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Five of the greatest Championship play-off moments

There’s nothing quite like the unadulterated drama of the play-offs. A season’s work comes down to a set of crucial games, with the pressure at its maximum.

Leeds face Southampton in the Championship play-off final this weekend in what is often billed as the most lucrative game in football.

The winners will return to the top table of English football to dine with the Premier League heavyweights, while the losers could face an exodus of their top talent.

Ahead of their clash at Wembley, we’ve remembered five of the best Championship play-off moments ever.

Hopkins hits late wonder goal to send Eagles up

Crystal Palace snuck into the play-offs during the 1996/97 campaign, with the Eagles edging out Portsmouth to claim sixth spot and a place in the promotion mix.

Steve Coppell’s side beat Wolves over two legs to reach Wembley and faced Sheffield United for a place in the Premier League. A tight encounter looked to be heading towards extra-time with the game goalless, as the two teams cancelled each other out in the final.

In the final minute of the contest, Sheffield United looked to have cleared the danger from a set-piece.

Almost, but not quite.

David Hopkins retrieved the loose ball and checked inside with his first touch. His second, however, was something special as the Crystal Palace captain bent an unstoppable finish into the top corner from distance to send the Eagles up and leave the Blades floored.

Charlton and Sunderland share eight-goal thriller

Play-off finals are usually tense affairs with pressure preventing teams from playing with full fluidity.

Charlton and Sunderland threw caution to the wind back in 1998, however, producing the greatest play-off final of all time. A see-sawing spectacle saw the teams share eight goals, with Clive Mendonca helping himself to a hat-trick for Charlton. Mendonca’s first opened the scoring for The Addicks, but Sunderland thrice led in the contest.

Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips turned the game around for Sunderland before Mendonca’s second equalised. Quinn scored a second of his own to put The Black Cats back in front at Wembley, but Richard Rufus forced the final into extra time with a header five minutes from time.

Sunderland took the lead for the third time when Nicky Summerbee scored in the added period, only for Mendonca to claim his hat-trick – and the match ball – to take the game to penalties. Michael Gray missed the decisive spot-kick as Charlton triumphed 7-6 on penalties in the shootout, sealing promotion after a rollercoaster ride.

Zamora’s Wembley winner seals last-minute smash-and-grab

After a dismal drop into the second tier, Queens Park Rangers were looking to bounce back in 2013/14.

Harry Redknapp led the Londoners into the play-offs and navigated a semi-final with Wigan, before facing Derby County at Wembley.

Derby had finished third in the table to narrowly miss out on automatic promotion and were the better team in the final, with Rob Green repelling the Rams in a one-sided second half that saw Derby lay siege to the QPR goal. QPR’s hopes were not helped when Gary O’Neil was sent off on 59 minutes, but The Rs found a way.

In the final seconds, Richard Keogh’s miscued clearance fell for Bobby Zamora who slammed in a last-gasp winner to send QPR up. Having scored the play-off winner for West Ham against Preston North End nine years earlier, Zamora repeated the trick to seal a smash-and-grab for QPR.

It was their only shot on target.


Troy Deeney might have over-egged it recently when he called his play-off goal for Watford against Leicester one of the biggest ‘where were you?’ moments in football… but there’s no doubt it’s the defining play-off moment.

In the space of just twenty seconds, Watford fans felt emotions on opposite ends of the scale, as their promotion dream turned from despair to elation in an astonishing passage of football. Watford lost the first leg of their semi-final tie with Leicester 1-0 and the return appeared to be getting away from the Hornets. Matej Vydra’s sensational strike had levelled the aggregate score, but David Nugent equalised for Leicester on the day to put the Foxes back in control.

Vydra’s second put Watford back ahead but disaster struck in stoppage time when Michael Oliver controversially awarded Leicester a penalty for a theatrical tumble from Anthony Knockaert. The felled forward stepped up to take the 97th-minute kick and seal Leicester’s passage to the final, but Manuel Almunia’s double save started a sequence of seconds that will never be forgotten.

Watford broke, with Fernando Forestieri crossing to the back post to pick out Jonathan Hogg, who turned down the chance to go for goal to nod the ball back into a dangerous area.

Arriving was Deeney, who slammed home a stunning strike.

Cue pandemonium inside Vicarage Road.

Derby down Leeds amid Spygate

Tensions were high when Derby and Leeds met in the 2018/19 Championship play-offs. Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa’s admission that he had sent a spy to watch Derby’s training session earlier in the campaign caused controversy, with Derby counterpart Frank Lampard calling the practice ‘unethical’.

So spawned a memorable Oasis-inspired chant, as Leeds won 1-0 in their semi-final first leg at Pride Park and their fanbase revelled in Lampard’s fury.

“All of the spies

“Are hidden away

“Just try not to worry

“You’ll beat us some day

“We beat you at home

“We beat you away

“Stop crying Frank Lampard!”

The return leg saw Leeds, who had narrowly missed out on automatic promotion, start as clear favourites but Derby ripped up the script at Elland Road. Leeds took the lead on the night to go 2-0 up on aggregate but two goals in a minute either side of half-time from Jack Marriott and Mason Mount levelled.

Harry Wilson’s penalty put Derby ahead in the tie before Dallas’ second of the game for Leeds made it 3-3 on aggregate.

Derby, however, found a winner as Marriott – on as a first-half substitute – steered in a second to give Lampard the last laugh.

Read – The five fastest players in the Premier League in 2023/24

See more – Five relegated players who will be in demand this summer

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