Those of you against some form of playoffs at the end of the season, what do you have to say for yourself now?
Bristol City, a relative lightweight who won League One just last year, stunned most pundits’ pick to win promotion to the Premiership, Crystal Palace, today with a 2-1 victory at Palace’s Selhurst Park. The hosts looked like they were going to pull out a draw after equalizing through a Ben Watson PK in the 87th minute, but David Noble came up with an absolute cracker of a goal from 30 yards in the 93rd minute to give City the win. Neil Warnock’s Crystal Palace side will now have to overturn the deficit in Bristol on Tuesday.
I don’t want to say that this was a true David vs. Goliath story, but let’s face facts: Crystal Palace was the form team coming into these playoffs having lost only once in their last 12 games. They had a +15 goal differential over Bristol City despite finishing three points behind. This is City’s first year back in the Championship, whereas Palace was in the Premiership just a few years ago, and their stadium’s seating capacity is only about 21,500. Palace have a manager in Neil Warnock who has a lot of experience in England’s lower leagues and took Sheffield United to the Premiership. Looking at his roster, he has quite a few players that are fairly recognizable to soccer fans in Clinton Morrison, Scott Sinclair, Shefki Kuqi, Scott Flinders, and others. City, on the other hand, have maybe one name you’ve heard of — Darren Byfield.
Suffice it to say that Palace looked to be the easy pick to go through to the Championship playoff final at Wembley, not Bristol City. If I was a betting man, I would’ve put a lot of money on it.
But that’s the magic of the playoffs. You can’t underestimate anybody because on any given day, any team is capable of getting a result. We see it all the time in the FA Cup and to a lesser extent, the Carling Cup. Yes, you can argue that that is because the Premiership teams don’t care as much about those competitions any more, but you can’t say that Crystal Palace doesn’t care about being promoted to the Premiership.
It’s not just the fact that City won, it’s the manner in which they won. After giving up that PK, they would have had every excuse to fold up the tent and take a 1-1 scoreline back home. To their credit, they kept fighting and were rewarded with a game-winning goal in the 93rd minute to silence the home crowd. It was something dreams were made of. Rarely in real life do we see something like that happen, especially not in a game as meaningful as today’s contest. You couldn’t script it any better if you’re affiliated with the Robins, either as a fan, player, or coach, and you couldn’t be more heartbroken if you support Crystal Palace. In one minute, their hopes of returning to England’s top flight were likely crushed.
You never know, though. Just as I said that David Noble’s goal and City’s win today was unlikely, Crystal Palace could come up with their own fairytale story and do the job in the return leg in Bristol.
That’s what the playoffs are all about — passion, life, exuberance, drama, and unpredictability. You just don’t get that during a typical 38-game league season when most of the meaningful places have been wrapped up with a month and half left to play. Sure, it hasn’t happened like that this year in the Premiership, but the fact of the matter is that the run-in of most seasons just doesn’t have much excitement. This season has been an anomaly in that regard.
When I see moments like I saw today, it just makes my desire for a playoff format even stronger. I hope that my recent posts on this topic have forced you to think about it a little more, to think about how we can spice up a league that has become stale at the top.