Since the playoff system was introduced in the English Football League in 1987 there have been plenty of fables and legends built up around them. From the players that have scored all-important playoff goals, to the crushing heartbreak of a penalty shoot-out defeat, the playoffs seem to built up a whole mythology of their own.
For some, the team finishing like a train and sneaking into sixth always wins. Another belief is that the first legs of the semi-finals are always cagey affairs, and that having home advantage in the second leg really helps.
The Championship playoffs in 2023 will see 3rd placed Luton take on 6th placed Sunderland, and the teams in 4th and 5th, Middlesbrough and Coventry, will face off in the other semi-final. Five intense and intriguing matches are ahead of us, but what is the truth about the Championship playoffs and how can we use this knowledge to our advantage?
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How do the Championship Play-Offs work?
Since 1990 the convention of the second tier playoff system has remained unchanged. The playoffs take place between the four teams directly below the automatic promotion positions, and comprise of semifinal home and away legs, with the higher positioned team playing at home for the second leg.
The two teams that triumph at that stage then meet in a one-off tie at a neutral venue, usually Wembley Stadium, to decide who gets the final promotion position into the Premier League. There is no away goals rule in the EFL playoffs, if a match is tied after the end of the second leg then extra time and penalties will be used to determine the winner.
Sunderland will host Luton in the first of the Championship playoff semi-finals on Saturday 13th May, with the return leg at Kenilworth Road on Tuesday 16th May. Coventry and Middlesbrough will play the day after, on the 14th and 17th of May. The Wembley play-off final will kick-off at 4:45pm on Saturday 27th May.
What’s the Championship Play-Off schedule?
Play-Off Semi-Final 1 (1st Leg)
Sunderland v Luton Town
Play-Off Semi-Final 2 (1st Leg)
Coventry City v Middlesbrough
Play-Off Semi-Final 1 (2nd Leg)
Luton Town v Sunderland
Play-Off Semi-Final 2 (2nd Leg)
Middlesbrough v Coventry City
TBC v TBC
Championship Play-Off Semi-Finals 2023
One of the myths discussed above can be backed up with the data from previous Championship playoff semi-finals.
Going back six seasons it really can be seen how cagey the first legs of previous semi-finals have been. The average number of goals scored in the first legs over that period of time is only 1.5. Only 3 of the 12 semi-final first legs in that period saw both teams scoring and only 2 of them went over 2.5 goals, less than 20%.
In the playoff semi-finals ahead of us Luton Town come in with by far the best defensive record. Indeed, Luton have the best away defensive record in the league having conceded only 18 goals in their 23 away matches. Sunderland only have the 16th best home record in the league, so given the history of the first legs evidenced above this first leg at the Stadium of Light looks primed to be a tight encounter.
Middlesbrough and Coventry have been a little bit more free flowing in their approach during the regular season. The teams obviously played on the 46th and final game of the regular season and it ended 1-1. There are likely to be more chances in this tie, but as we have seen, nerves definitely play a part.
Looking at the semi-finals as a whole the goals really pick up in the second legs. The average second leg number of goals is 2.42, almost a whole goal higher than the first legs. When this is considered with common sense it does make sense that the second leg is more likely to see goals as teams understand what they have to do. It is comparable to a first half/second half mindset.
It is also worthwhile mentioning the stats around cards given out in the playoff semi-finals. Over the same six year sample size, the average number of yellow cards in the first legs is 4.3, this is slightly above the 2022/23 Championship season average of 4.07.
Again, as the tension and desperation increases in the second leg, so do the disciplinary ramifications. The second legs see an average of 5.7 cards given out.
The final note worth making on the semi-finals is that two of the twelve went to extra time, and both of those ties went to penalties.
We like the look of Under 2.5 Goals in Luton v Sunderland, and also Over 3.5 Cards in both semi-final second legs.
Championship Play-Off Final 2023
The playoff final is often referred to as the richest match in the world as a result of the prize of Premier League football for the winners.
The size of the consequences clearly does have an effect on the type of match that is seen at Wembley. Going back ten years, the average number of goals in 90 minutes is an almost ridiculously low 1.1.
Only 1 of the last 10 finals has seen both teams score, and it is that same final, the 2019 final between Aston Villa and Derby, that went over 2.5 goals. In short, do not expect a goal-laden thriller from this match.
Indeed, the tension seems to extend to the officials as well. There is a below average number of cards given out in this match too, only 3.4 per final.
What is worth exploring though is a bit of a myth-buster. Of the last ten finals the most common match-up is between the 3rd and 4th placed teams from the regular season. Half of the 10 match-ups were contested by the 3rd and 4th placed teams, including each of the last three. Indeed, the 6th placed team from the regular season hasn’t been successful in gaining promotion to the Premier League since Ian Holloway’s Blackpool in 2010.
Regardless of who makes it to the final, history suggests that it would be a smart bet to back Both Teams to Score – No.
Written by an Andy verified content writer
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