As far as pure, uncut sporting drama goes, there’s not much which beats the Championship play-offs.
Fulham and Brentford will contest this year’s showdown on Tuesday night. A place in the Premier League and the millions it brings awaits the winner, nothing but despair and anguish awaits the loser.
With so much on the line, it’s no surprise this fixture has produced some scintillating contests over the years. This season’s clash has plenty to live up to.
Which Championship play-off final is your favourite? Let us know on Twitter @Ladbrokes!
Charlton 4-4 AET (7-6 on pens) Sunderland – 1998
We couldn’t begin anywhere else! The 1997-1998 showdown between Charlton and Sunderland instantly became the stuff of legend with this 4-4 draw.
After a timid start, Alan Curbishley’s Charlton led 1-0 at the interval through Clive Mendonca. But Sunderland turned the game around with goals from Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips within 13 minutes of the restart to lead 2-1.
Mendonca levelled before Quinn quickly put the Black Cats 3-2 ahead, but Charlton’s Richard Rufus ensured the game went into extra-time with a late reply.
But of course that wasn’t the end of it. Nicky Summerbee struck to put Peter Reid’s Sunderland ahead once again, before Mendonca capped a virtuoso personal performance with his hat-trick goal to make it 4-4.
It went to penalties, and naturally, it was an extraordinary shootout to go with an extraordinary game. The first 13 spot-kicks were all scored, before Sunderland’s Michael Gray became the unwitting villain, with his weak shot saved by Sasa Ilic, to send Charlton into the Premier League.
Blackpool 3-2 Cardiff – 2010
Both Blackpool and Cardiff were looking to reach the Premier League for the first time in 2010, and both sides’ determination showed in a blistering first 45 minutes at Wembley.
Michael Chopra put the Bluebirds ahead on nine minutes, only for Charlie Adam to wallop home a thunderous free-kick four minutes later.
Things went quiet for a while after that, until Joe Ledley put Cardiff back in front on 37 minutes. But Ian Holloway’s swashbuckling Tangerines never knew when to quit, and Gary Taylor-Fletcher made it 2-2 just four minutes later.
And Blackpool weren’t done there either, as Brett Ormerod netted on the stroke of half-time to give his side a lead they wouldn’t relinquish; the Premier League beckoned.
Swansea 4-2 Reading – 2011
One year later saw Swansea and Reading continue the trend of play-off final goal-fests.
In an rip-roaring final at Wembley, Scott Sinclair netted twice in two minutes to give the Swans a 2-0 lead early on, before Stephen Dobbie – who had played for Blackpool in the 2010 final – struck before halftime to make it 3-0.
But resolute and unperturbed, Reading bounced back to make a game of it through a Joe Allen own goal and a Matt Mills strike.
Despite having the momentum, the Royals couldn’t find the equaliser, and when Andy Griffin fouled Fabio Borini in the box, Sinclair stepped up to complete his hat-trick from the spot, sealing Swansea’s promotion to the top flight.
QPR 1-0 Derby – 2014
Most Championship play-off finals in recent years have been tense, nervy affairs. Four of the last seven finals have finished 1-0, including QPR’s success over Derby County.
Bobby Zamora knows a thing or two about the play-offs, having netted in the 2005 final for West Ham.
Derby dominated at Wembley. The Rams had 68% possession to Rangers’ 32%, 16 shots to QPRs 11, and a mighty 14 corners to Rangers’ 1.
But it was all to no avail as Zamora, on as a second-half substitute, capitalised on a loose Richard Keogh clearance to tuck the ball home in stoppage time, catapulting QPR back into the big time.