League One Playoff Final: Yorkshire At Wembley
No side in the English Football League racked up as many home victories as Plymouth Argyle (23). Considering the budgets involved and the teams they were pitting their wits against in League One, the achievement of topping the 24-team division should not go unnoticed.
With The EFL’s playoff system only allowing two automatic promotion spots in the third tier, there’s often a disgruntled fanbase or two come the final whistle of the 46th fixture. Unfortunately, for some this campaign, that couldn’t be more accurate.
The Playoff Picture
Over in Sheffield, The Owls put together a club-record 23-game unbeaten run. Such a feat arrived before hitting a sticky patch nearer the business end. Their efforts culminated in 96 points. It’s a monstrous total that would not only have earned them promotion in the last few seasons but also won League One in recent years.
Wigan’s 94 points would’ve been toppled in 2021/22, as would Hull City’s slender-looking 89-point haul the campaign before. Overlooking the pandemic-interrupted season before Hull’s triumph, Wednesday’s 96 had the beating Luton’s 89-point return in 2018/19, too. It’s impressive. But, it would be no consolation for a fanbase aggravated with the collective drop in form at precisely the wrong time.
If anything, finishing third with such an efficient points total is a nod towards the relentless march of Plymouth Argyle and Ipswich Town. The latter, most would agree, were deploying a brand of football nearer the end of the campaign that wouldn’t look out of place at the top end of the Championship. Again, though, Argyle’s winners medal clinched amidst rolling green Devonian hills isn’t one to gloss over.
Michael Duff’s Barnsley will be thrilled with clinching playoff football. However, there will be a nagging ‘what if’. What if they could have pushed and muscled in on the automatic promotion party? It’s something that looked possible viewing their home form near the back end of the season.
Barnsley won nine games in a row at Oakwell. Nevertheless, late Ipswich and Posh defeats halted that run to confirm a playoff route. A 0-3 loss against Bolton at the turn of the year seemingly set them on a rampant home surge up the division. Wanderers subsequently took on the task of needing to replicate such a feat in the playoff semis after finishing fifth.
A Record-Making Comeback
Regardless of the race for the automatics and a tall points total that would have stood the test in previous seasons, Sheffield Wednesday should have been no match for a Posh ensemble which headed into the semi-final second leg boasting a 4-0 cushion. It was a different story in Hillsborough, as you’d expect after such a mauling in the opener.
What many may not have anticipated, though, was Darren Moore’s side mustering enough to overturn an 18/1 chance of making the playoff final following the final whistle in Peterborough.
A 5-1 win on the night in Sheffield, largely thanks to Liam Palmer’s right boot to put The Owls 4-0 up in the 90+8th minute of regulation time, was followed by a triumphant penalty shootout. It was chaos, but it was enough to book a place at Wembley next to Barnsley.
Until that night in Hillsborough, no team had successfully come back from a four-goal deficit since the inception of the playoffs in the EFL. Furthermore, it’s just the fifth occasion in EFL history where a team has fought back from being four down.
Barnsley will be hopeful of continuing a League One trend that has reared its head in seven consecutive seasons. One relegated Championship club has bounced straight back up after the first time of asking in League One year after year. But, with Derby and Posh resigned to third-tier football for another season, it’s up to the Tykes to keep that run alive.
Sheffield Wednesday vs Barnsley: The League One Playoff Final
The Tykes, as has often been the case this season at Oakwell, left it until the home leg of the tie (1-0) to cast the fatal blow in Bolton’s direction. Wembley may have provided a joyous day out for travelling Wanderers fans at the start of April, but there is to be no jaunt down south this time.
Both first-leg results in League One added to the fact that none of the teams that progressed to Wembley had managed to win in the opening tie of their EFL playoff fixture.
Nevertheless, it’s Sheffield Wednesday vs Barnsley in the showpiece event, a Yorkshire derby for the neutral to observe. Wednesday have only won once against Barnsley in their last five EFL meetings dating back to 2019/20. Barnsley, contrastingly, have won a trio of head-to-heads in that time, including both outings (4-2 & 0-2) this season.
Although there will be more than a week for Wednesday to recover, might we see a hangover from their semi-final comeback? You’d expect it to take a toll both mentally and physically. Could that be something Barnsley can take advantage of? Perhaps.
However, playing devil’s advocate, maybe that’s the type of experience to encourage a winning playoff campaign. It’s a tough one to call. Here at ZB, we think it’s the latter. Michael Duff’s Barnsley side will likely prove to be the trickiest of opponents. For us, though, Wednesday should have more all over the pitch. And now they know they’ve got enough in the tank to overturn any deficit in Barnsley’s favour.
It will be a spectacle. You can be sure of that, at least.
League One Playoff Final: Yorkshire At Wembley