EFL League Two play-offs

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The EFL League Two play-offs are a series of play-off matches contested by the association football teams finishing from fourth to seventh in the EFL League Two table and are part of the English Football League play-offs. As of 2021, the play-offs comprise two semi-finals, where the team finishing fourth plays the team finishing seventh, and the team finishing fifth plays the team finishing sixth, each conducted as a two-legged tie. The winners of the semi-finals progress to the final which is contested at Wembley Stadium.

Contents

For the first three years, the play-off final took place over two legs, played at both side's grounds. Aldershot won the first League One play-off final in 1987, beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 2–1 on aggregate. From 1990, the play-off final was a one-off match, hosted at the original Wembley Stadium, while from 2001 to 2006, the final was played at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff as Wembley was being rebuilt. Since 2007, the match has been hosted at Wembley Stadium except for the 2011 final which took place at Old Trafford to avoid a clash with the 2011 UEFA Champions League Final.

When the fourth tier play-offs were first contested in 1987, they were known as the Football League Fourth Division play-offs. From 1993 to 2004, following the creation of the FA Premier League as a breakaway from the Football League, the competition became known as the Third Division play-offs, and since 2005 has taken its current name as the League Two play-offs following a rebranding of the remaining three divisions of the Football League.

Format

An example of the play-off format, from the 2000 Second Division play-offs Example of play-off format from 2000 First Division play-offs.png
An example of the play-off format, from the 2000 Second Division play-offs

As of 2021, the League Two play-offs involve the four teams that finish directly below the automatic promotion places in EFL League Two, the fourth tier of the English football league system. These teams meet in a series of play-off matches to determine the final team that will be promoted to the EFL Championship. The team finishing in fourth place plays the seventh-placed team in a two-legged tie, while the team in fifth plays the sixth-placed team over two legs, referred to as the "play-off semi-finals". The first match of the semi-finals is played at the side with the lower league position's home ground while the second match takes place at the higher-ranking side's ground. According to the EFL, "this is designed to give the highest finishing team an advantage". [1]

The winner of each semi-final is determined by the aggregate score across the two legs, with the number of goals scored in each match of the tie being added together. The team with the higher aggregate score qualifies for the final. If, at the end of regular 90 minutes of the second leg, the aggregate score is level then the match goes into extra time where two 15-minute halves are played. If the score remains level at the end of extra time, the tie is decided by a penalty shootout. The away goals rule does not apply in the play-off semi-finals. [1]

The clubs that win the semi-finals then meet at Wembley Stadium, a neutral venue, for a one-off match referred to as the "play-off final". If required, extra time and a penalty shootout can be employed in the same manner as for the semi-finals to determine the winner. The runner-up and losing semi-finalists remain in League Two while the winning side are promoted. [1] The match, along with the finals of the Championship and League One play-offs, usually takes place over the long weekend of the second bank holiday in May. [2]

Background

The mid-1980s saw a decline in attendances at football matches and public disenchantment with English football. A number of instances of violence and tragedy struck the game. In March 1985 at the semi-final of the 1984–85 Football League Cup between Chelsea and Sunderland where more than 100 people were arrested after various invasions of the Stamford Bridge pitch and more than 40 people, including 20 policemen, were injured. [3] Nine days later, violence flared at the FA Cup match between Millwall and Luton Town: seats were used as missiles against the police and resulted in Luton Town banning away supporters. [4] On 11 May, 56 people were killed and 265 injured in the Bradford City stadium fire and less than three weeks later, 39 supporters died and more than 600 were injured in the Heysel Stadium disaster where Liverpool were playing Juventus in the European Cup final. [5]

Initially the Play-Offs would operate for two years, but if they proved popular with spectators they could become a permanent part of the calendar.

Heathrow Agreement [6]

In an attempt to persuade fans to return to the stadia, the Football League had rejected a £19 million television deal to broadcast matches live on the BBC and ITV before the 1985–86 Football League season with League president Jack Dunnett suggesting that "football is prepared to have a year or two with no television". [7] In December 1985, the "Heathrow Agreement" was agreed which aimed to revitalise the financial affairs of the league. It was a ten-point plan which included a structural reorganisation of the league, reducing the top tier from 22 clubs to 20, and the introduction of play-offs to facilitate the change. [8] The play-offs were introduced to the end of the 1986–87 Football League season. [9] They were initially introduced for two years but with the proviso that if they were successful with the general public, they would be retained permanently. [6]

History

In the first two seasons, the team one place above the relegation zone in the Third Division, along with the three clubs below the automatic promotion positions in the Fourth Division, took part in the play-offs. [9] In the inaugural play-offs in 1987, Third Division Bolton Wanderers were eliminated in the semi-finals by Fourth Division side Aldershot who replaced them when they won the final. [9] [10] The following season, Rotherham United also swapped places with Fourth Division opposition when they lost to Swansea City in the semi-finals who defeated Torquay in the final 5–4 on aggregate. [11]

