Unpredictability: a word that is so often synonymous with the Sky Bet Championship. Over the years, the division has witnessed late drama, last gasp goals and enough Play-Off spectacles to last a lifetime.
With the 2021/22 campaign well underway, we take a look back at some of the second-tier’s most unexpected twists and turns over the last decade…
Huddersfield Town’s dream team – 2016/17
Not many teams can profess to having a fairytale season, but Huddersfield Town conjured up some magic in 2016/17 when they re-entered the top-flight for the first time since 1972.
Spearheaded by Jurgen Klopp’s former sidekick, David Wagner guided the Terriers to the Championship Play-Off Final, eliminating Sheffield Wednesday en-route, after placing fifth in the League rankings.
However, the underdog tag is not one to be sniffed at, with many teams excelling under the radar and going on to achieve what is believed to be the impossible.
A bumper crowd of 76,682 were present in the capital to watch Huddersfield make history in a tense penalty shoot-out against Reading at Wembley Stadium. Christopher Schindler scored the decisive kick to secure promotion from the Championship, and the Terriers went on to rub shoulders with the Premier League heavyweights the following campaign.
Blackpool defy the odds – 2009/10
Fine margins separated Blackpool and Swansea City when the Tangerines edged their way into the Championship Play-Offs by the conclusion of the 2009/10 campaign. Just a point stood between the Swans in seventh place and Blackpool inside the coveted top six.
Having overcome third placed Nottingham Forest in the Semi-Finals, Blackpool came from behind twice to beat Cardiff City in the Final, on the biggest stage of them all, speaking volumes about the character of the side Ian Holloway assembled over a decade ago – a side that featured none other than current Bolton Wanderers boss Ian Evatt.
The Club, who bounced back to the second-tier following a six-year absence at the end of the 2020/21 season, won promotion against all odds and even the players got somewhat carried away, with Tangerines star Charlie Adam telling Sky Sports in a post-victory interview: “Lads were saying they were going to buy a Ferrari!”
Bournemouth’s rise through the ranks – 2014/15
Huddersfield’s League One Play-Off Semi-Final opponents in 2010/12, Bournemouth’s unprecedented rise through the ranks is one which undoubtedly deserves its place among the greatest success stories of the modern era in the Championship’s history books.
Eddie Howe’s men defied expectations, with Bournemouth – and Howe – achieving a remarkable three promotions, from the Sky Bet League Two to the Championship, in the space of five seasons
The Cherries won promotion from the Sky Bet League One in 2012/13, finishing as runners-up to Doncaster Rovers, and after a single season in the Championship, Bournemouth found their feet and the stabilisers were well and truly off. Howe’s side went one better, sitting at the summit of the second-tier rankings as Bournemouth were crowned champions in 2014/15.
Doncaster Rovers’ curtain closer – 2012/13
Doncaster Rovers ingrained themselves in Championship folklore as the curtain came down on the 2012/13 season, when the South Yorkshire side were crowned League One champions at Griffin Park, securing Championship status for the 2013/14 campaign.
With the two teams vying for automatic promotion, Doncaster and Brentford looked set to share the spoils until referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot deep into injury time, after sighting an infringement inside the area. Step up Marcello Trotta for Brentford, whose penalty kick crashed into the crossbar before Doncaster eventually cleared it away as far as Billy Paynter on the half-way line.
Leading the charge, Paynter famously offloaded the ball to cult hero James Coppinger who prodded home, sealing Doncaster’s promotion to the Championship, whilst Brentford – who were on course for second place – bowed out at the hands of Yeovil Town in the Play-Off Final.
The late, late Watford show – 2012/13
Just 15 days later, Watford produced almost a carbon copy of Doncaster’s final day drama against Leicester City in the Championship Play-Off Semi-Finals. The script was written when the Foxes were awarded a penalty in the dying moments of the second leg, as Oliver’s keen eye spotted what he believed to be another foul.
Manuel Almunia produced a superb double stop to deny Anthony Knockaert from the spot and again, from the rebound. His outfield teammates then took the opportunity to catch Leicester on the break, with Fernando Forestieri and Jonathan Hogg combining to put the ball on a plate for star striker Troy Deeney, who hammered home a 97th minute winner.
Watford would go on to lose against Crystal Palace in the Play-Off Final, as Holloway reached his second Play-Off Final in as many years, clinching promotion with the Eagles this time following heartbreak with Blackpool the year prior.
Rotherham United’s great escape – 2015/16
At the other end of the table, it could be argued that Rotherham United’s near miss with relegation in 2015/16 could be considered nothing short of a miracle and a Neil Warnock miracle, at that.
Warnock, who became the Millers’ third manager after Steve Evans and Neil Redfearn that season, has engineered many a promotion but his feats at the reverse end of the Championship get less airtime.
However, when the current Middlesbrough boss took the reins, the South Yorkshire side were resigned to their fate, dangling dangerously in the drop zone. They finished the campaign nine points clear of the bottom three with two games to spare in 21st place – the culmination of an 11-game unbeaten run.
Yeovil Town make second-tier bow – 2013/14
Yeovil Town’s surprise ascendancy to the Championship in 2012/13 was nothing short of the epitome of David and Goliath, ousting Sheffield United and Brentford in the League One Play-Offs, as they marched on the Championship.
The Somerset side announced their arrival in the second-tier with a bang, netting a 1-0 victory on home soil against Millwall in Yeovil’s opening day display. And despite suffering relegation back to League One after a short but sweet stay in the Championship, Yeovil also recorded wins over the likes of Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday and Watford over the course of the 2013/14 campaign
Little Wycombe reach the big time – 2019/20
Tears were shed at an eerily vacant Wembley Stadium as Wycombe Wanderers won promotion to the Championship for the first time in the Buckinghamshire Club’s history in the 2019/20 League One Play-Off Final.
With long-serving manager Gareth Ainsworth at the helm, the Chairboys – who were at risk of dropping out of the EFL altogether six years prior – reached the promised land around a year ago.
Ainsworth admitted he had just nine players at disposal when the Wycombe squad reported back for pre-season training at the beginning of the campaign, the Wanderers boss and his lucky shoes worked wonders and turned things around at Adams Park.