The lottery of the play-offs brings both risk and reward for the teams who enter it each year throughout the footballing pyramid in England.
A side can finish twenty points ahead of the other three teams but if they do not perform over a two-legged clash, all their hard-work can be undone in a flash. However, whereas winning a league title to secure promotion brings with it its own joys, fans would argue that there is no better feeling than seeing your side triumph at Wembley Stadium.
In Sheffield United’s case this season, they may have settle for the play-offs despite being just two points behind Leeds United in the Championship standings. The Blades’ defeat to Bristol City saw them drop out of the top two as the Whites secured a stunning comeback at Elland Road, beating Millwall 3-2 to leapfrog their Yorkshire rivals.
Although there is still seven games to go for Chris Wilder’s side to usurp Leeds and claim a top-two finish in May, he will know that any further slip-ups could be terminal for the Blades. With tough fixtures against Preston North End and Nottingham Forest to come in the next few weeks, United will have to be at the top of their game to secure automatic promotion to the Premier League.
However, if they do fall short at the end of the season, it could be argued that they will enter the play-offs as one of the favourites to win the competition with West Bromwich Albion likely to be their biggest challengers. The Blades are currently scheduled to face Derby County in the semi-finals and will take confidence from the fact that they beat the Rams 3-1 in their most recent match-up.
Regardless of who they face in May, Wilder will be confident of beating anyone if his side can produce the form which they have been illustrating throughout the 2018/19 campaign. A promotion via the play-offs would not only give the club’s supporters a day to remember at Wembley Stadium but it would also hugely beneficial financially. Fulham’s 1-0 victory over Aston Villain the final of the competition last season saw them receive £94.7m this season which will eventually rise to a total of £174.8m over the next two campaigns (via the Independent).
On an individual basis, Wilder’s record when reaching the play-offs is a perfect one as he won his one and only final as a manager whilst in charge of Oxford United as the Yellows defeated York City to achieve promotion to League Two in 2010. This experience of triumphing could therefore prove to be vital for the Blades if they are to miss out on a top-two finish in the Championship this year.
What do you think United fans? Would you take guaranteed success in the play-offs over automatic promotion? Or should your club prioritise a top-two finish instead? Let us know below.
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