‘Unpredictable’ has long been the word of choice for those looking to sum up the Championship, and the twists and turns thrown up in this division every year regularly go down to the final whistle on the last day of the season.
With Brighton, Burnley and Middlesbrough fighting over the top three spots with just 90 minutes of football remaining, you can expect another dose of the incredible drama we’ve witnessed over the years. Here are five of the most exciting final days in the annals of England’s second tier – from top to bottom.
Boro beat north-east rivals to promotion (1997-98)
Bryan Robson’s striking sensations guided Middlesbrough back to the Premier League, with the Teesside outfit pipping Sunderland to that elusive second spot, on a day typically full of twists and turns.
Sunderland were on course for second spot at half-time, with the Black Cats 2-0 to the good at Swindon, while Boro were locked in a tense stalemate with Oxford United.
Alun Armstrong opened the scoring just after the break to send the Riverside wild, before doubling his tally from close range. Craig Hignett was next up at the double as Boro raced into a 4-0 lead, with the game eventually finishing 4-1. How Aitor Karanka’s side would love to cap this season’s final day with a similarly happy ending.
Bantams comeback sends Bradford into party mode (1998-99)
Ipswich’s final day victory meant that Bradford had to do the same to pip the Tractor Boys in the Premier League promotion push. But with Wolves able to secure a play-off spot with victory, they had a tough task on their hands.
Havard Flo opened the scoring for the hosts at Molineux, and it appeared the West Yorkshire club would have to put the champagne on ice – perhaps permanently. However, Peter Beagrie’s brilliant solo goal levelled things up, before Lee Mills put Paul Jewell’s men ahead before the break.
Robbie Blake seemed to have secured promotion at 3-1, before a Wolves goal and a missed penalty from Beagrie ensured a nail-biting climax for the travelling Bantams fans. But promotion was secured, and Stuart McCall celebrated by toppling off a car.
Man City return to the promised land (1999-2000)
The concluding part of three successive years of final day drama at the top of what was then Division One, Manchester City achieved the famed ‘double bounce’, with a second successive promotion returning them to the Premier League.
Needing victory to secure second spot behind Charlton Athletic, the Citizens were 1-0 down at Ewood Park, following Matt Jansen’s opener.
However, City – backed by a huge and tremendously loud away following – roared back into the game as Shaun Goater equalised before an unfortunate Rovers own goal and strikes from Mark Kennedy and Paul Dickov sent the blue half of Manchester into delirium. The 4-1 scoreline, however, doesn’t tell the true story of just how nervy this fixture was for the Sky Blues.
Cheer for Crewe as Gills agonisingly drop down (2004-05)
Pity Gillingham fans of this era, who witnessed 1999’s Division Two play-off defeat against Manchester City – a game where the Gills led 2-0 after 89 minutes – and then this relegation by a single goal.
Despite beginning the season well, Crewe were winless in the Championship since New Year’s Day and looked set for the drop before this judgment day clash, with the Railwaymen needing victory, and requiring Gillingham to draw or Brighton to lose.
And, despite recovering from 1-0 down to lead 2-1 against Coventry City, fans of the Cheshire club found themselves on the brink of relegation, with Gillingham a goal up at the City Ground.
All that changed, though, when substitute Eugen Bopp levelled in the 85th minute to secure Crewe’s safety and send down Gillingham – with both clubs on 50 points, and Gillingham a goal worse off, at -21 GD. And Crewe were clearly so happy with Bopp’s contribution for their cause that they signed him two years later, in 2007!
Birmingham delight and Donny Despair (2013-14)
Following five defeats on the spin, Birmingham City fans may be forgiven for having given up hope on the final day, with their side behind at Bolton and Doncaster Rovers – who started the day a point above Blues – drawing at champions Leicester.
David Nugent’s 75th-minute penalty put Rovers behind, though, meaning all Birmingham had to do was claw back a two-goal deficit in the closing minutes, having scored just four times in their previous five games.
Nicola Zigic reduced the arrears to a single goal, but Birmingham couldn’t seem to muster an equaliser, despite bombarding the Bolton box. Then, with the clock ticking past 92 minutes, Paul Caddis nodded home from a weak clearance, to secure Birmingham’s safety. Doncaster, meanwhile, had to readjust to life in League One.
Once again in 2016, the Championship’s final day promises to be truly thrilling.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.