2010/2011 Championship Playoffs Prediction: Cardiff, Forest, Reading or Swansea?

In the last several years of the Championship, there has been a trend developing that I’m surprised has not been made a big deal of.  Since the end of the 2005/2006 season, it has been the most unlikely team (in terms of recent history) who have gone up on the final day.  Not just in terms of recent history, but, more importantly, the momentum they have been building after being overlooked for a long portion of the season.

This year, I am sticking money down on (see below) and I believe it is the smart move (hopefully).

The last several years has seen a trend of clubs never before of the Premier League era go up, but that is not a prerogitive to put your money on someone.  There are 2 teams in the play offs this year who have never before competed at the top, but they are missing something that all the previous winners have had – the unbridled momentum they had going into the play offs.  On a tide of unrealistic achievement, Hull, Burnley and Blackpool have swished to victory.

But, as I said, this is no reason for Swansea or Cardiff to go up.  Here is my assessment.

Recent History
There are two types of teams who generally go up, either one who has been an established team, in their mind at least, and has come close several times but fallen short.  These teams eventually had all the right elements in place and gained the long sought after promotion in time.

They include, of recent memory, Ipswich Town who achieved playoff success in 2000 after several years of pushing back into the league in which they were original founders.  After a great initial season where they surprised everybody and finished fifth, they were dumped the next season and have not yet returned to the top, only being close on one or two occasions.

Bolton Wanderers had a couple of spells in the Premier League in the 90’s, and had gotten the bug and sustained a decent push towards promotion before achieving this again in 2001.  They have never looked back and are established in the League.

Birmingham City, though never in the Premier League, had been building towards it for years before they got the 2002 crown.  Aside from a couple of relegations since the 2002/2003 campaign, they have asserted themselves as a Premier League identity, quickly coming back up the 2 years they have been back in the Championship.

Like their midlands rivals, Wolves had been building towards promotion several years before they eventually achieved it.  An uncertain position in the Championship whenever they compete (they are usually as likely to do well as they could do bad), they would like to cement the place they want.  The initial relegation from the Premier League in 2004had them waiting 5 years before they were back in the big time.

Crystal Palace won the 2004 play offs in what may have been the most unlikely scenario possible that season.  Flirting with relegation and all sort of financial doomsday scenario’s in December 2003, Iain Dowie’s appointment looked a piece of genius.  he somehow took them not only to the playoffs, but to promotion.  Crystal Palace are one of the original alumni’s of the Premiership, but they have never survived a season in the top flight.  An unlikely story that mirrors some of the past winners that have been recent.

West Ham got promoted at the second time of asking in 2005.  They were always contenders for it.  The amount of drama that surrounds them means they are a big club, even if not at the level of other big clubs in England.

Watford fully deserved to win the 2006 play offs.  They were brilliant in the league, had a brilliant young manager and some brilliant diamonds (Ashley Young in particular).  They were unlikely at the start of that season to go up, and unsurprisingly were relegated for the second time in the Premiership a year later.  A case of too much too soon, as they weren’t prepared for the Premiership, languishing in the wrong end of the table of Division 1 / The Championship for years.  This is the beginning of the crazyness of the nPower (then Coca Cola) championship, where everyone could just as easily be a contender as relegation certainties.

Derby County hadn’t impressed on their return to the Championship back in 2002, their relegation from the Premier League had been hard to muster.  Until 2007, that is, they hadn’t really showed serious signs of promotion.  They beat a good West Brom side that day at Wembley, but were not equipped to go up at all, as the disaster of their final top flight season proved.  Another case of too much too soon.

In 2008, the Championship had long reached a reputation of unpredictability.  Whereas in the early part of the decade where teams had a solid grounding in the league, and if they missed out on promotion would be just as likely to be in the mix a year later, since Watford were promoted the whole dynamic of the league had radically changed.  Teams that were considered good quality for the division were slipping up and getting surprised in league position on regular occasions (read Ipswich, Leicester).  In turn, new clubs such as Hull were breaking the boundaries and getting promoted against all the rules.  Never before in the top division, they should not have had a right by history’s rules.

