The top 10 most iconic moments in EFL play-off history - including Man City, Leeds United, and Sunderland

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The EFL play-offs always bring with them their fair share of thrills and spills.

Is there anything in football as dramatic as the EFL play-offs? Every year, supporters and neutrals alike bask in the elation, heartbreak, and pure melodrama of a winner-takes-all lottery that can define, or derail, entire campaigns.

For 12 clubs across three divisions, a gruelling season drags on just that little bit longer as they bid to clinch a last ditch promotion. Understandably, with so much at stake, these tend to be some of the most fraught and thrilling fixtures of the footballing calendar.

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With that in mind, and with this year’s play-offs already well underway, we’ve taken a look back at 10 of the most iconic moments and matches in play-off history...


Fourth Time Lucky

After three consecutive play-off semi-final defeats, Ipswich Town finally wrote the final chapter to their promotion fairytale in 2000. The Tractor Boys had been thwarted every single year since 1997, but this time around they saw off Bolton Wanderers in the first instance before ousting Barnsley in an entertaining final at Wembley. Interestingly, that match was also the last competitive domestic fixture to be played at the stadium before it was closed for good.

That’s Zamora!

Quite how QPR managed to win the 2014 Championship play-off final is still anybody’s guess. Derby County enjoyed the majority of possession, had more shots on target, and played the final half hour against 10 men, but it was Harry Redknapp’s R’s who came out on top thanks to Bobby Zamora.

The striker had scored just three goals all season, but picked an apt time to nab his fourth, striking in the last minute of normal time to give his side the edge and a passage to the Premier League.

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First Half Carnage

In one of the maddest play-off finals ever, Blackpool saw off Cardiff City in a five-goal thriller back in 2010, with all five goals coming before the interval. At one stage, the Bluebirds had even led 2-1, but an injury time strike from DJ Campbell (remember him?) sent the Seasiders in ahead at the break.

What followed was a tense, largely uneventful second half, and a first ever promotion to the Premier League for Ian Holloway’s men.

AFP via Getty Images

Hoddle’s Parting Gift

Four days before leaving the club for Chelsea, player-manager Glenn Hoddle guided Swindon Town to the top flight for the first time in their history. That in itself would have been quite the story, but the 1993 play-off final was a certified class in its own right.

Swindon raced into a 3-0 lead against Leicester City, only to be pegged back by a spirited Foxes side. With the scores at 3-3 and the match seemingly destined for extra time, however, Paul Bodin stepped up to score from the penalty spot and win it for Hoddle’s men.

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Bolton Fight Back

A couple of years later, we were treated to another Wembley cracker, this time between Bolton Wanderers and Reading. The Royals found themselves two goals up inside a quarter of an hour in the 1995 final, and looked for all the world as if they were cruising to promotion. The Trotters had other ideas, however.

First they dragged it back to 2-2 with just minutes of normal time remaining, before delivering a one-two combo of knockout blows to open up an unassailable lead. Reading hit back late on to set up a grandstand finish, but ultimately, this was to be Bolton’s day.

Spygate Revenge

When the news broke that Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa had been instructing one of his backroom stuff to secretly gather spy on Derby County’s training sessions during the 2019/20 campaign, the footballing world reached hitherto unforeseen levels of pearl-clutching. What followed was a full admission - and a lengthy PowerPoint presentation - from El Loco. Espionage had never been so polite. Or dull.

In the months that followed, there was plenty of bad blood between the two clubs that, for reasons of cosmic inevitability, culminated in a play-off semi-final double header. Derby won, Frank Lampard sang some Oasis in the dressing room, and then they lost at Wembley. Vintage stuff.

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City Leave It Late

After 81 minutes, the 1999 Division Two play-off final between Manchester City and Gillingham was goalless. Then, within the span of a frantic six minutes, the Gills netted a brace to seemingly end the match as a contest. ‘Seemingly’ is the operative word here.

First, Kevin Horlock gave City a glimmer of hope in the 90th minute by halving the deficit, and then, in the fifth minute of added time, Paul Dickov made the impossible happen and levelled the scores. Cue extra time and penalties...

Incredibly, Dickov would miss his spot kick, but goalkeeper Nicky Weaver came to his rescue, saving two, and sending City fans into delirium.

Sunderland’s Gray Day

There’s an argument to be made for this being the greatest play-off final of all-time. Back in 1998, Sunderland and Charlton were drawing 3-3 at full time, 4-4 after extra time, and had taken six perfect spot kicks each before the decisive twist. The Addicks scored their seventh penalty, only for Mackem favourite Mickey Gray stepped up and rolled a weak effort into the grateful gloves of Sasa Ilic. A stone cold classic.

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Windass Roars for the Tigers

The stuff of daydreams and fairytales. In 2008, Hull City and Bristol City both battled their way to a first ever Championship play-off final, with the Tigers bidding to beat the Robins for a first time since 1985. For the most part, the Bristolians had the better of this one, but the key moment was provided by Hull-born Dean Windass.

The big striker connected with a sweet volley from the edge of the box that sent his side to the Premier League, and secured his place in Wembley folklore. As manager Phil Brown said afterwards, “I think it was written in the gods.”


Just utter madness, to be honest. Maybe the most iconic play-off moment of all-time, and it came in a semi-final between Watford and Leicester City a decade ago. The tie had lurched back and forth, but for the sake of brevity, all you need to know is that in stoppage time of the second leg at Vicarage Road, the Foxes were awarded penalty. If they scored, they were going to Wembley. Simple as that.

Instead, Manuel Almunia made a remarkable double save, and the Hornets sprang into a sweeping counter attack. A few passes later, and the ball fell to Troy Deeney inside the Leicester box. He lashed his effort home, it sparked a pitch invasion, and a little bit of history was made.

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