EFL League Two play-off nomenclature
YearsName
1987–1992 Football League Fourth Division play-offs
1993–2004 Football League Third Division play-offs
2005–2015 Football League Two play-offs
2016–present EFL League Two play-offs

The primary objective of the play-offs was achieved within the first two seasons, namely the reorganisation of the four leagues with 20 clubs in the first tier and 24 in the second to fourth tiers. [12] However, the popularity of the play-offs was such that the post-season games were retained and the play-offs were the first to feature four teams from the Fourth Division: [12] Leyton Orient defeated Wrexham over two legs in the 1989 Football League Fourth Division play-off Final. [13] From 1990, the format of the final changed to a single match played at a neutral venue, initially the original Wembley Stadium. The first winners of the inaugural one-off final were Cambridge United who beat Chesterfield 1–0 in front of 26,404 spectators. [14]

Wembley underwent renovations early in the 21st century and the 2000 final was the last to be hosted at the original stadium. Subsequently the finals were hosted at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, where Blackpool won their second fourth-tier play-off final, beating Leyton Orient 4–2 in the final watched by a crowd of 23,600. [15] The Millennium Stadium held the finals until 2007 when the match was moved to the renovated Wembley Stadium, the first such final seeing Bristol Rovers defeat Shrewsbury Town 3–1 with an attendance of 61,589. [16]

The game was relocated to Manchester United's ground, Old Trafford, for a single season as a result of a scheduling clash with the 2011 UEFA Champions League Final. [17] The most recent final, in 2020, was held behind closed doors as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom: Northampton Town defeated Exeter City 4–0 in front of an official attendance of 0. [18]

Since the first play-off final, the third tier of English football's league itself has undergone a number of re-brands. In 1993, the Premier League was formed, [19] a move which caused the fourth-tier league to be renamed as the Third Division. [20] In 2004, the Third Division was re-branded as Football League Two, [21] before the League's adoption of English Football League (EFL) led to a 2016 renaming as the EFL League Two. [22]

Prize

The financial value of winning the EFL League Two play-off is derived from the additional remuneration clubs in League Two. As of 2020, clubs in League One receive around £675,000 from the Premier League as a "core club" payment compared to £450,000 in League Two. [23] [24] The winners of the final receive a trophy. [25]

