The Championship play-offs are arguably the most exciting games in the English football calendar and the prize on offer makes it all the more intense for the teams involved.
Promotion to the Premier League not only brings the prestige of playing in one of the biggest competitions in world football, it also provides an insanely lucrative boost to the tune of hundreds of millions.
In recent seasons, the influx of television money to England's top division has increased its allure and, as a result of that, the Championship play-off final has been popularly dubbed as the £170 million game in recent years due to the minimum monetary uplift that is estimated to await the victor.
With the English season heading into the final third, Goal brings you all you need to know about the four-team mini tournament that will send one team into the top flight.
Which teams have qualified for the Championship play-offs?
The race for the play-offs is beginning the heat up as the regular Championship season approaches its final stages, but we do not yet know which teams will be involved.
A number of clubs are in the running, with the likes of Derby County, Cardiff City, Fulham and Bristol City all making a push for promotion, while Preston North End, Sheffield United and Middlesbrough are also in the mix.
League-leaders Wolves are on course for automatic promotion with a considerable points advantage, but second-place Cardiff City are closer to the play-off spots than they are first-place.
Latest Championship table:
*Last updated Sunday February 25.
When are the Championship play-offs?
The 2017-18 Championship regular season is due to end on the first weekend in May, with the final games - in matchweek 46 - all currently scheduled for Sunday, May 6.
While no dates have currently been set for the 2018 play-offs, they generally kick off a week after the conclusion of the regular season. For example, in 2017, the first play-off semi-final match was played on May 13.
|Team||Agg.||Team||Leg 1||Leg 2|
|Third-placed team||-||Sixth-placed team||TBC||TBC|
|Fourth-placed team||-||Fifth-placed team||TBC||TBC|
When the final standings are confirmed, the top two teams earn automatic promotion to the Premier League and the teams that finished third to sixth face off in the play-offs cycle, with only one of them earning promotion.
There are two semi-final ties, each with home and away legs, with the winners of those progressing to the final. The third-placed team plays the sixth-placed team and fourth is paired with fifth.
Play-offs were first introduced to the Championship in 1987, when it was then known as the Second Division. Originally, the play-offs featured one top-flight team attempting to avoid relegation and three teams seeking promotion. However, it was altered to a promotion-only format featuring only second-tier teams from 1989 on.
When and where is the Championship play-off final?
The 2018 Championship play-off final is scheduled to take place on Saturday, May 26 at the traditional venue of Wembley Stadium in London.
Kick-off time has not been confirmed yet, but in 2017 the game was played at 15:00 GMT (10:00 ET).
|Date||Saturday, May 26, 2018|
The play-offs were not always held at Wembley and from 2001 to 2006, when the 'Home of Football' was being rebuilt, they were played at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.
Wembley has a capacity of 90,000 and the Championship play-off final regularly sells out the state-of-the-art venue.
In the past two seasons, attendances at the play-off final have reached just over the 70,000 mark, but they have been close to sell-outs too.
How can I watch the Championship play-offs?
All of the Championship play-off matches — and, indeed, all of the Football League play-off matches altogether — are expected to be broadcast live on television on Sky Sports in the UK. The games can also be streamed live online using Sky Go.
|UK TV channel||Online stream|
|Sky Sports||Sky Go|
In the US, ESPN and BAMTech have acquired the rights to Championship matches and ESPN 3 is the go-to channel to watch matches live on television. Alternatively, for online streaming, WatchESPN can be used.
|US TV channel||Online stream|
How can I buy tickets for the Championship play-off final?
Both clubs are allocated a set number of tickets for the final and fans can purchase directly from either club, depending on where they wish to be seated.
In recent years, prices have generally been the same for both clubs, ranging from £98 to £36 for adults, with the majority of supporters looking at £52 per adult or more due to the limited availability - and unpopular location at the back of the top tier - of the cheapest tickets.
Concession tickets - for children and OAPs are generally half the price of the adult tickets.
What happened in last year's Championship play-offs?
The 2016-17 Championship play-offs were won by Huddersfield Town, who subsequently joined Newcastle United and Brighton in moving up to the Premier League.
Huddersfield booked their place in the division's ultimate battle by finishing fifth in the league and they were joined by Reading, Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham, who finished third, fourth and sixth respectively.
The rules of the play-offs dictated that the third-placed team played the sixth-placed team in the semi-finals and the fourth-placed was paired with the fifth-placed team. So Reading took on Fulham in one semi-final and Sheffield Wednesday played Huddersfield.
Reading overcame Fulham by an aggregate score of 2-1, thanks to a Yann Kermogant penalty in the second leg, while Huddersfield defeated Wednesday on penalties after the sides could not be separated over the two legs.
The final saw Reading up against Huddersfield in the show-piece event and the game was decided on penalties after 120 minutes of football could not yield a victor. Huddersfield's on-loan goalkeeper Danny Ward saved a penalty and Christopher Schindler scored the winning spot-kick as the Terriers triumphed 4-3 in the shoot-out.
The game was played in front of 76,682 spectators at Wembley Stadium and Huddersfield qualified for the Premier League for the first time, having last played in the top-flight in 1972.