to the top-flight via the play-offs was Middlesbrough in 1988 when they defeated Chelsea over two legs.

The old system meant the team finishing in 18th in the top-flight would be involved in the play-offs - which at the time was Chelsea.

In the semi-finals, Chelsea beat Blackburn 6-1 on aggregate, whilst Boro overcame Bradford City 4-1.

Then it was to Ayresome Park for the first leg and Boro shocked their top-flight counterparts with a 2-0 win as Trevor Senior and Bernie Slaven found the net.

In the return leg, Chelsea's Gordon Durie pulled one back for the home side but it was not enough as Bruce Rioch's side held on to seal their second successive promotion - coming just two-years after going bankrupt and being relegated to the Third Division.

1999 - Man City 2 Gillingham 2 (aet) City won 3-1 on penalties

"Come on Blues, we can still win this," screamed an isolated positive voice as all around us dejected fans headed for the exits. It was the 89th minute and City had just conceded goals to Gillingham's Carl Asaba and Robert Taylor. Another season in the third division beckoned.

Just four days after the horror of watching United score two goals in the last minute to win the European Cup, City found themselves in the position of needing to match that feat just to salvage a draw they scarcely deserved.

Yet, remarkably, that one positive voice was right. Kevin Horlock slammed in a shot from 20 yards to vague cheers and a chorus of 'typical city' that could be heard on the Bakerloo Line. Then in the 94th minute the ball dropped kindly to Paul Dickov in the area and his rising shot nicked off a defender and beat Vince Bartram. Bedlam.

Gillingham's players, who had been so looking forward to their first promotion to the second tier that their supporters were already celebrating wildly, were utterly broken.

The penalty shoot-out was a foregone conclusion. The Gills couldn't see Nick Weaver's goal for the tears in their eyes, and even Richard Edghill scored. It was our day, but I'm still not sure how or why.

Division Two 2000 - Gillingham 3 Wigan 2 (aet)

Having spent a year haunted by nightmares of Paul Dickov, Gillingham's return to Wembley offered both players and fans the chance of redemption.

The Gills had gone a lifetime without coming close to the Twin Towers, however suddenly we were treated to two visits in two seasons - and after the heartache of the penalty defeat to Manchester City in 1999, having led 2-0, the club made no mistake against Wigan.

However it was another heart-in-the-mouth encounter. Having taken the lead through Iffy Onoura's scrambled effort, Wigan came back into the game to level through Simon Howarth's delicate chip

That took the game into extra and when Wigan, now down to 10 men after Kevin Sharp was red-carded, were awarded a penalty in the 99th minute, I couldn't even watch as Stuart Barlow fired home.

But two goals in four minutes saw the Gills promoted. First player-coach Steve Butler came off the bench to power home a header from Junior Lewis' cross to level the match.

Then, with little over a minute left, Andy Thomson got his head to Ty Gooden's cross - "Gooden... and it is a good 'un" according to the now famous commentary among the club's fans - to send the Gills towards the Championship for the first time in their history.

2002 - Blues 1 Norwich 1 (aet) Blues won 4-2 on penalties

Birmingham City ended their 16-year wait for a return to the top-flight of English football by beating Norwich City 4-2 on penalties at the Millennium Stadium.

In a non-eventful 90 minutes which saw the game end goalless, the match burst into life two minutes into extra-time when Canaries legend Iwan Roberts powered a header past Nico Vaesen for his 14th goal of the season.

However, as Norwich fans began to visualise trips back to Old Trafford and Anfield, The Blues hit back just 10 minutes later through a scrappy finish from the evergreen Geoff Horsfield.

Despite Michael Johnson hitting a post for Birmingham late on, the match finished level and a dreaded penalty shoot-out was to decide the day's events.

Roberts and Clint Easton were the only players in yellow and green to find the back of the net from 12-yards, and it was midfielder Darren Carter who ensured a long-awaited return to the Premier League for Brum as he smashed past Robert Green to send the second city spectators into ecstasy.

First Division 1993 - Swindon 4 Leicester 3

The 1993 First Division play-off final brought about entertainment like no other, and with both sides going for the win Wembley saw a seven-goal thriller!

Oddly enough the game nearly made it until half-time without a goal with Glenn Hoddle breaking the deadlock on 43 minutes.

The Robins pressed home their advantage with Craig Maskell and Shaun Taylor putting Swindon 3-0 up within nine minutes of the re-start.

Leicester fought back superbly with three goals from Julian Joachim, Steve Walsh and Steve Thompson in an eleven-minute spell levelling the match.

However, in one final twist Swindon breathed a huge sigh of relief when Paul Bodin scored from the penalty spot with five minutes left to break The Foxes' hearts (not literally).

First Division 1995 - Bolton 4 Reading 3

Reading, like so many others, could taste the Premier League before it was cruelly snatched away from their grasp by Bolton Wanderers.

Goals from Lee Nogan and Adrian Williams had The Royals 2-0 up at Wembley before an Owen Coyle effort and Fabian de Freitas goal, with just four minutes left in the game, sent the contest into extra-time.

Mixu Paatelainen and De Freitas added more goals to wrap up the win, although Reading did set up a nervy finish when Jimmy Quinn netted the game's seventh goal of the contest.

Reading's Premier League ambitions were realised 11 seasons later when they claimed the Championship crown under the guidance of Steve Coppell.

First Division 1996 - Leicester City 2 Crystal Palace 1 (aet)

The race for Premier League football continued to provide great entertainment as yet another game went right down to the wire.

