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The Beauty of the Playoffs

Bristol+City The Beauty of the Playoffs

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.

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18 Responses to The Beauty of the Playoffs

  1. I agree that there’s an argument to be made for playoffs. I made that argument on FanHouse yesterday:

    http://sports.aol.com/fanhouse/2008/05/09/how-to-make-the-premier-league-less-boring/

    Still, I don’t think you’re going to get people to buy into an MLS Cup-style playoff system to decide the Premier League champion. That’s one bit of tradition that English fans simply won’t give up without a fight.

  2. damir- says:

    No.
    A team that busts it’s ass all year isn’t really rewarded when they’re given more games to play…

    I think the Championship should do the top 3 teams get promoted.

    Otherwise, stick teams in groups and make them play for positions and to a UEFA tournament knock-out stage crap….

  3. Blake says:

    I’m over the moon about this result. I hope Warnock falls out here, too. I can’t stand that man.

  4. Sam Dalton says:

    I just believe the play-offs are terrific no matter who wins the matches involved.

    The tension, excitement and drama is what football is all about, and we saw some outstanding goals in today’s game between Crystal Palace and Bristol City.

    The extra games also provide some struggling clubs to gain some added revenue to help their financial stituation.

  5. Paul Bestall says:

    They’ll never be play offs in the Premiership and thank god for that. Todays game wasn’t any advert for the play offs at all, Bristol City choked when they went top and don’t deserve promotion. I have a lot of time for Gary Johnson, but I’ll be hoping that the team who finished 3rd go up.
    An awful system that ultimately rewards less skilled sides than consistent entertainers.
    An arguement against the playoffs? Derby County. Finished sixth last season, beat a much better West Brom side in a one off game and got promoted. This season they’ve certainly shown just how bad the play off system is. The worst team I have ever seen in the Premiership. I do not know one fan that likes the playoffs, an awful, awful corruption of the league format.

  6. Sam Dalton says:

    In fact Paul, Derby finished third in last season’s Championship, once place higher than West Brom who they went on to beat in the final.

  7. wanderer_abroad says:

    Paul Bestall I’m surprised you don’t know a fan that likes the playoffs because personally, I don’t know a fan that doesn’t like them. In my opinion playoffs help raise the standard of the leagues as teams are even more desperate for those 2 (or 3) automatic promotion spots and the competition is a real struggle. Currently my team, Wycombe, is in the League 2 playoffs and I would like nothing better than to be promoted, yet I have a feeling we won’t. The reason? We don’t have enough heart and steel. That is the real draw for playoffs, as it rewards the teams that want it more. As much as we English love good football, we have always placed heart and psychological strength above all, and I hope we never loose that in our modern game.

  8. Ivan says:

    If you follow the championship than seeing Bristol City beat Palace comes as no surprise. The championship if not anything else is competitive. I have watched several games involving City (cause of aussie playmaker nicky carle) and they have been consistently in top 6 teams in the league after gaining promotion. Palace got on a hot streak similar to Sunderland last season and havent looked back. I watched 60minutes of the game before falling asleep. The game in general was horrible. Carle who is one of the few technical players Australia produced recently is good and the ball and plays it along the ground. The rest of the team like to play balls from team up to the big cf. It’s effective no doubt. Palace didnt have the luxury of a CF like abedobla (spl?) so they got joy early on from using the midfield (unlike bristol city who basically bypassed the centre of the park) moses and sinclair. Both were stuffed out by good organisation.

    I missed the drama of the two goals one forty yard cracker ive read but from what i saw watching the game i wouldn’t be at all confident that any of these teams that go up will stay up.

  9. Ivan says:

    correction:
    Carle who is one of the few technical players Australia produced recently is good on the ball and plays it along the ground. The rest of the team like to play balls from deep up to the big cf. It’s effective no doubt.

  10. Hudsonland says:

    Using a single match as an argument for a play-off system is ridiculous. I could just as easily point out that (regular league) games such as Spurs-Chelsea, Spurs-Villa, and Villa-Chelsea this season show that there should be no play-offs at all.

  11. Michael says:

    The problem with that is both games ended in draws and two of the games involved Spurs, who leak goals like crazy, and Villa, who score goals like crazy.

  12. Kartik says:

    Trust me: The playoffs in the Mexican League are awesome, probably the most tactical soccer I watch all year. Teams there are used to the system so they gear their season towards the playoffs.

    Playoffs don’t work in MLS and maybe should be dumped because American Soccer fans are too european in their orientation and listen to certain radio hosts who think any league that has playoffs are mickey mouse. So the Brazilian league is a mickey mouse league I suppose.

  13. Paul Bestall says:

    They’ll never be introduced back in to the Premiership. The last play off system used was between the team that finished 3rd bottom in the Premiership ( back when it was called Division One) and the Chamipnship team that won through a play off system to meet them. The Championship side never won and it was scrapped after 3 years to go back to the standard play off system they now have.

  14. Sanjay says:

    Its sad to see the spite that is being directed towards the #1 soccer show in america- World SOccer daily. What makes me mad is when people make comments without really checking to see if they are actually true. Anybody who has listened to the show will be able to tell you that the hosts have never said that any league with play offs are Mickey mouse. Yes, at times they have called MLS a mickey mouse league, but that is for other reasons and not the play offs. If they felt that the Brazilian league was mickey mouse, would they actually have Tim Vickery as their weekly south american correspondent.
    And yes, people in this country are european in their orientation. But, is that a bad thing? Because, Europe after all is where the best leagues are..

  15. Michael says:

    Sanjay, I listen to the show daily — but for entertainment more than anything, not really to get my soccer news, especially not from Steven and Kenny. Yes, their guest lineup is great and is very informative, but the hosts are not.

  16. Tim says:

    All the “experts” predicted a Palace, Watford play off final. This weekend showed that might be the case, not that it matters too much anyway as who ever makes it will more than likely come straight back down.

  17. Paul Bestall says:

    Hmm, Watford have been in freefall since February. I still think it’s Palace v Hull in the final. Palace have the momentum and Hull have the skill.

  18. winstongator says:

    The two games that make an argument for a playoff are yesterday’s Chelsea and ManU games. Americans are used to titles being decided in a game where the best team is playing the 2nd best (at the time). We loved the Giants knocking off the Patriots, and people would have been appalled had a team like Ohio St. not needed to play LSU or Florida the prior year. How many more people will be watchign the champions league game than the last EPL weekend? Playoffs give each team control over their destiny – just keep winning. They also make for monster final game matchups. I’d like to see a 6 team playoff, top 2 with byes first round, first 2 rounds 2 legged. It would feel redundant this season if you had an EPL championship game and then the next week, a replay in the CL final.

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