The winner takes it all

6 May

Michael Thomas scores for Arsenal against Liverpool

Michael Thomas scored an injury-time goal to win the 1989 league title for Arsenal at Liverpool’s expense

“The winner takes it all, the loser has to fall…”

Middlesbrough and Brighton face each other on Saturday, with the winner guaranteed automatic promotion to the Premier League.

The two sides are level on points and separated only by goal difference. A draw will see Boro promoted and send the Seagulls into the play-offs.

BBC Sport looks back at five dramatic deciders from years past. Will the Championship season’s climax rival any of these classics?

‘Thomas, it’s up for grabs now…’

Michael Thomas and David Rocastle<!–

Michael Thomas and David Rocastle celebrate Arsenal’s dramatic league title win in 1989

Liverpool 0-2 Arsenal, 1989

Liverpool led the First Division table by three points before their final league game of the season against closest rivals Arsenal at Anfield.

If they avoided a two-goal home defeat, the Reds would become the first English team to win the double for a second time.

Arsenal, leading 1-0 through Alan Smith, entered stoppage time needing to score once more to be champions.

Cue a moment of iconic commentary from ITV’s Brian Moore: “Smith for Thomas, charging through the midfield…

“Thomas, it’s up for grabs now… Thomas! Right at the end! An unbelievable climax to the league season!”

When Luton were saved by a Yugoslav

David Pleat<!–

David Pleat jigged with delight on the field after Luton’s victory at Maine Road

Manchester City 0-1 Luton, 1983

Long before Paul Dickov’s play-off final goal at Wembley in 1999 or Sergio Aguero’s Premier League title-winner in 2012, Manchester City found themselves on the wrong end of some late drama.

City only needed a draw with Luton at Maine Road to ensure top-flight survival, while the Hatters needed to win to stay up and send City down.

As full-time approached, Raddy Antic fired in the from the edge of the penalty area to put the visitors ahead.

“Has Luton’s life in the harsh world of the English First Division been saved by a Yugoslav?” asked BBC commentator John Motson.

Yes it had, and who can forget the sight of Luton manager David Pleat racing onto the pitch to celebrate with his players?

‘He’s hit the bar! And the break is on…’

Brentford players sit dejected<!–

After missing out on automatic promotion, Brentford lost the League One play-off final to Yeovil

Brentford 0-1 Doncaster, 2013

How joy can turn to despair, and vice versa, in 18 seconds. Brentford fans and Marcello Trotta – look away now.

Doncaster began the final day of the League One season needing a draw at Griffin Park to be promoted. A Brentford win would have taken the Bees up instead.

With the score 0-0 in the 94th minute, referee Michael Oliver awarded the home side a penalty. Trotta stepped up and thumped it against the crossbar.

Rovers immediately broke forward and James Coppinger netted the winner for the visitors at the other end.

That goal and results elsewhere meant Doncaster were champions. Brentford finished third and lost to Yeovil in the play-off final.

The winning goal worth £1bn?

Jesper Gronkjaer<!–

Jesper Gronkjaer left Chelsea to join Birmingham a year after his winning goal against Liverpool

Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool, 2003

This is the tale of how Jesper Gronkjaer helped Chelsea win four Premier League titles, three FA Cups, the Europa League and the Champions League.

That may sound a little far-fetched, but Chelsea could have been a far different club had the Denmark international winger not scored the winner in the Blues’ final game of the 2002-03 Premier League campaign against Liverpool.

Victory guaranteed Claudio Ranieri’s side a place in the following season’s Champions League. A few weeks later, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich completed his takeover of Chelsea, who were reported to be £80m in debt at the time.

Abramovich’s investment since then? It is estimated to be more than £1bn.

‘It’s not something I want to go through again…’

Robbie Reinelt<!–

Brighton spent £15,000 to sign Robbie Reinelt from Colchester

Hereford 1-1 Brighton, 1997

Forget fighting for a Premier League place – as recently as 1997, Brighton were fighting to stay in the Football League.

Defeat at bottom club Hereford on the final day of the season would have left Brighton contemplating life in the Conference. “There’s an awful lot at stake,” said boss Steve Gritt.

Kerry Mayo’s own goal put Hereford in front but Robbie Reinelt netted the equaliser that Brighton required to preserve their Football League status.

It was an emotional moment for their supporters, who had seen the Seagulls win their final game at the Goldstone Ground – their home for nearly a century – a week earlier.

Gritt, who had taken charge five months earlier with Brighton 11 points adrift at the bottom of the fourth tier, admitted afterwards: “It’s not something I really want to go through again.”


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