How Do The Football Play-Offs Work In Every League?

League Football Play-Offs 2023 - A Full Guide On How They Work

The EFL play-offs serve up an intoxicating blend of excitement, drama, intrigue, torment and heartbreak for football fans each May. Four teams from each division battle it out in a bid to secure promotion, and only one can succeed. A great deal is at stake in each game, so play-off clashes are always emotionally charged matches that cause equal amounts of ecstasy and agony for the supporters.

To gauge the importance of these fixtures, we only need to look back to the Championship play-off final between Aston Villa and Derby in 2019. It was a tight match, but a Villa side featuring Jack Grealish, John McGinn and Tammy Abraham ultimately clinched a 2-1 victory, securing a coveted place in the Premier League. They are now flying high under Unai Emery in the top flight, spending millions of pounds on elite players in each transfer window, whereas Derby are languishing in League One.

If you are new to English football, you may not know how the EFL play-offs work and why they are such a big deal. This guide explains everything you need to know about them, and how each league determines which teams are promoted and relegated at the end of the season.

What are the play-offs?

The EFL play-offs take place after the regular season has ended. They are used to determine which team secures promotion to the division above. The play-offs typically feature four teams, beginning with semi-final clashes and ending in a winner-takes-all final at Wembley. They are organized by the EFL - English Football League - which administers the second, third and fourth tiers of English football. The play-offs were introduced in 1987, and they have taken place on an annual basis ever since, adding a great deal of excitement to the end of the campaign.

When do the play-offs take place?

The Championship, League One and League Two play-offs take place in May each year. The regular season typically draws to a close at the start of May. Some teams secure automatic promotion, and the teams immediately below them go into the play-offs. The two-legged semi-finals are normally held in mid-May, and the finals take place towards the end of the month at Wembley Stadium. These are the dates for the 2023 EFL play-off finals:

27th May - Championship play-off final

28th May - League One play-off final

29th May - League Two play-off final

How can I watch the EFL play-offs?

You can watch the EFL play-offs on Sky Sports, which has exclusive broadcast rights in the UK. If you are watching online, you can stream the action via Now TV.

How does Championship promotion work?

Three teams are relegated from the Premier League each term, leaving three new places up for grabs. The top two teams in the Championship table at the end of the season will always earn automatic promotion to the top tier. In 2023, Burnley finished top of the Championship after enjoying an impressive campaign under new manager Vincent Kompany. Sheffield United finished second, so they will also return to the top flight after a two-year absence. The teams that finish third, fourth, fifth and sixth always qualify for the Championship play-offs. Only one of those teams can earn a place in the Premier League next season, and the other three are left disappointed.

How do the Championship play-offs work?

The team that finishes third in the Championship table will take on the team that finishes sixth in the play-off semi-finals. The teams that finish fourth and fifth face one another in the other semi-final. The semi-finals are two-legged affairs, meaning each team will play one match at their home stadium. The team that wins on aggregate will advance to the final, which is held at Wembley towards the end of the month. If the finalists cannot be separated in 90 minutes, they play a 30-minute period of extra-time. If the scores are still level, a penalty shootout will be used to determine which team is promoted.

There have been three penalty shootouts since the Championship play-offs began. Charlton beat Sunderland on penalties after a 4-4 draw in 1998, and Birmingham prevailed in a shootout against Norwich in 2002. Penalties were required again in 2017, when Huddersfield beat Reading. The Championship was known as the First Division when Charlton and Birmingham won those shootouts, but it was rebranded to its current name in 2005.

Do away goals count in the Championship play-offs?

Away goals do not count in the Championship play-off semi-finals. If the aggregate scores are level at the end of both legs, the second leg will go into extra-time. Penalties will then be used to determine the winner if the teams still cannot be separated after 210 minutes of football. As such, the team playing the second leg at home may enjoy an advantage, as extra-time and penalties will be played on their turf if required.

Why is the Championship play-off final the richest game in world football?

Victory in the Championship play-off final will transform a club¿s balance sheet, as it is estimated to be worth a minimum of £170 million. Analysts at accounting firm Deloitte suggest that playing a single season in the Premier League is worth £90 million, which includes a cut of the huge TV revenues enjoyed by clubs in the top division.

If they are instantly relegated back to the Championship, they will receive two years of guaranteed parachute payments, worth around £80 million, taking the total to £170 million. However, if a promoted club manages to beat the drop - as Brentford did in the 2022/23 season - they will earn a minimum of £300 million. This explains why the Championship play-off final is described as the richest game in world football. No other single match results in such a huge payoff.

How does promotion from League One to the Championship work?

Three teams from League One are promoted to the Championship at the end of the season. It works in an identical fashion to the Championship-Premier League promotion system. The top two teams in the League One table automatically move up to the Championship for the following season. This year, Plymouth and Ipswich Town managed to secure automatic promotion. The next four teams in the table go into the play-offs in a bid to secure the final promotion berth.

How do the League One play-offs work?

The League One play-offs are split into two semi-finals. The team that finishes third takes on the sixth-place team, and the teams in fourth and fifth lock horns with one another. The team that ends up in third often has a significantly larger points tally than the team in sixth, so they are often the clear favourites to reach the final, but it does not always work out that way. The semi-finals take place over two legs, with one game held at each team's stadium, and the team with the most goals on aggregate will advance to the final. If the aggregate scores are level, extra-time and penalties are used to determine the winners. Two teams advance to the final at Wembley, and the winner earns a place in next season's Championship.

How does promotion from League Two to League One work?

Four teams are relegated from League One at the end of each season, leaving four places available for teams in the division below. The top three teams in the League Two table will always earn automatic promotion to League Two. It does not matter if you finish first, second or third, as the outcome is the same - a guaranteed place in League One next season - but you are presented with a trophy for winning the title, which is always nice. The fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh teams in the table go into the play-offs, and one of them will earn a place in League One next season. It means you can finish seventh in the standings, well below the league winner, and still enjoy the same outcome.

How do the League Two play-offs work?

The team that ends the season in fourth will take on the team that finishes seventh in one semi-final. The fifth and sixth placed teams will meet in the other semi-final. As always, the games are two-legged affairs, and they do not use away goals, so they can go down to extra-time and penalties if necessary. The winner of each semi-final will go through to the final, which takes place at Wembley at the end of May. One team will be jubilant, and the other team will need to go through the whole rigmarole again next season.

How does promotion to the EFL work?

Only two teams are relegated from League Two at the end of the campaign. This year, Hartlepool and Rochdale have suffered that fate. It means that only two teams can be promoted to League Two - the bottom tier of the EFL - from the division below: the National League. Wrexham, owned by Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, engaged in a fierce battle with Notts County for automatic promotion this term. It was close, but Wrexham ultimately enjoyed the Hollywood ending, finishing top with 111 points, compared to 107 for Notts County.

The teams that finish second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh go into the play-offs. The clubs that end up second and third receive a bye to the semi-finals. Fourth plays seventh in one eliminator, and fifth plays sixth in the other eliminator. All ties are one-legged affairs, and the team that finished higher in the table enjoys home advantage. The team that finishes second takes on the winner of Eliminator A at home in a one-legged semi-final, and the team that finishes third takes on the winner of Eliminator B. The winners of those matches then meet in the final at Wembley in mid-May.

What EFL play-off betting options are available?

You can browse a full selection of football spread betting markets on every single play-off game at Sporting Index. There are hundreds of different markets for you to choose from, including supremacy markets, total goals, the Win Index, total goal minutes, player goal markets and much more. Check out your football spread betting options on the play-off clashes and grab a stake in the action.

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