Championship Play Offs | Stats, Records and Trends
How Often Does The Third Placed Team Go On To Win The Championship Play-Offs?
Brentford’s players must ready themselves for another assault on the Championship playoffs after narrowly missing out on automatic promotion for the second consecutive season. The Bees finished just two points behind second placed West Brom last term, and they ultimately lost out to local rivals Fulham in the playoff final.
They dusted themselves off and fought hard to try and clinch an automatic promotion berth this season, but they ultimately finished third yet again. Thomas Frank’s men racked up even more points this time around, and they were the top scorers in the division, but they ended up four points behind Watford.
Now they face a ferociously difficult clash with Bournemouth in the playoff semi-finals, and then either Swansea or Barnsley will await them in the final if they prevail. You might expect Brentford to dominate the playoffs after enjoying such a strong season, but how often does the third placed team actually go on and win the Championship playoffs?
The Early Years
The inaugural Championship season took place in 2004/05 after it was rebranded from Division One. Sunderland ran away with the title that season and Wigan clinched the runner-up spot after finishing just two points ahead of third placed Ipswich.
The Tractor Boys ended the season 12 points clear of sixth placed West Ham, but they lost to the Hammers in a two-legged semi-final. West Ham went on to beat Preston in the final, and a year later they were signing Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano.
It seemed harsh on Ipswich, who had 24 wins, 13 draws and just nine defeats that season, compared to 21 wins, 10 draws and 15 defeats for West Ham. However, in the following three seasons, the teams that finished third went on to win the playoffs.
Watford were successful in 2006, Derby prevailed in 2007 and then Hull City won the 2008 playoff final. Sheff Utd broke the run the following year, when they lost 1-0 to fifth placed Burnley in the playoff final.
A Mixed Bag for Third Placed Teams
In 2010, Blackpool finished sixth, but the Tangerines pulled off a massive upset by beating third placed Nottingham Forest 6-4 on aggregate in the playoff semi-finals. They went on to beat Cardiff 3-2 in a thrilling final showdown.
Swansea were third in 2011 and they made short work of Nottingham Forest and Reading in the playoffs to secure promotion to the top flight. West Ham followed suit in 2012, finishing third in the standings and then sweeping aside Cardiff and Blackpool to go up.
Third-placed Watford made it to the final in 2013, but they lost 1-0 to Crystal Palace after extra time. The following season saw Derby finish third, but the Rams lost to fourth placed QPR in the playoff final.
In 2015, Norwich finished third and they beat Ipswich in the semi-finals before earning a 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough in the final. Brighton were third in 2016, but they lost out to Sheff Wed in the playoff semi-finals, with fourth placed Hull then getting the better of the Owls.
Reading were third in 2017, but they lost a penalty shootout against Huddersfield in the playoff final. Fulham finished third in 2018 and went on to win the playoffs, but third placed Leeds were overrun by Derby in the 2019 semi-finals, with Aston Villa then beating Frank Lampard’s Rams.
Last season, Brentford went through to the final, but a brace from Joe Bryan handed Fulham a 2-1 extra-time victory over the Bees.
The Need for Momentum
It means that the third placed team has won the playoffs seven times in 16 seasons since the Championship began in 2004/05, a 43.75% success rate. The fourth placed team has been promoted on three occasions, while the fifth placed team has gone up four times. The only sixth placed teams to reach the Premier League were West Ham and Blackpool, and a sixth placed team has not secured promotion since 2010.
The statistics therefore appear to favour Brentford, but it did not work out for them last season. It actually seems more important to enjoy a sense of momentum ahead of the playoffs. Fulham were on a long unbeaten streak at the end of the 2019/20 campaign, and they had the confidence to get the better of the Bees.
Leeds totally ran out of steam towards the end of the previous season, and they were dismantled by in-form Derby, who ultimately lost to an Aston Villa side that also enjoyed a great deal of momentum. Fulham were in great form towards the end of the 2017/18 season and that helped them prevail in the playoffs.
That could provide Brentford with a degree of reassurance, as they won four games in a row at the end of the current season. They are unbeaten in 12 games – a run stretching back to 3rd March – so they definitely carry a great deal of confidence into the playoffs.
However, as the old adage goes, anything can happen in a knockout competition, so the Bees will need to maintain a high standard if they are to finally reach the Promised Land.
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