The Championship play-off final can quite literally be categorised as rags or riches. The opportunity to play in the dizzy heights of the Premier League beckons for one side. And for the other? Another season in the Championship and despair on the biggest stage of them all.
For Aston Villa and Fulham, the opportunity is one both sides will feel they deserve more than the other. Never before have either side reached this stage. The final can make or break a team, as it has often done in recent seasons.
Crystal Palace vs. Watford
Palace are perhaps one of the better examples of how a side should progress after winning at Wembley. Since their play-off final win five years ago, the Eagles have gone on to become a relatively stable side in the Premier League. Palace, in fact, have won the competition more than any other team (4).
Watford, despite being in a much healthier position now, were disastrously affected by the play-off final loss and went on to finish in 13th place the following season; showcasing the brutal nature of the Championship play-off final.
Queens Park Rangers vs. Derby County
Truly one for the underdog lover. 5th placed QPR showed 3rd place Derby County that you really don’t have to be the best side over the season to clinch that promotion prize. Since the win, however, QPR failed to build upon the momentum. They were relegated the following season and haven’t been able to return since. They finished their most recent campaign in 16th place.
For Derby, many believe this infamous play-off defeat has haunted them for the last four years. Since the defeat, the Rams have often flirted with promotion but have always failed at the crucial moment. This just shows that sometimes the occasion, win or lose, can affect any side.
Norwich City vs. Middlesbrough
Again, this play-off final depicts two sides that currently find themselves in the English second division. Like QPR, play-off winners Norwich were unable to capitalise upon the opportunity the competition had given them and fell straight back down the following season.
Middlesbrough, however, didn’t let the Wembley defeat play on their mind as they went on to secure automatic promotion the following season, suggesting that there may be hope for those sides who don’t make it after all.
Hull City vs. Sheffield Wednesday
Continuing the play-off curse is this fixture. This is the third consecutive year that both sides in the play-off final find themselves resigned to the Championship this season. Hull City won the match and were relegated the following season with Middlesbrough, who had also earned promotion that year.
Wednesday, after the defeat on the big stage, they made the play-offs again. The one year’s experience did them no good as they went one worse and fell short to the semi-final places. Third time lucky alluded the Owls; since making the play-off places consecutively, Wednesday failed to reach it again and finished 15th this season.
Huddersfield vs. Reading
A play-off final that no one would have predicted, even at the semi-final stages. Huddersfield prevailed and shocked the footballing world by maintaining their Premier League status this season. The only play-off winning side to do so since Crystal Palace.
Reading, like many other sides who are left disappointed at Wembley, slipped down the table and were only able to avoid relegation by as little as three points.
Fulham vs. Aston Villa
Both sides will look on the recent successes of teams to have won the play-off final and won’t be filled with a great deal of confidence. Of the ten teams that have taken part in the last five play-off finals, only three remain in the Premier League.
The bitter disappointment of losing though is something no side wants to go through. As proven by every team to lose in a play-off final (bar Watford) in the last five years, it is a very, very long and dispiriting journey to the Premier League.