Date:Monday April 2 2007
So now the dust has settled on the weekend draw at Bristol, the football league play-offs are once again looking like our best chance of promotion to the championship. Last season we would have loved to have been in them, this year we are trying to avoid them. How times change eh? The funny thing is as the start of the season I predicted promotion through the play-offs but of course this was before we found ourselves 7 points clear at the top of the table in November!
It is only when you are faced with the prospect of a 3rd place finish that you realise how unfair the play-offs really are. The case for the defence is pretty good of course; it keeps the league interesting for half of the teams in it, creates lots of excitement for the fans, provides teams with the chance to play at Card…I mean Wembley and of course there is the extra revenue created from the 2 or 3 extra games that you play.
On the reverse side of the coin is the prospect of finishing 10-15 points above the team in 6th place but losing out to them in a two-legged semi final where the only advantage is playing the second leg at home. What is more, the psychological advantage for those sides finishing 5th or 6th is clear for all to see as it provides a shot at promotion for teams who scarcely deserve it but represents a kick in the teeth for those who have just missed out on automatic promotion. For the last 3rd placed winners of the play-offs you have to go back to Gillingham in the 1999-2000 season. That fact does not suggest that playing the second leg of the semi-final at home is much if an advantage does it?
I am not totally in favour of scrapping the play-offs as not only is this unrealistic but they do have a lot of merit for the very reasons stated above. I would suggest using a similar system that they have in rugby league whereby the top side go straight into a home qualification match. That way, even if they lose this qualification match they still have another chance to qualify by playing a home semi-final but if they win, they automatically go through to the grand final. This system is seen as a much better way of doing things and I think it would be a very good move for the football league. Even if this system is not used, there has to be a fairer system that rewards the teams who finish higher in the league.
I am still hopeful that we might just have a sneak of a chance at grabbing second place but that depends on a combination of Bristol choking and Forest putting 5-6 results together so you will forgive me a bit of cynicism. One thing is for sure, the Easter bank holiday weekend will have a massive impact on the promotion race and there will be a lot of nails chewed over the course of those 48 hours. Let`s hope we come out of it still in that race for second spot or the lottery that is the play-offs lie in wait. Anyone getting nervous yet?
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