FM23 Simulates the Sky Bet EFL Play-Off Finals
As this season’s dramatic semi-finals have proved, the English Football League (EFL) Play-Offs provide unrivalled drama. From the elation of sealing promotion to the promised land to the gutwrenching disappointment of losing out on penalties, they put fans through every emotion possible.
To see who might be celebrating at Wembley this weekend, we’ve used Football Manager 2023 to simulate the finals across all three divisions.
Sky Bet EFL Championship Play-Off Final
Penalty drama as Sky Blues end 22-year top-flight exile
Coventry City 1-1 Luton Town (Coventry win 6-5 on penalties)
Five years after winning the Sky Bet EFL League Two Play-Off final, Coventry City enjoyed another wonderful Wembley experience as they beat Luton Town on penalties in the Sky Bet Championship decider.
Goalkeeper Ben Wilson made the all-important save to deny Luke Berry as the Sky Blues secured a first season in the top division of English football since 2000/01.
Prior to the shootout, the game was a tightly-contested affair that saw both sides largely restricted to half-chances.
Coventry slightly edged proceedings though with top-scorer Viktor Gyökeres drawing a couple of saves from Hatters ‘keeper Ethan Horvath and Matt Godden firing wide after a Gustavo Hamer through ball.
It was Rob Edwards’ Luton, however, that broke the deadlock on 89 minutes when Luke Freeman whipped in a free kick from the left and Reece Burke leapt highest at the back post to head home.
Mark Robins’ Coventry immediately fired back though, levelling the scores less than a minute later. Soon after the kick-off, Callum Doyle played a long ball over the top that was picked up by Gyökeres. The Swedish international then pulled it back for Jamie Allen, who only came on in the final 10 minutes for Ben Sheaf, to fire home a rasping left-footed shot from just inside the box.
After that flurry of excitement, the 30 minutes of extra time mirrored the majority of the game in that both sides struggled to generate anything clear-cut.
The shootout began with a miss from Coventry substitute Sean Maguire but when Gabriel Osho’s effort hit the post three turns later, the teams were back level. In the second round of sudden death, Jamie Allen put Coventry 6-5 up before Wilson denied Berry to send the Sky Blues fans into delirium.
Sky Bet EFL League One Play-Off Final
Owls edge out Yorkshire rivals to seal Championship return
Barnsley 1-2 Sheffield Wednesday
Josh Windass’ stoppage-time strike ensured Sheffield Wednesday completed one of the most dramatic Play-Off campaigns in EFL history by beating Yorkshire rivals Barnsley 2-1 at Wembley.
In the fourth minute of four added on, Windass fired a shot across goal after collecting Marvin Johnson’s pass down the left. Barnsley defender Bobby Thomas attempted to block the shot but the deflection off his outstretched leg took the ball past goalkeeper Harry Isted and sent the travelling Owls fans into rapture.
The 96 points claimed by the Owls in the regular season would have been enough for automatic promotion in any other season but this year it was only enough for third.
That consigned Darren Moore’s side to the Play-Offs, where things initially went horrendously wrong as Wednesday lost 4-0 to Peterborough. They dramatically turned it around in the second leg, winning 5-1 on the night before triumphing on penalties to set up a Wembley clash with Michael Duff’s Barnsley, who beat Papa Johns Trophy winners Bolton Wanderers.
With the wind firmly in their sails after that dramatic second leg at Hillsborough, Wednesday dominated the first half of the final with Josh Windass and Michael Smith both having two good chances each to put them ahead.
They eventually took the lead on 52 minutes when Jack Hunt intercepted a poor ball from Mads Bech Andersen and played through the aforementioned Smith, who dinked the ball past Isted.
The game appeared to have gone for Barnsley when striker James Norwood received a second yellow card on 86 minutes for tripping Will Vaulks but they somehow found an equaliser four minutes later.
An Andersen long ball was flicked on by Serbian forward Slobodan Tedic to right-back Jordan Williams. After beating his opposite number, Williams fired a low cross into the area that was slotted in off the post by Tedic.
Then, with extra time looming, Windass sealed a famous victory that seemed so unlikely after that first Play-Off game with Peterborough two weeks before.
Sky Bet EFL League Two Play-Off Final
Stockport seal successive promotions after classic
Carlisle United 3-4 Stockport County (After Extra Time)
At the end of an absolute playoff classic, a 114th-minute goal from Welsh midfielder Connor Lemonheigh-Evans gave Stockport County victory over Carlisle United and secured them a place in Sky Bet League One next season.
Winners of the Vanarama National League last year, Dave Challinor’s County opened the scoring on six minutes when Ryan Rydel headed home a cross from striker Isaac Olaofe.
Stockport doubled their lead on 20 minutes, Jack Stretton tucking home Kyle Knoyle’s ball in from the right, and made it 3-0 on 31 minutes when Callum Camps’ free-kick was powerfully headed home by Fraser Horsfall.
With their backs firmly up against the wall, Carlisle pulled one back on 38 minutes. After Josh-Kymani Gordon, who’d been their most effective player up until that point, was fouled by Chris Hussey in the box, Carlisle top-scorer Kristian Dennis fired home the resulting penalty.
3-1 became 3-2 on 66 minutes, Alfie McCalmont thumping home a right-footed strike from just inside the box after a long ball from Jon Mellish, and eight minutes later Carlisle were level when Gordon slotted home a McCalmont pass from a tight angle.
Both sides then had chances to win the game in normal time; Carlisle when Dennis’ header came back off the post and Stockport when Antoni Sarcevic hit the woodwork and strikers Olaofe and Kyle Wootton both fired wide from close range.
Olaofe was at the heart of Stockport’s best attacking play throughout and despite betting booked, he was kept on for extra-time. That decision proved crucial, as he set up the match-winning goal with his second assist of the game.
Receiving the ball wide on the left, the striker’s slide rule pass was inch-perfect for Lemonheigh-Evans, who took two touches before coolly slotting past Carlisle’s goalkeeper Tomáš Holý.
Well, that’s how FM23 sees the Sky Bet EFL Play-Off Finals going down. If the real-life matches are anywhere near as dramatic as the virtual action was then fans are in for three very exciting and dramatic fixtures.
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