heffield Wednesday have completed one of the most dramatic paths to promotion ever witnessed in English football.
The Owls are heading back to the Championship after two seasons away, with Josh Windass’ emphatic diving header from the penalty spot in the dying seconds of stoppage time in extra time securing a very last-gasp 1-0 victory over 10-man Barnsley in a tense all-South Yorkshire League One play-off final on Monday.
Such a goal, scored in front of Windass’ father Dean, himself a play-off hero for Hull in 2008, sparked utter pandemonium in the 40,000-strong blue and white half of Wembley, setting the seal on one of the most incredible play-off campaigns in recent memory.
Wednesday’s 96-point haul to finish third in League One was the highest total in EFL history not to lead to automatic promotion, with a stellar run of four straight wins to end the regular season not enough to overhaul champions Plymouth or runners-up Ipswich, who finished five and two points ahead of them respectively.
Wednesday then looked to have completely blown their play-off chance, hammered 4-0 at Peterborough in a one-sided semi-final first leg.
Manager Darren Moore and chairman Dejphon Chansiri were both targeted by vile abuse online after that unexpectedly heavy loss, but Moore never gave up belief that a comeback was possible back at Hillsborough.
As it transpired, dominant Wednesday forced extra time in the home second leg, striking the all-important fourth goal in the eighth minute of stoppage time.
They fell behind again in extra time, but equalised once more to force a penalty shootout, in which they held their nerve to get to Wembley.
The win over Barnsley completes an incredibly dramatic three days of EFL play-off finals over the sunny Bank Holiday weekend, with Luton promoted to the Premier League for the first time and Carlisle ending a nine-year stint away from League One with respective penalty shootout triumphs over Coventry and Stockport.
Wednesday’s success also makes it double promotion delight for the city of Sheffield in 2022-23, with rivals Sheffield United having sealed a top-flight return by finishing second behind Burnley in this year’s Championship, denying the chance for a Steel City derby next term.
Barnsley more than played their part in a thrilling final on Monday despite having midfielder Adam Phillips controversially sent off in the 49th minute for a challenge on Wednesday striker Lee Gregory.
Nicky Cadden hit the crosssbar for the Tykes as both sides created plenty of chances in a pulsating clash, with Luca Connell missing an open goal and Barnsley ‘keeper Harry Isted keeping his side in the game with a number of excellent saves before the last-gasp winner from Windass.