NA­TIONAL LEAGUE PLAY-OFF SYS­TEM IS FAIRER...

The Football League Paper - - ADAM VIRGO -

WHEN the Na­tional League an­nounced changes to the play-off for­mat last year, I wasn’t con­vinced. In­stead of four teams it is now six. And in­stead of two-legged semi-fi­nals, we have a se­ries of one-off matches - with the higher team get­ting home ad­van­tage. In short, if you fin­ish sec­ond or third, you get a first-round bye then play one home game to get to Wem­b­ley. If you fin­ish sixth or sev­enth, you have to play two away games just to reach the fi­nal. My main ob­jec­tion was one of fair­ness. When Bar­row fin­ished sev­enth last year, they were closer to the rel­e­ga­tion zone than they were to win­ning the league. Had they re­ally done enough to merit a place in the EFL? But hav­ing seen it in ac­tion - this year’s fi­nal was Tran­mere, who fin­ished sec­ond, ver­sus Bore­ham Wood, who fin­ished fourth - I think it works re­ally well. Why? Be­cause the ad­van­tage given to the higher placed teams is so much greater than just play­ing a sec­ond leg at home. In the first round, for in­stance, Bore­ham Wood beat sev­en­th­placed Fylde at home. If that game had been played over two legs, I think Fylde would have won be­cause they’ve got one of the best home records in the di­vi­sion. But - thanks to the new sys­tem - that ad­van­tage was taken away. In the other elim­i­na­tor, sixth-placed Ebb­s­fleet went to ex­tra-time and penal­ties at fifth­placed Alder­shot. They won, but when they played Tran­mere three days later, they were ab­so­lutely knack­ered. Would it work in the EFL? I think so. Can you imag­ine a se­ries of one-game shootouts in the Cham­pi­onship - it would be amaz­ing! And look at League One, where Shrews­bury fin­ished 16 points above semi-fi­nal op­po­nents Charl­ton. Doesn’t that de­serve more than just a sec­ond leg at home? It would be great to see the sys­tem im­ple­mented, but foot­ball loves its tra­di­tions and I think there’d be melt­down if any­one tried. Which is a shame, be­cause it is def­i­nitely fairer.

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