Play Off Heroes
This weekend sees the first of three showcase events of the EFL season, as Sunderland take on Wycombe Wanderers in the League One Play Off Final at Wembley.
Two more promotion deciders will take place next week. Mansfield and Port Vale will face off in the League Two Final, whereas Nottingham Forest and Huddersfield will battle the Championship Play Off Final for a place in the Premier League in what is often dubbed ‘the most valuable game in football’.
In this edition of Sparta Spotlight we’re going to take a look at goalkeepers who have produced memorable Play Off Final moments and left their stamp on one of the biggest games of any player’s career.
HUDDERSFIELD TOWN v Reading, 2017 Championship Play Off Final
This year’s finalists Huddersfield were at it again five years ago, when they achieved a shock promotion to the top flight for the first time since 1972 after beating Reading on penalties. The game itself did not really live up to this, with very little quality or excitement in a goalless 120 minutes before the dreaded penalty shootout. Christopher Schindler scored the Terrier’s winning penalty, but this was set up by Danny Ward’s save from a Jordan Obita kick. The Wales international, now with Leicester kept a clean sheet and saved an all-important spot kick to help his achieve promotion to the Premier League. Safe to say he would have been pleased with his Wembley performance.
TORQUAY UNITED v Hartlepool United , 2021 National League Play Off Final
Lucas Covolan took the headlines in an extraordinary National League Play Off Final for Torquay against Hartlepool at Ashton Gate last year, despite ending up on the losing side. The Brazilian has enjoyed a rise up the leagues in recent years, arriving to Torquay from Worthing in 2020 and now playing his football for Port Vale, who themselves have a chance to gain promotion to League One with victory in next week’s Play Off Final. In the most remarkable climax to 90 minutes, Covolan scored a header from a pinpoint long pass after a marauding run into the box. With just seconds left on the clock, he had rescued the Play Off Final. Covolan also saved two penalties in the subsequent shootout after the match finished 1-1, but despite a display of heroic proportions, the Gulls lost 5-4 on spot kicks.
QPR v Derby County, 2014 Championship Play Off Final
Derby may be playing third tier football next season after a turbulent few years, but in previous years they have been close to the Premier League, never more so than their 1-0 defeat to QPR in 2014. Steve McClaren’s men had bombarded Rob Green’s goal for the majority of the 90 minutes, particularly after QPR were reduced to 10 men when Gary O’Neil received a straight red. The England international was having the game of his life, making a trio of saves from Craig Bryson, Simon Dawkins and Chris Martin late on. Bobby Zamora scored a sucker punch with seconds remaining to change the course of Derby County’s history, but without Rob Green it would have been a mere consolation.