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Greatest Championship playoff finals ever

Sports Mole takes a look at the greatest Championship playoff finals ever.

The Championship playoffs carry a pressure like no other, particularly the final where dreams of promotion to the promised land are either realised or crushed in just one match under the famous arch of Wembley Stadium.

Since they were introduced back in 1987, the EFL playoffs have delivered some of the most enthralling, drama-filled games filled with last-minute winners, penalty shootouts and stunning strikes over the years.

With that in mind, Sports Mole takes a look at the top three greatest ever Championship playoff finals.

3. Blackpool 3-2 Cardiff City - 2010 Championship playoff final

Almost 15 years ago, Blackpool secured promotion to the Premier League for the first time in their history after coming from behind twice to beat Cardiff City 3-2 in an absorbing, end-to-end encounter at Wembley.

After sneaking into the playoffs and beating Nottingham Forest 6-4 on aggregate in the semi-finals, Blackpool fell behind inside the first nine minutes of the final when Bluebirds striker Michael Chopra drilled a first-time strike into the bottom corner. However, the Tangerines were back on level terms just four minutes later thanks to a superb 25-yard free kick from captain Charlie Adam.

Cardiff regained the lead when Welsh midfielder Joe Ledley burst in behind a stroked a smart finish beyond Matt Gilks, but their celebrations were once again short-lived. Gary Taylor-Fletcher smacked the post with a 20-yard shot just moments before he bundled the ball home from close range in the 41st minute.

Blackpool forward Brett Ormerod then turned the breathtaking contest on its head when he ran onto a loose ball and stabbed a shot beyond David Marshall to put Ian Holloway's men ahead at the interval.

Both sides mounted sustained periods of pressure after the break, with Cardiff in particular pushing for an equaliser in the dying embers, but it was Blackpool who held on for a famous victory to end their 39-year wait for top-flight football.

2. Swindon Town 4-3 Leicester City - 1993 First Division playoff final

Both Swindon Town and Leicester City experienced a rollercoaster of emotions when they butted heads for an all-time classic at the old Wembley just over three decades ago, with the Robins avoiding an embarrassing collapse to clinch their first-ever promotion to the Premier League.

The contest truly came to life when Swindon's player-manager Glenn Hoddle opened the scoring three minutes before the break, before Craig Maskell and Shaun Taylor both netted within the first eight minutes of a chaotic second half to put the Robins in cruise control.

However, Leicester mounted a remarkable comeback and were back on level terms thanks to three goals in the space of just 12 minutes from Julian Joachim, Steve Walsh and Steve Thompson. Swindon were left stunned and the momentum was with the Foxes heading into the closing stages.

There would be one final twist that proved decisive, though, as Swindon were awarded a contentious penalty just six minutes from time after substitute Steve White was deemed to have been fouled inside the box following a collision with Leicester duo Kevin Poole and Colin Hill.

Paul Bodin stepped up and sent Poole the wrong way, slotting his spot kick into the bottom-right corner to restore the Robins' lead and secure promotion to the promised land.

1. Charlton Athletic 4-4 Sunderland (Charlton win 7-6 on penalties) - 1998 First Division playoff final

Has there ever been a more action-packed, pulsating extravaganza to decide the second-tier playoff final? Eight goals, two in extra time, one hat-trick and a nerve-jangling penalty shootout, this showdown is a Wembley classic for the ages.

While Peter Reid's Sunderland were bidding to secure promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, Alan Curbishley's Charlton had spent the previous eight seasons in the second tier, but they made a bright start to the final and top scorer Clive Mendonca put the Addicks ahead inside the opening 23 minutes.

Sunderland strikers Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips then turned the game on its head with two goals in the first eight minutes of the second half, the latter firing the Black Cats in front with his 35th goal of the season.

Quinn scored his second of the contest to restore Sunderland's advantage just two minutes after Mendonca had netted his second to level the scores, but Charlton sent the contest into extra time courtesy of an 85th-minute equaliser from centre-back Richard Rufus.

Sunderland looked to have gained control of proceedings when Nicky Summerbee scored their fourth to put them into the lead for the third time, but man-of-the-match Mendonca had other ideas and completed his hat-trick with a sweetly-struck volley - his 28th goal of the campaign - on the 105-minute mark to send the tie to penalties.

Each of the first 13 penalties were converted, with Charlton leading 7-6 as the shootout went to sudden death, before Sunderland's Michael Gray stepped up and watched Sasa Ilic save his tame spot kick, sparking wild scenes from the Charlton supporters who celebrated promotion in the most dramatic of circumstances.

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Charlton Athletic players celebrate earning promotion to the Premier League at Wembley on May 25, 1998.
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