The Championship Play Offs are undoubtedly a brilliant creation. Not only do they reward teams that have impressive seasons with the chance of promotion, but they consistently provide some of the most dramatic and memorable moments the football world witnesses year on year. Bobby Zamora’s last-gasp winner against Derby, Scott Sinclair’s classic hat-trick against Reading, Steve Claridge’s shock twenty-yard finish versus Crystal Palace and even the mighty Dean Windass have all managed to break headlines across the land and seal their team’s promotion to the promise land of the Premier League.
As cliche as it is at this point, there’s no denying that the Play Offs remain something of a lottery, however, and there’s no guaranteeing that simply being higher in the table will ensure a passage to promotion. Here is our definitive list of some of the best teams in the Championship that weren’t quite able to overcome the dreaded Playoffs.
Leeds United – 2018/19
Leeds have garnered quite the reputation for stumbling when it comes to the Championship Play Offs since their relegation from the Premier League in 2004. Whilst plenty of Leeds sides have showcased plenty of promise during their time in the Championship, no side arguably came closer to finally breaking the Yorkshire club’s curse than the side managed by legendary coach Marcelo Bielsa in 2018/19.
Under the former Bilbao, Chile and Argentina tactician, there was an unfamiliar consensus around the footballing world that this season might have been different for Leeds. They now had an experienced, steely manager at the helm and played some of the best football the league had ever seen up right up until the final stretch of the campaign. However, three losses and one draw in the final four games of the season saw Bielsa’s side drop from the automatic promotion spaces in the top two, down to third place in the table and a dreaded run in the Play Offs.
Despite winning away at Derby in the first leg, Leeds’ dramatic season would end in another heartbreak as they slumped to a shocking 4-2 loss at home against Frank Lampard’s side. Bielsa would oversee the unwanted record of becoming the first side since 2007 to be top of the Championship table at Christmas and not be promoted.
Brighton and Hove Albion – 2015/16
21 games unbeaten, 24 wins across the season, 89 points on the board and missing out on promotion by an inferior goal difference of just 2, the 2015/16 season for Brighton and Hove Albion must have been a particularly painful one for fans to endure. Jostling throughout the season with the likes of Burnley, Middlesbrough and Hull City, Chris Hughton’s side looked set to creep into the top two as they travelled to the Riverside to face off against promotion rivals Middlesbrough in a do-or-die matchup.
A Christian Stuani goal was enough to keep Brighton to a 1-1 draw, sealing the Albion to a Play Off matchup against Sheffield Wednesday.
Despite going into the Play Offs as market favourites, three places and fifteen points better off than Wednesday, it was clear that Hughton’s Albion side had been run into the ground after a long, arduous season. A freakish game in Hillsborough saw Albion suffer four injuries and limp home with a 2-0 loss, was followed by a 1-1 stalemate at the AMEX and condemned the Seagulls to another year of undeserved second-tier football.
Watford – 2012/13
Led by the enigmatic and consistently optimistic-thinking legend of Gianfranco Zola, it was practically written in the stars that Watford would be promoted in 2013 following the infamous semi-final finale against Leicester.
Under Zola, Watford rose from eleventh in the table in 2011/12 to third the following year, registering 77 points along the way. Their 77 points tally was just two points shy of the 79 registered by second-placed Hull City, with Watford outscoring City by a whopping 24 goals and only conceding 6 more goals across the entire campaign.
Following their legendary last-gasp winner courtesy of Troy Deeney, Watford came into their Play Off final against Crystal Palace with the superior league campaign and all the momentum a team could hope to look to. For ninety minutes the two teams were locked, hower Watford hearts across the land would be broken in extra-time as Kevin Phillips’ penalty shocked the odds and issued with another two years of Championship football.
Sheffield United – 2008/09
Following their cruel and controversial relegation in 2006/07 from the Premier League, Sheffield United bounced back in the Championship with a reasonably respectable ninth-place finish and four points from the Play Offs. Kevin Blackwell’s side would build on these great foundations the next season however, carving together a great run in March that saw them go within three points of automatic promotion to the Premier League.
Despite the setback of not quite making the top two, there were no signs of the Blades slowing down in the Play Offs initially, edging out Preston 2-1 over two legs. They faced off against Burnley in the Play Off final, a side who they finished two places and four points ahead of in the league campaign.
In what was a considerably shocking result, Burnley were able to contain the Blades and nicked a 1-0 win, robbing United of the best chance they had of returning to the top tier of English football. Following their loss in the Play Offs in 2009, United would fail to reach another Play Off semi-final, eventually being relegated from the Championship in 2011.
The Championship remains one of the toughest leagues in world football to thrive in, with the Play Offs showcasing time and time again that even the best and most consistent of sides can struggle under its intense pressure. It’s hard to say where all of these sides would be, had they managed to squeeze through the promotion trapdoor, however we can guarantee that the heartbreak of a Play Off loss is still strongly remembered by their loyal fanbases.