Their victory over Plymouth Argyle in the Final was fully deserved as the impressive Lyle Taylor’s accomplished finish set them on the way before Ade Akinfenwa delivered what may prove to be the perfect swan-song to his AFC Wimbledon career with his penalty in 100th minute to wrap up the game. That this match was played out in front of nearly 58,000 spectators - the second highest for a fourth tier Play-Offs and higher than the previous day’s League One Final - clearly shows that the popularity of the Play-Offs is alive and kicking.
Saturday’s Championship Final saw Hull return to the Premier League at the first time of asking, a match that was lit up by Mohamed Diame’s exceptional strike midway through the second half. Weirdly, in the post-match interviews Carlos Carvalhal appeared the happier manager as he rightly praised the magnificent support the team had received from 40,000 raucous Wednesdayites throughout the game and long afterwards. Their show of support in wake of defeat was as impressive as it was rare. Whilst Steve Bruce was relatively downbeat, uncertain whether he will continue at Hull despite becoming the first manager to achieve four promotions to the Premier League.
The best story came in the League One Final where Barnsley achieved the most remarkable renaissance since Iain Dowie coined the word “Bouncebackability” 12 years ago after Palace’s promotion from the fringe of relegation at Christmas. The Tykes outdid that as they recovered from being rock bottom in early December to become the only side to win a Play-Offs Final from that position. Added to this, Paul Heckingbottom took over after Lee Johnson upped sticks to go to Bristol City in February when Barnsley were 12th in the table. In his second care-taking role at Oakwell, Heckingbottom had already taken them to Wembley when they won Football League Trophy the month before he guided them to an accomplished win against Millwall.
That Final was lit up by Adam Hammill’s superb strike in the 18th minute, which even surpassed Diame’s the day before, and established Barnsley’s superiority following Ashley Fletcher’s clever finish in only the second minute. Fletcher was a danger all afternoon and comparisons with his Manchester United peer Marcus Rashford suggest he could have a bright future. Millwall could not cope with the early tempo of a Barnsley side brimming with confidence and even though Beevers pegged one back in the first half, there was an inevitability about Barnsley’s third although quite how the smallest player on the pitch, Isgrove was allowed to head in from a corner will remain a mystery.