The Play-offs. Loved by some, hated by others. Glorious for the neutral, but agonisingly heart wrenching for those involved. Sunday’s limp display in Birmingham not only ended the best run in the club’s history, but also ended our slim automatic promotion hopes meaning that we are condemned to the play-offs for the second year in a row. Last season’s clinching of 6th spot in the league brought so much excitement and pride, yet there is a real sense of disappointment this time around. It was a poor performance on Sunday, the sort of football that we haven’t seen from Fulham in a long time, and it was hard to watch.
However, let’s not forget what this team has done this season. This Fulham side is incredibly talented and they have entertained us with the most incredible, unbeaten run this season thanks to some of the most beautiful football that the Championship has seen in a long time. Some of the football that we have played this year has been sensational, and it is vital that we remain behind the team to help them over the line.
If you have read my articles throughout this season, you will know that I love looking at the stats behind the game so I couldn’t resist looking at the play-offs over my life time, so over the last 25 years. The table below shows the teams that made it to the play-off final since 1992-93, alongside their final league positions and it highlights some interesting statistics-
The Key Statistics at a glance-
- The team who finished third have played in 16 play-off finals since 1993, and they have won nine of those finals.
- The most common final pairing has been 3rd v 5th, with this fixture having featured 8 times since 1992-93. The 3rd placed team has won just three of those fixtures.
- The team who have finished 3rd have only been absent from 2 of the past 10 finals.
- The team who have finished 5th are the next most successful play-off team statistically since 1992-93, having appeared in 13 finals and have won eight of those.
- The team that finished 6th have won the play-off final four times and have finished as runners up five times.
A lot of people like to claim that finishing 6th with momentum is the best way to enter the play-offs, but we know from last years’ experience that it isn’t quite as simple as that. We can see from the table that in 25 years the team that has finished 6th have only made it to the final nine times and have progressed through to the Premier League on just four occasions. What might be surprising is that they are just as successful as the 4th placed team, who have been promoted through the play-offs themselves just four times. The 3rd placed side are the most successful with nine victories overall, while the team that has finished 5th has won the final eight times.
What struck me the most was that the most common final pairing was between 3rd and 5th, with the team finishing 5th taking five victories. On this basis, I’d say that the safest bet would be Middlesbrough beating Fulham in the play-off final later this month.
But hopefully not.
The truth is that we have another chance to gain promotion to the Premier League. We got beaten in last year’s semis and then didn’t quite make the automatics this year, so that must mean third time lucky, eh?
That we got beaten on Sunday didn’t surprise me unfortunately. It is utterly Fulhamish to go through half a season unbeaten and then fall at the final hurdle. We have had our fair share of luck since Sunderland away and I guess it has just run out. I would say the initiative is now with the other teams in the playoffs. They will say “See Fulham got beaten. And by Birmingham for crying out loud! They are not invincible after all.” How frustrating to look back on Sunday and realise how close we were to automatic promotion. Just one more performance guys. Then you can go on holiday. Reading did us a huge favour and we didn’t take advantage of it. Well what do you make of that?
I am now fearful more than at any stage since December to be honest. I hope I am wrong but I can feel a sense of anti-climax. In the press, from supporters and even between the lines of some of the comments from the players. We peaked a week early. Can we come back? Of course we can but suddenly it feels like a tough assignment. Three more games against some of the toughest opponents in the Championship. And they will all believe they can beat us after Birmingham. I can hardly bear to watch. COYW.