At the end of each season, 4 teams that barely misses the automatic promotion spots in the league standings will play a 2-leg 4-team tournament to determine the final team who would get promoted to higher leagues. In the 2019 renditions of English Football League playoffs that features the four teams that are the subject of this article sparks my interests as these teams have not only had storied histories of their own will determine who would get those final promotion spots in their respective leagues. In the EFL Championship (the second tier of English Football), the 1981 European Club Football champion Aston Villa will take on Derby County on May 27, 2019 (Memorial Day in the United States calendar), who had its most miserable season during their last promotion to the Premier League in the 2007-08 campaign via, coincidentally, the very playoff final they were involved at the end of 2006-07 season; while Charlton Athletic will face perhaps the most unlucky club in recent memories due to their recent back-to-back relegation from the Premier League into League One, Sunderland AFC on May 26, 2019. Whomever wins these two marquee encounters at Wembley Stadium would put them in a huge financial payout in the upper divisions while avenging for their previous lost spots, and leaves their opponents pondering what they would need to do to avoid the playoffs and try their hardest to fend off those who wants to leapfrog them in the following season, while hopefully to avoid a relegation battle at seasons’ end.
After a disappointing back-to-back season that saw Sunderland relegated into League One for the first time since 1987-88 season when they were relegated from the old Second Division at the end of 1986-87 season via relegation playoff loss to Third Division 5th place club Gillingham FC via away goal rule despite being tied 6-6 apiece. Sunderland’s latest Premier League stint began in 2007 as they were promoted from the Championship alongside Derby County and Birmingham City, however, the latter two clubs were relegated in successive seasons, and Sunderland subsequently faced stiff competitions from the likes of newly promoted teams like Stoke City, Hull City, Burnley, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Cardiff City, and returning clubs like Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion, founding members Norwich City and Southampton, eventually the club was relegated to the Championship in May 2017. They assumed the nightmare was over, except that was just the beginning as they fell at the bottom of the Championship standing the following year, and was against relegated to League One. As for Charlton Athletic FC, meanwhile, they have had their shares of disappointment seasons since the end of their run in the Premier League at the end of 2006-07 season via relegation, as they have become one of the infamous proverbial “yo-yo” clubs by bouncing between Championship and League One in the last few years. Thus making both teams a priority for promotions, but it is especially true for Sunderland due to how they were relegated in such a mere two-year time, but one can’t underestimate what Charlton Athletic is capable of playing, consider they were 3 points and 9 goals short of leaping ahead of Barnsley FC in the most recent League One campaign (88 points), with Sunderland finished fifth in the standing (85 points, with 3 points short of leaping ahead Portsmouth FC, whom Sunderland had beaten during their playoff matches). Both sides weren’t that far off in the regular season, though Charlton has a slight edge going into Sunday’s matchup, neither team wants to spend another year at League One, if not worst, nor can they afford to lose the opportunity to play against other Championship clubs once again.
In the Championship, meanwhile, two of the most historic clubs are playing for a return to the Premier League once more. On one side, Derby County has been very close to be playing in the promotional playoffs in the last few years with no prevails, that is until they hired Frank Lampard, a former Chelsea FC legend as a player who had won with the Blues for back-to-back Premier League crowd during the first Jose Mourinho run at Chelsea from 2004-06, led the team into the playoffs and defeated the legendary Marcelo Bielsa-led Leeds United, one of the founding members of the Premier League, in their matchups. Meanwhile, Aston Villa, Leeds United’s fellow founding members of Premier League, earned their ticket to this showdown at Wembley via defeating their local rival West Bromwich Albion via a nail bite after a penalty shootout at WBA’s home stadium, The Hawthorns, to break the tie. Villa had come closed to be relegated in the 2005-06 season but survived only after finishing 16th, and after having experiencing European football via UEFA Cup/Europa League from 2006-07 to 2009-10 seasons, they began the collapse in the following season via finishing 9th before finishing in the bottom six from 2011-12 to 2014-15 seasons (16th, back-to-back 15th, 17th), and then the nightmare that every clubs dreads at the end of the season as they fell to the Championship in 2016. Unlike Sunderland, Villa opted to push for immediate return to the Premier League, only to have their efforts thwarted by Fulham FC in the 2018 Championship playoffs final, who ironically defeated the very Derby County that Villa will be facing just two days from now. Meanwhile, much like Charlton, Derby had its shares of failures and have largely been languishing at mid-table since their relegation in 2008, that was until they found their way into the 2014 promotional playoffs with former Middlesbrough & Twente manager Steve McClaren at the helm, when they trounced Brighton & Hove Albion 6-2 in aggregate before moving on the finals only to have Queens Park Rangers defeated them 1-0 at Wembley, but he was dismissed after missing the playoffs for the following year. The next chance came during the above mentioned 2018 playoffs when they were defeated the eventual promoted Fulham (though they were immediately relegated at the end of 2018-19 season).
In the next few hours, we will find out whether Sunderland with make their return to the Championship after spending one season in League One, or Charlton Athletic will make their return once again. As for the Championship playoffs final on Monday, the stakes couldn’t have been any higher as both Derby and Villa have the desires to return to the Premier League, could we be witnessing the return of Aston Villa joining Norwich and Sheffield United as all three founding clubs of the Premier League in the same season, or witnessing the return of Derby to the scene of their worst season in the top flight and avenging the previous losses from the past seasons. Let’s enjoy the football, and we’ll see you on the next article.