The Sky Bet EFL Play-Offs always deliver drama and this year was certainly no exception!
Last season’s semi-final, this season’s final
Last July, Brentford and Swansea City contested a tight, fractious EFL Championship Play-Off semi-final. Brentford triumphed 3-2 on aggregate, but ultimately the last-ever game played at their old Griffin Park ground proved a hollow victory when Thomas Frank’s side lost the final to Fulham. The cosmic tumblers have brought the two clubs together again, this time at Wembley, after each secured a narrow passage on Saturday. Brentford’s 3-1 win over Bournemouth, which overcame a 1-0 first leg deficit, featured a disputed penalty, a red card for the Cherries’ former Brentford defender Chris Mepham and a decisive 81st-minute strike from Bees substitute Marcus Forss.
Swansea’s 1-1 draw with Barnsley, which was equally tight as a contest, ensured that Steve Cooper’s men squeaked through 2-1 on aggregate. The dancing feet of Matt Grimes gave the Welsh side a first-half cushion to which they held on despite Cauley Woodrow’s second-half strike for the visitors.
Impish spirit sends Lincoln through
Question - what makes Lincoln City unique among this season’s EFL Play-Off finalists? Answer – Michael Appleton’s side is the only one which finished outside the top two Play-Off positions in their division to make it to Wembley. That certainly didn’t seem possible in the first half at the Stadium of Light when Lincoln were overrun by a vibrant, forceful Sunderland side which levelled the aggregate scores at 2-2 after little more than half-an-hour’s play. Appleton admitted he resorted to a good old-fashioned dressing room rant at the interval. His choice words inspired his side to a much braver second half display which was capped by a Tom Hopper header. That ultimately proved to be the slender difference between the sides.
Blackpool, by contrast, wore the tag of favourites with comfort as they slugged out a thrilling second leg 3-3 draw against Oxford United at Bloomfield Road to give them a clear 6-3 victory on aggregate and improve the club’s remarkable Play-Off semi-final record to eight triumphs from nine participations.
42 – The Answer to Kevin Ellison’s Guide to the Sky Bet League Two Galaxy
At the age of 42 years, 89 days, at his 13th club of a career that has spanned four decades and 794 appearances, Kevin Ellison’s 160th goal will stand out as one of his most glorious. In the midst of a second leg tie which had swung firmly towards Forest Green Rovers as they recovered from a 2-0 first leg deficit to lead 3-2 on aggregate, the Newport County substitute lifted an audacious shot in from 20 yards and put the Exiles back in control of their own Play-Off destiny. Newport ultimately secured a 4-3 extra-time defeat and with it a crucial 5-4 aggregate victory thanks to their ageless wonder, the oldest goalscorer in EFL Play-Off history.
Ellison’s prize is a trip to Wembley to face Morecambe, the club for whom he played 391 times across ten seasons. The Shrimps secured their passage with a hard-fought 1-1 draw at home to Tranmere Rovers for a narrow 3-2 triumph over the two legs.