There is nothing that captures the raw emotion of football like the EFL play-offs. A full season of hard work, and it all comes down to this mini knockout tournament.
Three teams fall, knowing that all those hours on the training ground and on the pitch amounted to nothing, while one emerges victorious.
Legends are born, heroes emerge, iconic moments are formed. It’s the chance for any player to become a part of their club’s history.
The Championship play-off final is set to kick off on Saturday, with Brentford facing Swansea. Here is how both sides fared in the previous round.
Brentford 3-2 Bournemouth
Brentford finished in third place in the Championship table, so naturally they went into the play-offs as the favourites.
However, they went into the home leg trailing on aggregate, losing the home leg 1-0 thanks to Arnaut Danjuma’s goal.
And, when the Bees somehow forgot to leave a player back for a fifth-minute corner, Danjuma found himself clean through on goal and slotted home for his second of the tie. At this point, it was looking like an uphill battle for Thomas Frank’s men.
But they managed to turn things around to reach the final for the second successive season.
The ever-reliable Ivan Toney struck from the penalty spot, and former player Chris Mepham was sent off in the first half.
Vitaly Janelt hit a second, and Marcus Forss netted the winning goal with ten minutes remaining. They reach the final, looking to amend the heartbreak they suffered last season at the hands of local rivals Fulham.
Swansea City 2-1 Barnsley
The other Championship play-off tie wasn’t so exciting, with favourites Swansea progressing 2-1 on aggregate.
The first leg at Oakwell saw the Welsh side come away with the advantage thanks to Andre Ayew’s well-taken goal.
Another beauty put the Swans further ahead in the second leg, this time from Matt Grimes. Cauley Woodrow pulled one back with 20 minutes to go to ensure a nervy finish, but Swansea held out to reach the final.
They will be bidding for a return to the Premier League, having been relegated in 2018. They will have fond memories of their visits to Wembley.
Under Brendan Rodgers, they won the play-off final against Reading in 2011 thanks to a Scott Sinclair hat-trick, and they defeated Bradford City 5-0 in the League Cup final in 2013.
Blackpool 6-3 Oxford United
Blackpool came into the play-offs off the back of four successive wins, so they had momentum on their side. This proved vital in the tie, as they comfortably won the away leg 3-0.
This was enough to see them through to the final, but it was not without a fight from Oxford United, who took the lead early on through Matty Taylor in the second leg.
Elliott Embleton levelled not long after, and Kenny Dougall made it 2-1 to the Tangerines.
But Oxford kept going and found an equaliser through Rob Atkinson. Jerry Yates restored the hosts’ lead, but Queens Park Rangers loanee Olamide Shodipo drew the scores level once again.
The tie ended 6-3 to Blackpool after a thrilling second leg.
Lincoln City 3-2 Sunderland
Finishing fourth in the League One table, Sunderland have had a real fall from grace in recent years, and the pain continued with a play-off semi-final defeat to Lincoln.
In the away leg, they fell to a 2-0 defeat, with Tom Hopper and Brennan Johnson netting in the second half to give Lincoln a strong lead going into the second leg.
The Black Cats looked on course to turn things around in the second leg when they raced into a 2-0 lead, thanks to goals by Ross Stewart and Charlie Wyke. However, a second-half strike by Hopper took Lincoln to Wembley.
Newport County 5-4 Forest Green Rovers
Remember when I said earlier that nothing captures the raw emotion of football like the EFL play-offs? Yeah, this is the sort of tie I was talking about.
The first leg was fairly standard. Newport won 2-0 with goals from Matt Dolan and Lewis Collins.
The second leg was absolutely nuts. Forest Green knew they needed to win by at least two goals to stand a chance of reaching the final and got off to the perfect start.
Eight minutes in, they had levelled the aggregate score thanks to finishes by Ebou Adams and Aaron Collins. And, when Nicky Cadden made it 3-0 in the second half, they seemed on course for a memorable comeback.
But there was still far more drama to come. 42-year-old Kevin Ellison scored a beauty for Newport to draw them back level, and Joss Labadie struck again for the visitors to put them back ahead in the tie.
With fewer than five minutes remaining, Jamille Matt made it 4-2 on the night and 4-4 on aggregate, sending the game to extra time.
It appeared to be on course for a penalty shootout, but up stepped veteran forward Nicky Maynard, who snatched a winner for Newport in the 119th minute. Drama.
Morecambe 3-2 Tranmere Rovers
Newport will be met by Morecambe (who finished fourth in the League Two table) in the League Two final after they saw off Tranmere Rovers over two legs.
An early goal by Nathaniel Knight-Percival set them on their way in the away fixture, but they were quickly pegged back by Peter Clarke.
Just before half-time, they managed to retake the lead through Liam McAlinden, and that’s how the game stayed.
An early Aaron Wildig finish made it 3-1 on aggregate, putting them well on their way to the final. James Vaughan netted for Tranmere in the second half to threaten a comeback, but they could not find an equaliser.