Playoffs get serious

By Jonathan White Source:Global Times Published: 2015-5-8 5:03:01

Four teams just three games from Premier League

Bradley Johnson of Norwich City in action in their 1-0 Championship loss to Middlesbrough on April 17 in Norwich, England. Photo: IC

For the teams who made it into the Championship Playoffs, this weekend is the first of three games that will take them to the promised land of the Premier League.

Everyone wants top-flight football but for different reasons. The players want to prove themselves against some of the best in the world, the fans want to enjoy the inevitable win over one of the big boys and seeing their team at some of world football's most-storied grounds, and the chairman wants the financial security that promotion brings.

The latest figures published by Deloitte states that promotion this season is worth an estimated 130 million pounds ($198 million) and that's based on the team being automatically relegated from the Premier League. If they can survive their first season then they stand to share the spoils of the improved TV deal which comes into effect at the start of the 2016-17 season.

No one is in any doubt as to the importance of promotion. The journeys begin with Brentford traveling to Middlesbrough on Friday night and ­Ipswich Town hosting East Anglian rivals Norwich City in a Saturday lunchtime encounter.

Only one winner

Only one of these teams is going to make it up through the lottery of the Playoffs but which one?

History would suggest that Norwich City have the best chance of going up. The Canaries finished third in the league and over the past 28 seasons, the team in third has won the Playoffs on 10 occasions. That's a 36 percent probability that they will be having a knees-up in Norfolk on May 28th.

Of the other three teams, it's actually fifth-placed Brentford that stand the next best chance, with a 25 percent likelihood that they will be climbing the steps at Wembley to lift the trophy. Finishing fourth and sixth has historically resulted in a promotion percentage of 18 percent.

When it comes to history with the Playoffs, Ipswich's involvement this time means that they have been in the Playoffs a record eight times but so far they have only reached the final on one occasion. The good news is that they won that and promotion in 2000.

Despite that disappointing record, of this season's contenders it is only Ipswich that have ever been promoted to the Premier League through the Playoffs. Two years ago Brentford suffered their own playoff disappointment in losing to Yeovil in the League One final.

Results between the semifinalists this season indicate that there will be clear winners. Norwich triumphed in both of the Old Farm derbies while Middlesbrough took six points from Brentford, including a 4-0 thumping at the Riverside.

Recent form is perhaps a better indicator of what we can expect over the two legs of the semis.

Norwich have four wins in their last six games but the game that they did lose was against the only team they played who are now in the ­Playoffs, Middlesbrough. Boro's own form suffered as they risked it all to secure an automatic promotion spot. Despite three wins in their last six, Boro followed up their damaging loss to Fulham with a stalemate against Brighton to close out the season. Ipswich lost on the final day but also have three wins in the last six, but all of these victories have been at home. Brentford are perhaps the form team. They come into the first leg having won two on the bounce including that 3-0 win over Wigan that saw them sneak into the playoff spots on the final day.

Brentford's league position on the final day is all the more remarkable considering they were only promoted to the Championship this season. They are now within touching distance of the Premier League but it all looked very different at the start of the season. They only won one of their opening five games and that was against the shambolic Blackpool.

Fairytale stories

Brentford might be the romantic's choice for promotion but there are similar fairytale stories at each of the clubs vying for top-flight status.

Middlesbrough returning to the Premier League would be the first where the chairman and a first team player are uncle and nephew. Chairman Steve Gibson will be relying on defender Ben Gibson to keep Brentford at bay. An end to the Boro's six-year absence from the top tier would also mean a reunion for Aitor Karanka and his former boss Jose Mourinho.

Norwich manager Alex Neil is technically a Canaries player. His registration had to be moved from Scotland to England that way. The 34-year-old moved south of the border in January from Hamilton Academical, where he only became player-manager in April 2013. From the Scottish Championship to the English Premier League in two seasons would be quite the tale. 

Ipswich promotion would mean that Mick McCarthy could shed his playoff jinx. It would also mean that Tyrone Mings completes his journey from non-league Chippenham Town to the Premier League. Mings has impressed on the pitch but more off it. He cleared his mum's debt, bought new shirts for fans after his squad number changed and gave a broke supporter a pair of match tickets. 

These stories and more are waiting to fill the back pages, there's just the small matter of three games of football.

Posted in: Feature, Soccer

blog comments powered by Disqus