The Football League play-offs return this week, but what do you know of their history since they started delighting us in 1987?
Player of the Year
It has been a fairytale few seasons for Rickie Lambert. Southampton's top scorer for three successive campaigns, many educated observers (read; me) thought that he may struggle in the Championship, appearing at the second tier for the first time in his career. The 30-year-old has responded in style, bagging 27 goals and leading his side to consecutive automatic promotions. But Lambert is more than a goal threat, and only two players in the division have provided more assists. Four hat tricks, a 100% penalty conversion rate and at last a chance to shine at the top level.
Young Player of the Year
Although Adam Lallana has gained deserved plaudits for his consistent creativity, at 24 he has moved out of the 'young player' category. Instead, I have opted for Blackpool's Matt Phillips. Signed as a raw 19-year-old from Wycombe Wanderers before Blackpool's Premier League campaign, Phillips made just six starts last season, but this term has been given a much more prominent role. After a loan spell at Sheffield United, the winger has scored thirteen goals since November as Blackpool have qualified for the playoff final. An honourable mention must also go to Wilfred Zaha, who will surely be set for pastures news this summer after impressing at Crystal Palace.
Manager of the Year
I gave Chris Hughton huge praise after stabilising Birmingham City, but after missing out on Wembley it is difficult to look beyond the automatically promoted teams. Nigel Adkins has done an incredible job at Southampton in engineering a double promotion with the best home record in the division, but Brian McDermott gets the nod.
Through the loss of captain Matt Mills and star striker Shane Long, Reading were not considered as serious promotion contenders, despite reaching the playoff final twelve months ago. The club won just four of their first fifteen league fixtures and on November 1st were in 16th position. Since then their record reads P31 W23 D2 L6. It may have taken until February to reach the playoffs and mid-March to break into the top two, but Reading's title assault was timed perfectly. Nothing says it better - this is McDermott's first managerial job at a league club. An incredible achievement by a truly likeable man.
Signing of the Year
The effect of Chris Burke on Birmingham City after his transfer from Championship rivals Cardiff should not be underestimated, but my pick is Kevin Phillips. It's becoming impossible for pundits to say his name without the prefix 'warhorse', but Phillips' longevity is a testament to his professionalism and appetite for the game.
After being released by Birmingham City after their relegation from the Premier League, many would have thought that at 38 years of age, Phillips' time in the sun was over, and he would slip into a player-coaching role in the lower divisions. Instead it was cliché time; Blackpool 'took a punt' on the striker who simply 'knows where the back of the net is'. Lacking pace, Phillips has a superb 'football brain' and 'eye for a goal', and scored 16 league goals to help the Tangerines to the playoff final.
His business is goals, and business has been booming for approaching 20 years.
Although both automatically promoted clubs raised eyebrows with their consistency, the award goes to Portuguese striker Ricardo Vaz Te. In February last year the former Bolton player was signed by Hibs after leaving Greek side Panionios six months into a three-year deal. He was then released by the SPL club after scoring one goal in ten games, taking his tally to five league goals in eight years of professional football.
And then Barnsley's Keith Hill took a chance on Vaz Te. After an initial trial, he finally fulfilled his potential after years of meagre offerings. Twelve goals in 18 games at Oakwell led to a multimillion pound move to West Ham where he scored eleven goals between February and May.
A career in ruin to an outside shot of Euro 2012 squad selection. In nine months. Seems reasonable.
Underachievers of the Year
Difficult to look beyond Nottingham Forest and Steve McClaren. Upon arriving at the City Ground, the former England manager had squad that had qualified for the playoffs in successive seasons, and were second favourites for the title. He signed five players on permanent deals (all with Premier League experience) and two more on loan.
McClaren lasted less than four months in charge, failed to win a single home league game and won just three of thirteen matches in total. His replacement Steve Cotterill eventually took Forest out of danger, but for the troubled club it truly was a season to forget. A reputation seemingly enhanced after wilderness had been plunged into disarray once again, and McClaren was forced to perfect his Dutch accent for the second time.
Worst signing of the Year
I considered picking Matt Mills, on the basis that he left Reading to join Leicester for £5million, a ridiculous amount at Championship level. Reading were promoted, Leicester mid-table and Mills relegated from club captain to fourth choice centre back, failing to make a league appearance after February 14th. But there could only be one winner.
Brought to Doncaster Rovers by Chairman John Ryan, agent Willie McKay was put in charge of transfers, using his sway within his own band of mercenary men to provide the club with a multitude of loan signings. As I stated at the time, Doncaster had risked selling the soul of their well-run family club in the hope of surviving in the Championship.
Diouf, Piquionne, Beye, Ilunga, Chimbonda, Fortune and Goulon later, Rovers were relegated, bottom of the league and twelve points from safety. As the proverb goes, if you dance with the devil, you have to pay the piper.
Villain of the Year
Portsmouth should have known. When Vladimir Antonov used his parent company Convers Sport Initiatives (CSI) to complete a takeover June last year, many Pompey fans would have dared to dream, not of success or promotion, but merely stability. But Antonov simply continued the club's tradition of criminal mismanagement.
By November, CSI were in administration as the Lithuanian government seized his assets amid allegations of asset-stripping in his homeland. By February Portsmouth had gone the same way, a points deduction effectively relegating them to the third tier of English football, but with more immediate concerns about a viable future of mere existence.
Antonov may have released a statement indicating his stringent adherence of football's ownership rules, but fans and media are not fooled, and the Football League made its feeling starkly apparent in a statement: "The steps taken by the Football League were based upon evidence of proof of funding, together with related business plans. It appears that the evidence was at best misleading and possibly fraudulent with the league not being alone in accepting this evidence."
And finally...Team of the Year
Adam Federici - Reading
Nathanial Clyne - Crystal Palace
Ian Harte - Reading
Mark Hudson - Cardiff City
James Tomkins - West Ham United
Peter Whittingham - Cardiff City
Adam Lallana - Southampton
Mark Noble - West Ham United
Robert Snodgrass - Leeds United
Chris Burke - Birmingham
Rickie Lambert - Southampton
Daniel Storey - follow him on Twitter