Play Off Heroes
This week sees the start of the EFL Play Offs, with four teams from the Championship, League One and Two battling it for promotion from their respective leagues.
Semi-Finals kick off this week, where drama is guaranteed and someone will inevitably write themselves into their club’s and perhaps even Football League, folklore.
Whilst we all remember wonder goals from the likes of Dean Windass, who struck to take Hull to the Premier League for the first time in 2008 or Paul Dickov’s dramatic equaliser for Manchester City in the 1999 Division Two final, there have been a number of goalkeepers who are etched into the history of the mini competition.
This week we look at some of the most glorious goalkeeping moments ever witnessed in the play offs.
Manchester City v Gillingham, Division Two Play Off Final - 1999
A game mentioned in the summary, the 1999 Division Two final, contested by now five-time Premier League champions Manchester City and Tony Pulis’s Gillingham, is highly regarded as one of the best play off matches of all time.
Playing at the old Wembley stadium, unbeknown of their future meteoric rise and riches, City found themselves 2-0 down and staring down the barrel of another season in the third tier, when they conceded two goals from the 80-85th minute.
City pulled the game back from the Gills in dramatic fashion, but it was goalkeeper Nicky Weaver who’s exploits sealed promotion back to the First Division.
After Kevin Horlock scored City’s first penalty, Weaver kept out Paul Smith’s penalty to give Joe Royal’s men the numerical and psychological advantage.
Gillingham scored only one of their next two penalties, whilst City kept their 100% record, meaning that Guy Butters had to score from the spot to keep the shootout alive.
Weaver kept out Butters’ spot kick, queuing delirium in the Manchester City end and a sea of the iconic fluorescent yellow and black shirt swarming towards twenty-year-old, appropriately resembling a herd of Bees.
Brighton and Hove Albion v Crystal Palace, Championship Play Off Semi Final - 2013
Playing your archrivals in a play-off is about as tense as it gets and that’s exactly what Palace and Brighton fans were put through at the climax of the 2012/13 season, renewing the unconventional M23 derby.
The two sides came into the tie with contrasting form, with Brighton unbeaten in ten but Ian Holloway’s Palace side without a win in nine outings, but both played out the cagiest of 0-0 draws at Selhurst Park in the first leg.
Veteran stopper Julian Speroni put in a solid display in the opener, but as his side snatched an unlikely 2-0 win at the Amex in the second leg, he put in a brilliant performance to keep another clean sheet as Wilfried Zaha grabbed the headlines with after his brace.
With the game goalless, the Argentine produced a save of monumental importance when tipping Ashley Barnes’ goal-bound header onto the crossbar just minutes before Palace broke to edge ahead.
Speroni would also keep a clean sheet in the final against Watford and is very much considered an iconic figure at Selhurst Park.
Sheffield Wednesday & Reading v Huddersfield Town, Play Off Semi Final and Final - 2017
Saving a penalty to send your side to a Wembley final is something special, but saving a penalty that wins said final and a place in the Premier League for the first time ever, is something else.
That is exactly what Danny Ward did for Huddersfield in one of the unlikeliest promotions to the topflight in recent history.
In a tense Yorkshire derby in the semi-final second leg at Hillsborough, Town equalised with ten minutes of normal time left, after Wednesday defender Tom Lees diverted the ball into his own net to take the game to extra time.
The game eventually went to penalties and with Jack Payne missing the potential winning spot kick, Danny Ward saved Fernando Forresteri’s, as well as Sam Hutchison’s opening penalty, to send Huddersfield to Wembley.
Ward again proved the difference for his side in the final with Reading after a goalless 120 minutes, saving Jonathan Obika’s penalty to give Christopher Schindler the chance to take David Wagner’s men to the promised land.