The league tables may well be finished and completed but for twelve teams in the Football League pyramid, the season and the drama doesn’t end there. Thanks to the play-offs, the dream of promotion stays alive for these clubs. Well, six of them at the time of writing (with all of the semi-final ties decided).
However, despite all the excitement that the play-offs bring, some see it as being controversial and unfair to the team(s) that finished higher up in the league who suddenly find themselves on level ground with their opponents -who may well have finished several points behind them after an entire 46 game league campaign. This is very true but the play-offs are ultimately a lottery. The fact that any one of the four teams can come out on top over two legs in a semi-final and then in a one-off showdown at Wembley is surely the beauty of the system.
Even so, the third placed team (fourth in the case of League Two) does benefit from being matched up against the sixth placed team (seventh placed in League Two), which should in theory give them the best possible chance of making it through. Not only that but the higher ranked side gets the second leg at home, which is seen as an advantage as it allows them to deal with the tougher task of the away leg first. If extra time and penalties are required then they will also be played at the home stadium of the higher placed team. With all of those advantages, surely the higher ranked side only have themselves to blame if they get knocked out. With all of the semi-finals in all three divisions decided, the only side who didn’t progress after having the second leg at home was Southend United in League Two.
Surely whoever deals with the pressure and performs the best in these games deserve promotion regardless of their league position. Again, if the fifth or sixth placed team goes up, the higher placed team(s) they beat can only blame themselves for coming up short when it really mattered. It’s often regarded as the best way in which to win promotion but also the worst way in which to fall short. Therefore, in a way, those who go up via the play-offs have done even more to earn their spot in the higher division as they’ve remained consistent in the 46 game marathon of the regular season and also in the high intensity sprint finish of the play-offs.
Not only that but with the play-off system in place, it gives more teams across all the leagues more to play for right up until the very last game of the season. A couple of weeks ago, sixth spot in the Championship went right down to the wire with Brighton stealing it off Reading in the dying minutes. Without the play-offs, this battle for sixth would’ve been very insignificant. It gives more teams genuine belief of being able to get promotion, or at least to have a shot at it. Certainly in the case of the Championship, the race to get into the top six is wide open every year and that helps make the league so unpredictable year on year.
Presumably, if the play-off system was scrapped, the third placed team (fourth in League Two) would also gain automatic promotion. However, if that happened, there would in all likelihood be far less to play for in the final few weeks of the season and most of the drama which epitomises lower league football in this country being lost. The play-offs are an integral part of what makes the English Football League so special. No other domestic league can offer Wembley Stadium as a venue for a promotion party, that’s for certain.
Photo: Tom (Via Flickr)