Andy Roberts' early goal meant The Eagles led for over an hour at Wembley.

However, it was not to be Palace's day as Garry Parker levelled the contest on 76 minutes after slotting home from the penalty spot.

With both managers contemplating their penalty-shoot line-ups, Leicester snatched the spoils courtesy of Steve Claridge's last gasp strike.

Eagles fans would only have to wait 12 months for play-off revenge when they edged out Sheffield United in heart-breaking fashion.

First Division 1997 Crystal Palace 1 Sheffield United 0

While this game will not be remembered for a goal-fest like so many others, the goal that won the contest will be.

The win was all the sweeter for Palace fans who suffered heartache just one year earlier following a last-gasp defeat to Leicester in extra-time.

After a turgid 90-minute affair and extra-time looming David Hopkin clinched the game with a superb strike with virtually the last kick of the game.

Hopkin, who joined Leeds after guiding Palace into the Premier League, curled a delightful 20-yard effort into the top corner that left Simon Tracey in The Blades' goal clutching at thin air.

Second Division 2001 - Walsall 3 Reading 2 (aet)

The play-offs have not been the kindest of avenues for Reading to win promotion with The Royals suffering yet more agony in 2001.

Don Goodman's effort shortly after half-time cancelled out Jamie Cureton's first-half opener at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

Martin Butler restored Reading's advantage just a minute into extra-time, although their celebrations failed to last.

Tony Tougier's own goal coupled with Darren Byfield's strike just two minutes later ensured Walsall celebrated while The Royals suffered.

Comments (10)

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Darren Robson says...

what about burnley v sheffield last year, wade elliots brilliant goal sent the clarets up after 33 long years!

Posted 22:17 29th May 2010

Liam Hickland (Crystal Palace fan) says...

I know Palace area already up there twice but what about our 2-1 defeat at Sunderland, where Powell scored in the last second to send it to extra time and then we won on penalties?

Posted 16:41 1st June 2008

Blaine Stewart (Manchester City fan) says...

City V Gillingham best game i have ever been to. Unbelievable when Dickov scored that equaliser. The crowd were absolutely deafening thereafter. I will never forget the chant "you can stick you f'in treble up your a*se" as long as i live!!

Posted 15:26 29th May 2008

Matthew Darling (Sunderland fan) says...

I was 11 years old when that game took place, and it was my first trip to Wembley. Anyone guess why i have never been back? I will never forget the moment Michael Gray missed that penalty, but hey, who is the Premier League club now? Thats all that matters!

Posted 13:33 29th May 2008

Mick Murray (Charlton Athletic fan) says...

im now 50 & have been a Charlton fan all my life I now live in australia and belong to the addicks down under when ever we meet or talk via e-mail that wembley playoff finale is brought up all the time, for a middle of the road club that is full of genuine supporters days like that dont come around to often so for it to be one of the gratest spectickles ever in the history of football is something to be proud of. even nuetrals that were there say it was the best that the had seen

Posted 01:17 26th May 2008

Nathan Mclean (Burnley fan) says...

The 1994 Division 2 Play-Off final against Stockport County wasn't a bad game either - quite possibly your 11th choice - if you had one of course!!! As a Burnley fan, and a supporter of the underdog, when Burnley went 1-0 down, I feared the worst. The David Eyres equalised to make it 1-1. The Gary Parkinson was well out of position - he was actually on the edge of the box instead of his usual right-back. However, the ball fell to him, and he cracked it one from about 20 yeards out - right into the corner! 35,000 Burnley fans went absolutely mental, and the 6,000 Stockport fans were silenced! I suppose you had to be there!

Posted 23:48 23rd May 2008

Stefan Upton (Charlton Athletic fan) says...

Our game against Sunderland truly was the finest Play-off final. A wonderful day. Our trilogy against Leeds in 86/87 was truly nervewracking, & for sheer drama, would run close(in Charlton history). Sky have omitted one of the other greatest play-off finals, which was the Swindon V Leicester final which Swindon won 4-3. They were 3-0 up before Leicester levelled it up, then Swindon snatched it at the death. That was an excellent game too!

Posted 20:38 23rd May 2008

Stef Upton (Charlton Athletic fan) says...

Indeed 98 was the very best play-off final! A truly wonderful day, & a pleasure to witness the greatest ever game at Wembley(TM) in the flesh. One that Sky have missed though is Swindon beating Leicester 4-3. Swindon were 3-0 up before Leicester pulled it back, only for Swindon to pip 'em at the post. Also, our epic trilogy against Leeds Utd back in '87 wasn't one for people with dubious bowel muscles!

Posted 16:45 23rd May 2008

Chris Knott (Charlton Athletic fan) says...

The 1998 Play-Off final has to be one of the best games ever played on the hallowed two towers turf. It was a fantastic game to watch for all neutrals with Shaun Newton scoring Charltons final penalty before Michael Gray passed the ball to Sasa Ilic. This will live long in the hearts of Charlton fans.

Posted 16:04 23rd May 2008

David Thomson (Charlton Athletic fan) says...

What a game that was! I had a good mate down from Aberdeen who has been a season ticket holder at Pittodrie for 30 years. He still tells me it was the best game he's ever seen. Every Charlton fan who was there will tell you how flat we all were travelling home on the coaches and trains. Everyone was absolutley drained physically and emotionally at the end. I agree re the Sunderland fans - they were a credit to their club and their city.

Posted 15:59 23rd May 2008

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