In football, there is nothing quite like the English Football League play-off finals weekend.
Every year, over the course of three days in late May, six clubs from across three divisions of English football do battle under the iconic Wembley arch. For the victors, the spoils of promotion and dreams coming true of seeing their team win at Wembley for their fans.
And for the losers, the sheer agony of being so close, but yet so far, whilst also being confined to another season in their respective league.
Naturally then, the history of these finals are woven in iconic moments and unforgettable matches. Therefore, in preparation for what is set to be another unmissable weekend this year, let’s take a look back at some of the most memorable goals in EFL play-off finals of this century.
Dean Windass (Hull City) vs Bristol City, Championship play-off final, 24 May, 2008
At the time, in all of Hull City’s proud 104-year history, The Tigers had never plied their trade in the top tier of English football.
So if there was ever going to be a more apt player to break that cycle, you need look no further than Kingston upon Hull born, and then 39-year-old, Dean Windass.
His 38th minute volley was enough to win the game by a goal to nil, and is not only one of the most iconic goals in play-off final history, it’s also commonly cited as the most iconic goal in Hull City history too.
Ricardo Vaz Te (West Ham) vs Blackpool, Championship play-off final, 19 May, 2012
By no means the best goal on this list technique-wise, but it’s right up there among the goals that instantly spring to mind when you think of the Championship play-off final.
Ricardo Vaz Te finished the 2011-12 season as the division’s top scorer with 22 goals, and he wasn’t finished yet. With just three minutes of the 90 remaining, the game was hanging in the balance at 1-1.
The ball got away from Irons striker Carlton Cole in the penalty area, as he looked like he’d missed a golden chance to send West Ham to the Premier League. But as the ball broke in the six-yard box, step forward Ricardo Vaz Te to send those Hammers fans behind the goal into ecstasy…
Gary Alexander (Millwall) vs Scunthorpe, League One play-off final, 24 May, 2009
Coming into this game, Millwall had qualified for the League One play-off semi-finals four times since the creation of the format in 1987, but had failed to progress beyond that stage at each attempt.
Better late than never though, as The Lions finally reached the hallowed turf of Wembley in 2009. It wasn’t to be their day however, as they would eventually run out 3-2 losers.
Despite that, Millwall’s Gary Alexander provided their fans with a memento strike that is still renowned by many as the best goal scored in any play-off final.
Alex Revell (Rotherham) vs Leyton Orient, League One play-off final, 25 May, 2014
Rotherham arrived at Wembley with the ambition of completing back-to-back promotions up the EFL pyramid. For Leyton Orient meanwhile, they’d certainly solidified their status as a League One club, having been plying their trade in the division since 2006, but now came their chance to finally take a step up the ladder again.
Indeed, it would be Orient that would seize the early initiative, and found themselves 2-0 up going into half-time. But two second half goals from Alex Revell sent the game to extra-time, and then the dreaded penalty shootout, with Rotherham eventually winning 4-3 on spot kicks.
Revell was the star of the show for The Millers, with his second goal being one of the best strikes in play-off final history, against his former employers no less.
Charlie Adam (Blackpool) vs Cardiff City, Championship play-off final, 22 May, 2010
Play-off finals at Wembley have become quite the norm for Blackpool this century, with The Tangerines appearing in six of them since 2000.
And under the management of one of English football’s greatest characters, Ian Holloway, The Seasiders were back on the biggest stage and were in search of their first promotion back to the top flight since the 1970-71 season.
And that is exactly what they did, running out 3-2 winners on the day with all five goals coming in the first half. Charlie Adam’s 13th minute free-kick was undoubtedly the pick of the bunch however, and is fully deserving of a place on this list.
Mohamed Diame (Hull City) vs Sheffield Wednesday, Championship play-off final, 28 May, 2016
Hull City arrived at Wembley in 2016 looking to exercise the demons of their 2014 FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal, whilst also looking to seal an instant return to the Premier League after their relegation the season prior.
As for Sheffield Wednesday, this would be their first time contesting a Championship play-off final, and indeed it would turn out to be one to forget for The Owls, as thanks to Mohamed Diame’s 72nd minute strike, The Tigers would run out 1-0 winners.
A tense and nervy affair was decided by the former Senegalese international’s 25-yard curling effort, and remains one of the more iconic goals in recent play-off final history.
Patrick Bauer (Charlton Athletic) vs Sunderland, League One play-off final, 26 May, 2019
This matchup had classic written all over it from the beginning. Two sleeping giants of English Football who’d both experienced years of frustration further down the pyramid than they respectively belong.
So as Wembley was packed out in a sea of red for the rematch of arguably the best ever play-off final in 1998, it just had the feeling that it was always going to be an iconic moment that would seal the fate of proceedings.
Enter stage left in the 94th minute, Charlton defender, Patrick Bauer…
Christopher Schindler (Huddersfield Town) vs Reading, Championship play-off final, 29 May, 2017
In what turned out to be a fairly forgettable 120 minutes of football for the neutral viewer, that would all be forgiven with one of the most nerve-shredding and iconic conclusions to the EFL’s centrepiece fixture ever.
Indeed, Huddersfield Town and Reading’s big dance was the first to go the full distance of a penalty shootout since Birmingham City Vs Norwich City in the 2002 play-off final.
And so with the shootout tied at 3-3, the pressure of sending The Terriers back to top division of English football for the first time since 1972, fell on the shoulders of German defender, Christopher Schindler.
Adam Hammill (Barnsley) vs Millwall, League One play-off final, 29 May, 2016
This would be Barnsley’s second visit to the national stadium in the 2015-16 season, as just the month prior, Barnsley defeated Oxford United 3-2 in the Football League Trophy (EFL Trophy) final.
Tykes midfielder Adam Hammill scored a fantastic goal in that game, so surely he’d used up all his Wembley wondergoal credit then?
Well, think again, as he followed that one up with an even better strike in this game, as this goal sent the Yorkshire club 2-0 up, before eventually running out 3-1 winners. Promotion propelled Barnsley back to the second tier for the first time since their relegation in the 2013-14 season.
Bobby Zamora (QPR) vs Derby County, Championship play-off final, 24 May, 2014
And last but not least, the piece de resistance, which other goal could possibly round off this list other than arguably the most iconic of them all.
Queens Park Rangers’ first ever Championship play-off final looked destined to end in defeat, as on the hour mark, Gary O’Neill was shown a straight red card for The R’s, leaving them with 10-men for the remainder of the game.
But second half substitute and then 33-year-old striker Bobby Zamora had other ideas. His improbable 90th minute winner stunned the nation, and sent Derby County players, and fans alike to their knees, and QPR back to the big time.