The race for the play-offs

After yesterdays excellent result against fellow play-off chasers, Leicester’s promotion push looks destined to extend the Foxes’ season for the first time since 1995/96.

But as any Foxes fan should know, there will be sides who hit form at just the right time to steal that play-off spot from any team that takes its foot off the gas. I say Foxes fans should know this because this is exactly what Leicester did in 1995/96. On 20th March 1996 Martin O’Neil’s men were 10th, four points behind 6th placed Ipswich. But following a run which brought seven wins and 22 points from their final 10 league matches, City finished 5th. We all know what followed.

This time however, it’s different. City hold a seven point cushion on 7th place and a game in hand over Ian Holloway’s Blackpool. In short, a play-off place is Leicester’s to lose.

How likely is it that Leicester will hold on to their play-off spot? The past five seasons seem to point in City’s favour, 15 of the last 20 teams to hold a play-off position at this stage of the season have managed to remain in the top six. But there are some horror stories too…

2008/09 – Cardiff City

Cardiff City have gained a very unwanted reputation as end of season bottlers. Last season provided perhaps the best example yet of Cardiff’s inability to close the deal.

The Bluebirds had been in the play-off positions since 30th November and on Easter Monday 2009 lay 4th, eight points clear of 7th place. Dave Jones’ side then proceeded to take just one point from their final 4 games, including a 6-0 defeat to Preston, the team who went on to replace Cardiff in the play-offs on goals scored.

2007/08 – Plymouth Argyle, Charlton Athletic

After 36 games both Plymouth and Charlton were occupying playoff positions, but the Pilgrims took just 9 points from their final 10 matches and Charlton managed a return of just 8 points from 30. Unsurprisingly such pitiful end of season form (relegated Leicester took 12 points from their final 10 games) was not enough to maintain their league position. Plymouth and Charlton finished the season in 10th and 11th respectively.

That said, the race for the play-offs has also proven to be quite sedate in other years. In the 2005/06 season the sides who occupied the play-off positions on 2nd January did so for the rest of the season with the exception of just one weekend. That year automatic promotion, play-off and relegation places were settled with 3 games of the season remaining. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

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