Play-offs? Six of the best has got ap­peal

The Football League Paper - - JOHN LYONS - John Lyons THE FLP EX­EC­U­TIVE ED­I­TOR

IT IS dif­fi­cult to beat the play-offs for en­ter­tain­ment value, isn’t it? But are they re­ally a fair way to de­cide a sea­son’s work? When I’ve writ­ten about this sub­ject be­fore, I’ve likened the play-offs to run­ning a marathon… and then straight­away be­ing asked to run a 100m sprint.

There is some­thing il­log­i­cal about spend­ing nine months hav­ing a league where ev­ery­one plays ev­ery­one home and away to de­cide who’s best, and then mak­ing some of the sides play each other again.

Yes, I know it keeps the drama alive. If there were, for ex­am­ple, three au­to­matic pro­mo­tion places in the Cham­pi­onship and no play-offs, you could end up with a host of teams hav­ing noth­ing to play for in the clos­ing months of the sea­son.

With the play-offs, you can come with a late surge, break into the top six and have a dart at glory.

There is also the ex­cite­ment of those knock­out semi-fi­nals over two legs and, best of all, the chance to earn pro­mo­tion at Wem­b­ley, the home of foot­ball. In fact, it’s prob­a­bly the best way to go up.

But what sticks in the craw some­what is when teams who fin­ish miles be­hind oth­ers in the reg­u­lar sea­son then get the chance to turn them over in the play-offs.

Rules

It doesn’t seem fair that, for ex­am­ple, Ful­ham have to take on a Derby side who fin­ished a hefty 13 points be­hind them, or Shrews­bury must face a Charl­ton team who came a whop­ping 16 points in ar­rears.

Yes, those are the rules and the clubs abide by them, but it does leave a slightly sour taste in the mouth.

But if you don’t like the cur­rent sys­tem, you have to come up with a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive.

For me, the Na­tional League may well have cracked it. Some thought they were crack­ers last year when they an­nounced their play­offs would in­clude six clubs in­stead of the tried and trusted four. But their in­no­va­tive idea, for English foot­ball at least, has, in my opin­ion, a num­ber of pos­i­tives.

One is that there is a real ad­van­tage to fin­ish­ing in a higher po­si­tion. With the cur­rent four-team sys­tem in the EFL, there is lit­tle ben­e­fit in fin­ish­ing third rather than sixth. Okay, the team that fin­ishes higher gets home ad­van­tage in the sec­ond leg, but that is not a mas­sive re­ward.

In the six-team set-up across the Na­tional League’s three di­vi­sions, the teams that fin­ish sec­ond and third get a bye straight into the semi-fi­nals, while the teams fin­ish­ing fourth to sev­enth play off against each other in two elim­i­na­tors (4th v 7th and 5th v 6th).

Ad­van­tage

An­other plus is that the sec­ond and third-placed sides get home ad­van­tage in the semi­fi­nals (all the play-off matches are over one leg). There­fore, a team that are run­ners-up just need to win one match at home to reach the fi­nal (as Tran­mere did in the Na­tional League by beat­ing Ebb­s­fleet 4-2 after ex­tra-time last week­end). Some peo­ple will no doubt say the teams fin­ish­ing sixth and sev­enth shouldn’t be in the play-offs, but the fact is that they will have to do it the hard way if they’re to win pro­mo­tion. For ex­am­ple, Ebb­s­fleet, who fin­ished sixth, went to Alder­shot and won on penal­ties after a 1-1 draw in mid­week. They then had to beat a well-rested Tran­mere on the road again to reach the fi­nal.

If they had won away twice in quick suc­ces­sion and then been vic­to­ri­ous at Wem­b­ley in the fi­nal, I would have felt as though they’d mer­ited their suc­cess.

Alex Narey, the ed­i­tor of our sis­ter pub­li­ca­tion, The Non-League Pa­per, also sug­gested last week that the fact that play­off places had been ex­tended down to sev­enth place had helped bring about ‘a tighter and more com­pet­i­tive Na­tional League this sea­son’ be­cause more clubs felt they had a chance to do some­thing.

An­other pos­i­tive is that the ties are all over one leg. In this in­stant world we now live in, it’s hard to see much de­mand for two-leg matches. It should be al­lor-noth­ing on the day.

This sum­mer, the Na­tional League will no doubt an­a­lyse the pros and cons of the changes they made a year ago. The EFL will surely have kept an eye on things, too.

The play-offs could do with a makeover and this could well be an idea they end up copy­ing.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

BIG MO­MENT: Tran­mere Rovers’ Josh Gin­nelly scores their sec­ond equaliser en route to a dra­matic 4-2 ex­tra-time win against Ebb­s­fleet

PARTY TIME: Tran­mere cel­e­brate reach­ing Wem­b­ley

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