Ranking the EFL's 5 most legendary end-of-season run-ins
With all eyes on teams' respective run-ins in the EFL, Will Rook ranks the five best ones we have seen.
After 35 matches, 10 points separate third and 11th in the Championship.
League One leaders Rotherham are just eight points clear of ninth, while in League Two Colchester occupy the final play-off spot but are nine points away from 10th.
The adage goes that there is always one side that comes from nowhere to go up.
And with the promotion race wide open in each division, there’s still time for a team to put together a run that would rank among these legendary end-of-season run-ins.
BOURNEMOUTH & WATFORD 2014/15
OK, so they didn’t come from nowhere.
But both sides here deserve their place on this list for their relentless charge at the end of the 2014/15 season.
Bournemouth and Watford were fourth and sixth respectively with 13 games of the season to go, both four points behind the automatic promotion spots and six off top.
And once they got on a roll, they stayed rolling.
The Hornets took 29 points from their next 12 matches, while the Cherries earned 28.
No other side was able to keep pace and both went up with a game to spare.
But the drama wasn’t done, as attention turned to the title race.
Bournemouth’s 3-0 win at Charlton on the final day looked academic until the 91st minute, with Watford beating Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 up to that point.
That was until Atdhe Nuhiu popped up with a stoppage-time equaliser, handing the trophy to Eddie Howe’s side.
Howe was labelled a ‘miracle worker’ by Bournemouth owner Jeff Mostyn, and Watford could at least console themselves the prospect of Premier League football.
Ever feel like the world’s against you?
Try being in the shoes of Blackpool’s promotion-winning squad of 2016/17, who barely even had the support of their own fans during their run to the play-offs.
With a boycott in place until the club was sold by the Oyston family, Blackpool had only 1,500 season ticket holders and averaged attendances of just 3,456 – less than 40 per cent of their current average gate.
The off-field issues would have been enough to make most footballers question what they were doing.
So, when they were 15th in the table, six points off the top seven, with 13 games left, promotion was not on the cards.
But Gary Bowyer’s side won eight of their remaining 12 matches to nick seventh place by one point.
They secured an immediate return to League One by beating Exeter 2-1 in the play-off final in front of little over 5,000 fans at Wembley.
Compare that to the 37,000 that saw them win promotion to the Premier League seven years earlier, which brings us nicely on to…
“Every dog has its day, and today is woof day.”
They are the words of Ian Holloway after winning promotion to the second tier with QPR in 2004.
If that was woof day, there must have been a full symphony coming from his kennel after guiding Blackpool to the Premier League six years later.
It was a feat made even more remarkable given how unlikely it seemed towards the end of the 2009/10 season.
With eight games remaining, Blackpool were seven points behind the final play-off spot in ninth and had played one more.
That would not have represented a bad finish, given that they had finished 16th in the previous season and had lost promotion-winning manager Simon Grayson to League One Leeds over Christmas.
But Holloway’s side were just getting started.
Blackpool won six of their final eight league games to take the final play-off spot, finishing one point above Swansea in seventh.
They secured promotion in gripping fashion, beating Cardiff 3-2 at Wembley in a game that saw them go behind twice before half-time.
ASTON VILLA 2018/19
Aston Villa went from a stalemate at Stoke to singing Neil Diamond on Wembley Way in under three months last season.
“I went to bed and I couldn’t get Sweet Caroline out of my head,” said manager Dean Smith, talking to the club’s YouTube channel the day after their play-off final victory over Derby.
But while Villa’s catchy crooning is unlikely to win any awards, their late-season run from mid-table obscurity to promotion is worthy of recognition in this list.
That draw, which was their 15th of the campaign, left Dean Smith’s side 13th in the Championship after 34 games and eight points behind sixth-placed Bristol City, who had played one fewer.
Villa had been trailing the Potters at half-time, only to be met by a rant from Smith that reportedly inspired their comeback.
As turning points go, this one was spectacular.
They went on to win each of their next 10 matches and secured a play-off spot with two to spare.
Crank that jukebox up to 11.
It doesn’t get better than this.
Statistically, Barnsley’s post-Christmas performance in the 2015/16 season was the best in EFL history.
In the words of Drake, they started from the bottom. Well, almost.
The Tykes were 21st and two points from safety after their Boxing Day game away to Bury was called off.
No other side in any of the three divisions has ever managed to win promotion having been in the relegation zone at that stage.
Only 40 per cent of EFL clubs in that position survive the drop.
That they managed to end the season by beating Millwall 3-1 in the play-off final is extraordinary.
The story is even more ridiculous when you consider that manager Lee Johnson was poached by Bristol City in February with 14 games remaining.
Barnsley were still six points behind the play-off positions, having climbed to 11th after taking 28 points from an available 33 since Christmas.
Caretaker manager and lifelong fan Paul Heckingbottom oversaw eight victories, plus an EFL Trophy final victory over Oxford, meaning they made the top six on goal difference.
He was given the job full-time, obviously.
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