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Shock Promotions via the EFL Play-offs

Shock EFL Promotions

Shock Promotions via the EFL Play-offs

Since the English Football League was rebranded at the start of the 2004/05 season, there have been a series of shock promotions via the play-offs. Here, we take a look at some of the most memorable play-off promotions to date.


Hull City - 2008

The first entrant on this list is Hull City, having managed to earn promotion under Phil Brown in the 2007/08 season.

This was an incredible season when considering that the Tigers had only been promoted to the Championship in the 2004/05 season via a second-place finish under Peter Taylor, before finishing 18th and 21st in the second tier prior to their third-place finish and 1-0 play-off final victory over Bristol City.

In 2007/08, Brown’s side had managed 26 more points than they had in the season prior, while acquiring some incredible players, such as Jay-Jay Okocha and Frazier Campbell (on loan from Manchester United). Notably, the latter finished as the Tigers' joint-top scorer alongside Dean Windass with 15 goals, while Windass scored perhaps the most famous goal of them all, a stunning volley in the play-off final to send his side to the promised land.

Burnley - 2009

In the 2008/09 season, Burnley were one of the more unfancied sides in the Championship, with some predicting the Clarets to be closer to the relegation zone than promotion to the Premier League, however, under the management of Owen Coyle, they managed to beat all the odds.

The Clarets hadn’t recorded a top-half finish in the Championship since the 2001/02 campaign and interestingly finished 14 points better off than their 2007/08 tally of 62, seeing them sit fifth in the Championship. During this campaign, the Turf Moor club also made a shock appearance in the semi-finals of the League Cup.

Martin Paterson’s 19 goals across all competitions saw him finish as top scorer for Burnley, however, it was to be Wade Elliot who would take the limelight, as the now Cheltenham manager scored a stunning strike to see off Sheffield United in the 2009 play-off final to put his name into Clarets folklore.

Blackpool - 2010

Blackpool hadn’t played top-flight football since the 1970/71 season until the arrival of Ian Holloway, who famously masterminded the Tangerines' famous 2010 Championship play-off finals win.

The Seasiders had only earned promotion to the second tier as recently as the 2006/07 campaign under Simon Grayson, who departed the club for his boyhood side, Leeds United.

Their first two full seasons in the Championship saw the Bloomfield Road club finish 19th and 16th, however, in the 2009/10 campaign, a stunning end to the season saw Holloway’s men win six and draw one of their last eight matches, ultimately seeing them pip Swansea City to sixth place.

Blackpool took full advantage of this, beating Nottingham Forest 6-4 on aggregate in the play-off semi-finals, before stunning Cardiff City with a 3-2 win at Wembley Stadium in the final, where Charlie Adam, who finished as the Tangerines' top scorer that campaign with 16 goals scored a stunning free-kick.

Huddersfield Town - 2017

After being promoted to the Championship in the 2011/12 season, the Terriers' best finish in the division prior to their promotion in 2016/17 was 16th in 2014/15.

David Wagner had an impressive impact at the John Smith’s Stadium, as the German coach oversaw a fifth-placed finish in his first full season in charge of the team, while acquiring some vital signings along the way, such as Aaron Mooy, Michael Hefele, Christopher Schindler and more.

Somehow, the Terriers made it into the play-offs with a -2 goal difference, but, what was even more bizarre was that they only scored one goal in three play-off matches, beating Sheffield Wednesday on penalties at Hillsborough after a 1-1 aggregate draw, before defeating Reading via the same method in the final after a 0-0 stalemate.

League One

Yeovil Town - 2013

Yeovil Town’s fall from grace has been a fairly dramatic one of late, having suffered four relegations since the start of the 2013/14 season, seeing the Huish Park club ply their trade in the National League South as of next season.

However, in 2012/13 they had one of their most memorable seasons to date under the management of Gary Johnson, as they finished fourth in League One and managed to stun Sheffield United 2-1 on aggregate in the play-off semi-finals and Brentford 2-1 in the final.

Paddy Madden sensationally managed to bag 22 league goals that season for a side containing the likes of Luke Ayling and Dan Burn, who have since gone on to make very impressive careers from themselves with Leeds United and Newcastle. Notably, prior to their promotion, Yeovil’s best finish since the end of the 2006/07 season was the 14th place they managed in 2010/11.

Wycombe Wanderers - 2020

Sometimes fate can be a deciding factor in the play-offs, with Wycombe Wanderers technically not even qualifying for it on points earned on the pitch.

When the 2019/20 season was curtailed, League One’s standings were decided via a points per game system, and as the Chairboys had played one match fewer than a multiple of opponents in front of them, controversially, Gareth Ainsworth’s men were promoted from seventh to third in the standings.

Wycombe took full advantage of this, as ultimately, they had a nothing to lose attitude and comfortably saw off Fleetwood Town 6-3 on aggregate in the play-off semi-finals, before beating Oxford United 2-1 at Wembley Stadium, seeing them reach the second-tier for the first time in the club’s history. This was a staggering achievement considering that they had only been promoted to League One in the 2017/18 season.

League Two

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2010

Dagenham & Redbridge kick-off the list of shock League Two play-off promotions, with their one and only promotion to League One since their inaugural season back in 1992/93.

Like Blackpool, the Daggers managed to sneak into the final play-off place via a late run of form, winning four of their last five matches to pip the likes of Chesterfield and Bury to the play-off semi-finals.

John Still’s men faced a tricky task, as they faced Morecambe in the semi-finals, a side that they had previously failed to beat that season, however, Dagenham thrashed the Shrimpers 7-2 on aggregate to reach the final where they beat Rotherham United 3-2 in one of the highest-scoring play-off finals of all time.

Stevenage - 2011

In 2010, Stevenage earned promotion from the Conference Premier (National League), amassing a total of 99 points in 44 matches, however, nobody expected what was about to come.

The 2010/11 season saw Graham Westley’s men overachieve and finish sixth in League Two with 69 points, limping over the line into the play-offs, having won just one of their last six matches of the regular league season.

But, the Borough more than made up for this, as their play-off campaign itself was emphatic, having beaten Accrington Stanley 3-0 on aggregate before winning the final itself against Torquay United 1-0 thanks to a John Mousinho goal.

Morecambe 2021

The final team to make this list is Morecambe, as the Shrimpers looked more like relegation candidates at the start of the 2020/21 season, having finished 18th or below for each of their last five seasons in League Two prior to earning promotion to League One for the first time in their history.

Derek Adams’ side narrowly missed out on automatic promotion to Bolton Wanderers by a point in 2020/21, having significantly improved on their 2019/20 season points tally of 32, racking up 78 on the board.

The form of Carlos Mendes Gomes was vital for the Shrimpers, as the Senegal-born winger scored 15 league goals that season, including a winner in their play-off final victory over Newport County after their 3-2 win over Tranmere Rovers in the semi-finals.