They are perhaps the most eagerly anticipated set of matches in the English Domestic Football season for their unpredictability and the financial sums at stake and this season’s Npower Football League Playoff Finals didn’t disappoint. Stevenage continued their remarkable meteoric rise from the Non-League with a second consecutive promotion in the same number of years with promotion to Npower Football League One, Peterborough United won a third promotion in four years, returning back to the Npower Championship whilst Swansea City became the first Welsh team to reach the promised land of the Barclays Premier League.
Goalkeeper: Paul Jones (Peterborough United)
Despite enduring a nervy start, most notably fluffing a few goal kicks and clearances, Jones grew in confidence as the game went on. He was instrumental in keeping his team in the early stages of the game, producing a string of fine saves to deny the likes of Huddersfield Town midfielders Gary Roberts and Danny Ward. His fingertip save to turn Ward’s magnificent run and powerful strike onto the bar was the stand out moment.
Right Back: Kevin Nicholson (Torquay United)
Despite ending up on the losing team, Nicholson made a real impression at right back for The Gulls. Whilst he found himself defending for periods of the game, he produced a number of incisive long balls for Torquay striker Chris Zebrowski to latch on to. Indeed, his long balls over the top of the Stevenage defence provided one of the main threats for goalkeeper Chris Day. His delivery on the day from corners was good.
Centre Back: Mark Roberts (Stevenage)
The Stevenage captain was quite simply magnificent in central defence, protecting goalkeeper Chris Day and constantly sniffing out dangerous long balls from the Torquay United midfielders. He produced a series of committed, last-ditch tackles which maintained Stevenage’s slender lead over their rivals. His leadership skills were obvious to see on the field as he rallied his troops to dig in deep as Torquay United produced a second half display full of attacking spirit and skill.
Centre Back: Garry Monk (Swansea City)
He’s been at the Liberty Stadium through thick and thin and Captain Monk led by example in a tospy turvy Npower Championship Playoff Final. He dealt adequately with Reading striker Shane Long and alongside fellow central defender Alan Tate kept things tight at the back. Indeed, the pair conceded just 11 goals in their 23 home league fixtures which formed a crucial part in The Swans boasting the best home form in the Npower Championship.
Left Back: Angel Rangel (Swansea City)
Like the rest of his defensive line, namely fellow Centre Backs, Monk and Vice-Captain Alan Tate, plus Right Back, Ashley Williams, Rangel has been an ever-present for The Swans this season. He proved his capability at the back, keeping a close eye on Reading right winger Jimmy Kebe, whilst also demonstrating his attacking prowess. He got up in support of left winger Scott Sinclair providing a few long balls which caused the Reading defence problems.
Right Winger: Steven Dobbie (Swansea City)
Not quite Lionel Messi-esque but Dobbie was a constant threat down the right wing for Swansea City, tormenting the Reading defence. He demonstrated a quick turn of pace and an ability to take on the opposition defenders, in particular, cruelly exposing Reading Left-Back Ian Harte’s lack of pace. He created a number of chances for the lone Swansea City striker Fabio Borini whilst also chipping in with a goal of his own, Swansea City’s third.
Central Midfield: Grant McCann (Peterborough United)
Posh’s midfield maestro and Captain produced a midfield master class and was instrumental in seeing Darren Ferguson’s team return to the Npower Championship. He grafted in midfield and it was his whipped ball from a free kick which allowed Tommy Rowe to head home Posh’s first goal. And the Northern Irishman McCann topped off a great display by rasping in a beautiful free-kick into the top corner of the Huddersfield Town net past goalkeeper Ian Bennett.
Central Midfield: Danny Ward (Huddersfield Town)
McCann’s midfield compatriot Ward was impressive for The Terriers in both attack and defence. He was, alongside Anthony Kay, responsible for making a number of crucial last-ditch tackles in the first half. He was allowed a greater degree of freedom in the second half as his team attempted to relieve the pressure being put on them. He made a number of darting runs, in particular drawing a fantastic save from Posh goalkeeper Paul Jones.
Left Winger: Scott Sinclair (Swansea City)
The buy of the season. He may be Swansea City’s first £1,000,000 player but he is showing that he is worth every penny. His mazy runs down the left-wing, his sudden change of pace and quick thinking kept the Reading defence on their toes all day long. He became the first player since Charlton Athletic’s Clive Mendonca against Sunderland in 1998 to score a hat trick in the Championship Playoff final. One to watch next season.
Striker: Darius Charles (Stevenage)
What a remarkable turned around for Charles. Relegated last season from the Blue Square Bet Premier League with Ebsfleet United, the central defender turned makeshift striker put in a man-of-the-match performance in the Npower Football League Two Playoff Final. He was the perfect target man, successfully managing to hold up the ball for his midfielders to run on. A lack of composure in front of goal cost him from scoring the goal he thoroughly deserved.
Striker: Craig Mackail-Smith (Peterborough United)
One of the brightest talents in Npower Football League One this season, the striker was a constant threat for Peterborough United, keeping Huddersfield Town defenders Anthony Kay and Peter Clarke busy throughout the game, scoring Posh’s second goal. He was the top goalscorer in Npower Football League One this season and made his international debut for Scotland this year against Brazil. Expect plenty of suitors to be circling around Peterborough United’s hottest property this summer.
Manager: Brendan Rodgers (Swansea City)
A very tough decision as all three managers deserve enormous credit but Rodgers just pips Westley and Ferguson. Having endured a torrid spell at Reading he’s rebuilt his reputation at the Liberty City stadium. His attacking free-flowing football philosophy has gained Swansea City many admirers this season. He’s bought extremely wisely and followed in the footsteps of former manager John Toshack – the last man to guide the club to the promised land back in 1983.
And that’s that for the 2010-2011 English Domestic Football season. Here’s a full rundown of all the teams promoted and relegated from within the Npower Football Leagues:
Champions: Queens Park Rangers
Automatic Runners-Up: Norwich City
Play-Off Winners: Swansea City
Relegated: Preston North End, Sheffield United and Scunthorpe United
Npower Football League One
Champions: Brighton & Hove Albion
Automatic Runners-Up: Southampton
Play-Off Winners: Peterborough United
Relegated: Dagenham and Redbridge, Bristol Rovers, Plymouth Argyle and Swindon Town
Npower Football League Two
Automatic Runners-Up: Bury and Wycombe Wanderers
Play-Off Winners: Stevenage
Relegated: Lincoln City and Stockport County