One year later, Burnley were promoted for the first time in over 30 years in another unlikely story.  With years gone by, they had mustered at best the top 10.  Under Owen Coyle’s inspirational leadership, Burnley were unlikely playoff winners as well.  Like several of the other playoff routed stars, it was a case of too much too soon, as they had never really prepared for the possibility of Premier League football.  Burnley’s stay was brief, but they made a lot of friends, and a new level of standard to build to.

Finally, last year, little Blackpool were promoted at the expense of one of this years contenders Cardiff.  As has been the case for three years on the spin, Blackpool were another team who by recent and overall history had no right to be competing in the playoffs, albeit winning the thing.  Time will tell whether or not they go up or down, but they have had a fruitful and competitive season amongst the big boys.

Since 2000, 2 promoted sides via play offs still remain in the top league, 5 have avoided relegation, and 6 had never been in the Premiership before victory.

Why is this important? The teams that had already been Premiership teams in recent years (Ipswich, Bolton, West Ham) before going back up the play off route, had been building steadily or hastily towards a return for years, depending on the club itself.  In recent years, the most unlikely team has won the final, as in the team that was expected to be nowhere near contention.  Below are the list of this year’s finalists.

In the mix

Cardiff City CrestCardiff have been perennial choke artists for quite some time.  They have several excellent players, and have been building up to something for quite a few years, but they always seem to slip whenever they are in a destiny in their own hands type of situation.  By all rights, with their squad depth they probably should have already been in the Premier League, but there is a fragility in the club.  They have been in great positions over the last 3 or so years, but always seem to fall by the wayside.  When Blackpool took a 3-2 lead in last years play off, they seemed to lose belief when they were excrutiatingly close.  With their latest low against Middlesborough (a 3-0 home deficit), they are still clearly in this funk.  If they did get promoted, they would probably be in good shape for a promoted side, but thats a big if.

2010/2011 Championship Playoffs Prediction: Cardiff, Forest, Reading or Swansea?Swansea have done very well.  Like Cardiff, they have built as a club well the last few seasons, and also like Cardiff, plenty would fancy seeing a Welsh team in the English top flight.  There is a great support and a good football style projected by the club so those are plusses.  if they were promoted it would be all the better at the expense of Cardiff who have been more likely in recent years and they would have a fervent support. 

They seem to still be building up though as a club, and I don’t expect them to “choke” so to speak, but I would reckon they are not quite ready to take the next step.

2010/2011 Championship Playoffs Prediction: Cardiff, Forest, Reading or Swansea?

Should Nottingham Forest get promoted, I expect them to go the way of Derby County, which would not be in anyones best interests.  Nothing against Billy Davies, he has done a great job, but out of anyone in contention they look the most patchy of the lot, which is just a coincidence, nothing to do with Davies himself.  They have a few good youngsters and seasoned pro’s at the club which is in their pro list. 

They have a great history, a Premiership history, and competed in the play offs last year, so they have every chance, but they have been away for such a long time that should they get promoted I would only see disaster ahead.  I don’t expect it either, as they have been prone to underwhelming performances.  Though I would love to see three originals back where they belong in a romantic sense.

2010/2011 Championship Playoffs Prediction: Cardiff, Forest, Reading or Swansea?Reading are going to win the play offs.  The last several years has seen a trend of clubs never before of the Premier League era go up, but that is not a prerogitive to put your money on someone.  There are 2 teams in the play offs who have never before competed at the top, but they are missing something that all the previous winners have had – the unbridled momentum they had going into the play offs. 

On a tide of unrealistic achievement, Hull, Burnley and Blackpool have swished to victory.  I expect no different from Reading.  Last season they were in horrendous shape and not coping with life outside of the Premiership at all.  A lot of what the club had become had disintegrated and it seemed they nearly had to start from scratch.  Brian McDermott got everybody thinking straight again, they finished 2009/10 in good form,  Aside from a mid season blip, they have blistered into contention in such a way that their play off place was assured some time ago, when it looked against all odds. 

There is an overwhelming trend the last few years for form being a major factor in the play offs, and why shouldn’t it?  It is still the same season after all and training continues as normal for all clubs involved.  The most unlikely team to be in the play offs is basically the team who were not expected to be in the mix.  If you have gone from underachieving to overachieving your form is obviously sensational and this is where Reading are at.

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