There’s a certain symmetry to the 3rd and 4th placed teams, 4th and 5th in League Two, reaching the play-off final, if you like the ‘two best teams’ after those already promoted. You can also add the Conference into that unusual statistic this season as well.
I have worked out that this year is only the third time in 29 seasons that the best two placed teams in the three tiers have made it to the play-off final. The last time was 2000, and in 1998 it also happened. I remember it well.
Everyone has there own theories on the play-offs, although few complain that they are a bad thing, as there is no doubt it adds some great excitement and also prolongs the season’s dreams. This season is only the 8th time that 3rd and 4th in The Championship have made it to the Final. It also happened last year when 4th placed QPR scraped past Derby.
This season both Middlesbrough and Norwich had to overcome the massive disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion in the final week, but both came through their semi-finals relatively unscathed with Norwich having the extra burden of playing their local rivals.
There were big gulfs in the end of season points tally in all three divisions, especially League Two, and unusually true to form the ‘better’ sides came through.
League One has the most regular occurrences of the 3rd and 4th placed teams making it to Wembley. 13 out of 29 years it has happened with ironically the last time it not happening was, yes you guessed it, when the Addicks finished 4th in 2009/10!
Preston had to come back from the depths of despair but comfortably saw off Chesterfield, whilst Swindon had that humdinger of a tie against always the bridesmaid, Sheffield United.
This season then the fifth in a row where the 5th and 6th placed teams were dispensed with. A year ago 4th placed Rotherham overcame Leyton Orient on nail-biting penalties and the fortunes of those two clubs are now very different, sadly for the O’s.
For the statto’s amongst us, the 4th placed team has won the League One play-off final in each of the past four seasons, so pile your money on Swindon Town on Sunday.
Three up automatically in League Two of course and ten times in the past 29 seasons, the two teams finishing closest to automatic promotion have made it through to the final. The last time though was in 2008 when Stockport County, now in the Conference North, beat Rochdale.
There was nothing between Wycombe and Southend in the table after 46 games, just goal difference, and both suffered last league weekend heartache but bounced back well in the play-off semi’s.
Last season Fleetwood became the first 4th placed team to win promotion since Stockport in 2008, mind you only once this century has a 5th placed team won the grand finale. I have quite a bit of time for both Gareth Ainsworth and Phil Brown and tomorrow hopefully will kick off an exciting weekend of play-off finals.