Winners and semi-finalists

Key to list of winners and semi-finalists
YearLink to play-off article for specified year
VenueLocation(s) of the final match(es)
Winner (X)Team that won play-off final, (X) indicates cumulative number of play-off final victories
FinalLink to play-off final article for the specified match
^Final played over two legs
RFinal decided by a replay
Dagger-14-plain.pngFinal decided in extra time
Double-dagger-14-plain.pngFinal decided by a penalty shootout
Runner-upTeam that lost play-off final
Semi-finalistsTwo teams that lost in play-off semi-finals
The original Wembley Stadium hosted the fourth-tier play-off final between 1990 and 2000. Wembley Stadium Twin Towers.jpg
The original Wembley Stadium hosted the fourth-tier play-off final between 1990 and 2000.
The final was held at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff between 2001 and 2006 while Wembley was being redeveloped. Millennium Stadium (aerial view).jpg
The final was held at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff between 2001 and 2006 while Wembley was being redeveloped.
The redeveloped Wembley Stadium has been host to the League Two play-off final every year since 2007 except in 2011. Wembley-STadion 2013.JPG
The redeveloped Wembley Stadium has been host to the League Two play-off final every year since 2007 except in 2011.
Bristol Rovers playing Shrewsbury Town in the 2007 Football League Two play-off Final. Bristol Rovers v Shrewsbury Town, League 2 Play Off Final, Wembley 2007 (515914825).jpg
Bristol Rovers playing Shrewsbury Town in the 2007 Football League Two play-off Final.
In 2011, Old Trafford was used for the final to avoid a clash with the Champions League final. Manchester United Panorama (8051523746).jpg
In 2011, Old Trafford was used for the final to avoid a clash with the Champions League final.
Wembley Stadium before the 2018 EFL League Two play-off Final 2018 League Two play-off Final - Pre-match 2.jpg
Wembley Stadium before the 2018 EFL League Two play-off Final
Winners of the EFL League Two play-offs along with runners-up and semi-finalists
YearVenueWinnerFinalRunner-upSemi-finalistsRef.
1987 Recreation Ground/Molineux ^ Aldershot (1) 3–0 Wolverhampton Wanderers Bolton Wanderers
Colchester United
[10]
1988 Vetch Field/Plainmoor ^ Swansea City (1) 5–4 Torquay United Rotherham United
Scunthorpe United
[11]
1989 Racecourse Ground/Brisbane Road ^ Leyton Orient (1) 2–1 Wrexham Scarborough
Scunthorpe United
[13]
1990 Wembley Stadium (original) Cambridge United (1) 1–0 Chesterfield Maidstone United
Stockport County
[14]
1991 Torquay United (1) 2–2 Double-dagger-14-plain.png [lower-alpha 1] Blackpool Burnley
Scunthorpe United
[26]
1992 Blackpool (1) 1–1 Double-dagger-14-plain.png [lower-alpha 2] Scunthorpe United Barnet
Crewe Alexandra
[27]
1993 York City (1) 1–1 Double-dagger-14-plain.png [lower-alpha 3] Crewe Alexandra Bury
Walsall
[28]
1994 Wycombe Wanderers (1) 4–2 Preston North End Carlisle United
Torquay United
[29]
1995 Chesterfield (1) 2–0 Bury Mansfield Town
Preston North End
[30]
1996 Plymouth Argyle (1) 1–0 Darlington Colchester United
Hereford United
[31]
1997 Northampton Town (1) 1–0 Swansea City Cardiff City
Chester City
[32]
1998 Colchester United (1) 1–0 Torquay United Barnet
Scarborough
[33]
1999 Scunthorpe United (1) 1–0 Leyton Orient Rotherham United
Swansea City
[34]
2000 Peterborough United (1) 1–0 Darlington Barnet
Hartlepool United
[35]
2001 Millennium Stadium Blackpool (2) 4–2 Leyton Orient Hartlepool United
Hull City
[15]
2002 Cheltenham Town (1) 3–1 Rushden & Diamonds Hartlepool United
Rochdale
[36]
2003 Bournemouth (1) 5–2 Lincoln City Bury
Scunthorpe United
[37]
2004 Huddersfield Town (1) 0–0 Double-dagger-14-plain.png [lower-alpha 4] Mansfield Town Lincoln City
Northampton Town
[38]
2005 Southend United (1) 2–0 Dagger-14-plain.png Lincoln City Macclesfield Town
Northampton Town
[39]
2006 Cheltenham Town (2) 1–0 Grimsby Town Lincoln City
Wycombe Wanderers
[40]
2007 Wembley Stadium Bristol Rovers (1) 3–1 Shrewsbury Town Lincoln City
Milton Keynes Dons
[16]
2008 Stockport County (1) 3–2 Rochdale Darlington
Wycombe Wanderers
[41]
2009 Gillingham (1) 1–0 Shrewsbury Town Bury
Rochdale
[42]
2010 Dagenham & Redbridge (1) 3–2 Rotherham United Aldershot Town
Morecambe
[43]
2011 Old Trafford Stevenage (1) 1–0 Torquay United Accrington Stanley
Shrewsbury Town
[44]
2012 Wembley Stadium Crewe Alexandra (1) 2–0 Cheltenham Town Southend United
Torquay United
[45]
2013 Bradford City (1) 3–0 Northampton Town Burton Albion
Cheltenham Town
[46]
2014 Fleetwood Town (1) 1–0 Burton Albion Southend United
York City
[47]
2015 Southend United (2) 1–1 Double-dagger-14-plain.png [lower-alpha 5] Wycombe Wanderers Plymouth Argyle
Stevenage
[48]
2016 AFC Wimbledon (1) 2–0 Plymouth Argyle Accrington Stanley
Portsmouth
[49]
2017 Blackpool (3) 2–1 Exeter City Carlisle United
Luton Town
[50]
2018 Coventry City (1) 3–1 Exeter City Lincoln City
Notts County
[51]
2019 Tranmere Rovers (1) 1–0 Dagger-14-plain.png Newport County Forest Green Rovers
Mansfield Town
[52]
2020 Northampton Town (2) 4–0 Exeter City Cheltenham Town
Colchester United
[53]
2021 Morecambe (1) 1–0 Newport County Tranmere Rovers
Forest Green Rovers
[54]

Records

Blackpool have been promoted from the fourth tier of English football by winning the play-off final on three occasions, more than any other team, while Cheltenham Town, Northampton Town and Southend United have won two finals. Both Exeter City and Torquay United have lost in the final three times. [55]

Notes

  1. Torquay United won the 1991 Football League Fourth Division play-off Final with a 5–4 penalty shootout victory over Blackpool. [26]
  2. Blackpool won the 1992 Football League Fourth Division play-off Final with a 4–3 penalty shootout victory over Scunthorpe United. [27]
  3. York City won the 1993 Football League Third Division play-off Final with a 5–3 penalty shootout victory over Crewe Alexandra. [28]
  4. Huddersfield Town won the 2004 Football League Third Division play-off Final with a 4–1 penalty shootout victory over Mansfield Town. [38]
  5. Southend United won the 2015 Football League Two play-off Final with a 7–6 penalty shootout victory over Wycombe Wanderers. [48]

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