Now that our dreams of winning the Conference title have been smashed unceremoniously, we can now concentrate on the play-offs. With two games to go, third place belongs to Grimsby Town.* It’s our third successive year in the play-offs too. I’ve been doing a bit of digging, and it turns out that the Conference play-offs have a bit of a thing for the number 3.
First, a history lesson – and I promise to be far more interesting than Mr Thompson, my history teacher from school who actually managed to send himself to sleep in one of our lessons, if you can believe it.
Play-offs were only introduced to the Conference in 2002/3, so they’ve been around for 12 seasons. Doncaster Rovers were the first beneficiaries of this second promotion spot after they defeated Dagenham & Redbridge 3-2 in the final.
Which play-off position has the best success rate?
There are a lot of theories that fly about when it comes to finishing positions, so I’m here to tell you that the team that finishes 3rd has the best record of getting out of this sodding division.
Six of those 12 play-offs have been won by the 3rd placed team. That’s a 50% success rate, which is rather encouraging. If you can’t finish 3rd, it’s best to finish either 2nd or 4th because they’ve won three each (a 25% success rate). No team has ever finished 5th and won the play-offs (you can work that success rate out for yourselves – and you can have that fact for free).
Which teams tend to make the play-off final?
Let’s break it down further: 3rd place has featured in eight of the 12 finals, while 5th place has made seven. That’s right – seven times a 5th placed team has got to the play-off final, and they’ve lost every single one of them.
Second place has made the final five times, while 4th has managed just four. Well that explains why we lost at the semi-final stage in both the last two seasons, then.
After two failed attempts, Grimsby are hoping that it really is a case of third time lucky – and from my sketchy research, it appears they actually have history on their side (at least something is). But wait, there’s more…
Three really is the magic number
The first three Conference play-offs saw 3rd play 5th in the final, with 3rd winning each time.
Morecambe, Hereford, York and Cambridge are teams that are living proof of the ‘third time lucky’ mantra. Each of those teams failed twice before they finally won the play-offs – Hereford are the only team to have done it in consecutive seasons.
Just to counter that wonderful statistic – and to manage your expectations a bit – Wrexham and Luton have each made the play-offs three times as well, and lost all of them. They both did it in consecutive seasons too. Still, that’s 4-2 in our favour.
Incredibly, Town are the seventh different team in 12 seasons to make the Conference play-offs three times.
Last up, then. If you don’t want to invest any hope in what you’ve just digested, that’s fine. Maybe you’ve got a thing for sequences and patterns – never mind the respective abilities of teams and players, and the hundreds of variables that make this as difficult to predict as winning on the Grand National.
So, do you see any patterns in this lot below?
2002/3 Doncaster Rovers 3rd
2003/4 Shrewsbury Town 3rd
2004/5 Carlisle United 3rd
2005/6 Hereford United 2nd
2006/7 Morecambe 3rd
2007/8 Exeter City 4th
2008/9 Torquay 4th
2009/10 Oxford United 3rd
2010/11 AFC Wimbledon 2nd
2011/12 York City 4th
2012/13 Newport County 3rd
2013/14 Cambridge United 2nd
If you uncover any more play-off themes, trends or interesting statistics, I’d be interested to hear about them, so feel free to leave a comment below or let me know on Twitter (@RichMariner).
*I’m aware that Eastleigh can mathematically take 3rd place from us, and we could still reach 2nd ourselves. But, come on – both those scenarios are highly unlikely.