The only way is up: Ranking the 5 best play-off finals of all time
Penalty heartbreak and last-gasp comebacks feature in our run down of the Football League's showpiece matches...
5 – Swindon 4-3 Leicester (1993)
The play-off final was not new territory for Swindon.
Three seasons earlier they had reached the second-tier showpiece and beat Sunderland to earn promotion.
But the Robins were denied a place in the First Division by the Football League, by way of punishment for illegal payments made to players.
And given the way Glenn Hoddle’s side played this time around, they looked to be making up for lost time.
Inspired by their player-manager, who opened the scoring, Swindon hit three goals in 11 minutes either side of half time and were once again on course for promotion.
That was before Leicester – who had lost on each of their previous five visits to the national stadium – responded with a goal glut of their own, drawing level within 16 minutes.
Swindon weren’t to be denied, though, and a Paul Bodin penalty six minutes from time finally took them to the big time.
This time, for real.
4 – Reading 2-4 Swansea (2011)
The course of Swansea’s future could have been so different had it not been for the width of a post.
They had blown Reading away in the first half, opening up a three-goal lead before the break.
But it was far from game over.
Noel Hunt reminded the Welsh club of that, heading in from a corner four minutes into the second half.
Captain Matt Mills was next to nod in, reducing the Royals’ deficit further with over half an hour to play.
And when Jem Karacan struck the woodwork, with Reading well on top, it seemed just a matter of time until they would be level.
That was until a clumsy tackle from Andy Griffin felled Fabio Borini in the box with 10 minutes left.
Scott Sinclair tucked away the following penalty, completing his hat trick, and Swansea had survived the most frightening of scares.
3 – Blackpool 3-2 Cardiff (2010)
Blackpool couldn’t, could they?
The Tangerines – led by Ian Holloway, who had previously spent a year out of the game – were widely tipped for relegation at the start of the season.
So to be within one game of the Premier League, with a team scraped together with little outlay, was scarcely believable.
Their day in the sun – the temperature on the touchline clocked in at 38 degrees – did not start especially well, with Michael Chopra slotting home to give Cardiff a ninth-minute lead.
Exhibiting all the mental toughness that got them to Wembley, though, Holloway’s side hit back.
And what a hit.
Talisman Charlie Adam, signed from Rangers for just £500,000 earlier in the season, justified his fee with an unstoppable free kick from 25 yards.
Although Cardiff edged in front once more, Blackpool struck unanswered goals from Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Brett Ormerod to end a breathless first half.
Forty-five nervy minutes later, and mission impossible had been made possible.
2 – Charlton 4-4 Sunderland (Charlton won 7-6 on penalties) (1998)
To lose any match on penalties is tough, let alone one that costs your side promotion to the Premier League.
Yet that is exactly what happened to Micky Gray and Sunderland.
Having already equalised an early Clive Mendonca goal, the Black Cats went ahead three times in the match.
But they were pegged back each time.
Two hat-trick-sealing goals from Mendonca – a boyhood Sunderland fan himself – sandwiched a Richard Rufus header, meaning promotion would be decided from the spot.
After 13 perfect penalties, it was Gray’s turn.
“I really didn’t want to take one… I just didn’t want to be the person responsible for us losing such an important match,” the former England international later admitted in an interview with The Guardian.
As much was obvious as he struck the feeblest of attempts to Sasa Ilic’s left.
The Serbian goalkeeper had time to see the direction and comfortably dive onto the rolling ball, ensuring the Addicks went up.
1 – Manchester City 2-2 Gillingham (Manchester City won 3-1 on penalties) (1999)
Forget Sergio Aguero’s winner against QPR, Paul Dickov’s last-gasp equaliser at Wembley remains the most important goal in Manchester City’s history.
The club had reached its lowest ebb in the previous season, becoming only the second ever European competition winners to be relegated to their country’s third tier.
And finding themselves 2-0 down in the final minute of the play-off final, after late goals from Carl Asaba and Robert Taylor, it didn’t look like getting any better.
Even Kevin Horlock’s 90th-minute effort through a cluster of defenders, which nestled into the back of the net, seemed nothing more than a consolation.
That was until the snarling Scotsman had his say five minutes later.
With the final whistle just moments away, City defender Gerard Wiekins desperately hoofed it long.
After a flick on from goalscorer Horlock, the ball fell to Shaun Goater, who was pounced upon before he had the chance to shoot.
The ball squirmed to Dickov in the box and he made no mistake, rocketing a shot past Vince Bartram – Gillingham goalkeeper and best man at the Scot’s wedding.
From then on, there was only one winner.