This weekend heralds the arrival of the play-off finals, with three sensational clashes ahead. It’s an all-Yorkshire affair in the Championship as Hull City face Sheffield Wednesday. Meanwhile, Paul Heckingbottom’s resurgent Barnsley face Millwall and Plymouth Argyle face AFC Wimbledon, who look to continue their incredible rise.
So, with new heroes set to etch their names in club folklore, we look back at five men whose play-off final performances made them instant heroes – from Humberside to east London.
Clive Mendonca (Charlton Athletic, 1998)
Many football fans dream of one day netting a hat-trick at Wembley for their boyhood heroes. But Sunderland native and avid Black Cats fan Mendonca saw him take home the match ball with a treble against the Wearside outfit.
In arguably the greatest ever play-off final, the prolific Addicks hitman netted twice in normal time to send the game into extra-time. It looked to be all in vain as Sunderland went 4-3 ahead in the extra period, only for Mendonca to equalise again and take the game to penalties.
Alan Curbishley’s Charlton went on to win a tense shoot-out, as Mendonca put the ball past French keeper Lionel Perez for the fourth time to lead his side to victory. Later voted the south-east London club’s all-time cult hero, it’s unlikely he shares that popularity in his hometown.
Kevin Horlock (Manchester City, 1999)
While the Citizens’ success may now conjure up images of Sheikh Mansour and Sergio Aguero’s dramatic last-gasp goal to win the Premier League title, the club’s incredible journey back to the pinnacle of English football began here.
With City trailing 2-0 to Gillingham in the Second Division (current League One) play-off final with 89 minutes on the clock, devastated blues fans were beginning to trickle out of Wembley with tears in their eyes.
Step forward Horlock, who struck home the most crucial of his 44 goals for the club, to bring them back into contention with the clock seconds away from the 90-minute mark. Paul Dickov then equalised with a goal which sent this game the distance.
The ever-reliable Horlock stuck away his penalty, with City going on to win the shootout and return to the Premier League the following season.
Dean Windass (Hull City, 2008)
The only thing sweeter than Dean Windass’ magnificent volley to catapult Hull City into the Premier League was the goalscorer’s story.
A Hull lad who had joined the Tigers on the old YTS scheme back in 1991, Windass was in his second spell at the club in 2008, and perhaps a surprise Wembley inclusion at the grand old age of 39.
However, the veteran’s sensational goal and tireless display saw the local lad bring top-flight football to City for the first time since its formation 104 years before. Heartwarming stuff.
Alex Revell (Rotherham United, 2014)
The play-offs have a habit of bringing incredible performances out of unlikely players. While well-travelled forward Revell was certainly not a weak link in the Millers line-up, his match-winning performance at Wembley was undoubtedly the finest of a solid but unspectacular career.
With Rotherham trailing 2-0 to an impressive Leyton Orient outfit, fans of the South Yorkshire club may have been forgiven for wondering if the League One play-off final was just a bridge too far for their beloved club.
Step forward Revell, who equalised with an incisive tap-in before rocketing an unbelievable equaliser over the head of Orient stopper Jamie Jones. Cue Steve Evans’ famously jubilant celebration and a penalty-shoot out victory for the Millers.
Bobby Zamora (West Ham United, 2005 / Derby County, 2014)
For most players, scoring in a play-off final is a memory to last a lifetime. Not so for Barking-born striker Zamora, who proved himself as hungry to make history in the 2014 Championship final as he had been ten years earlier as a fresh-faced 24-year-old.
Both goals were typical of the former Fulham man’s poachers instinct – two close-range finishes where the veteran forward’s game-reading skills saw him in the perfect position to tap home.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.