WLB Analysis | Play-Offs: Who The Stats Say Will Get Promoted


IT'S play-off time! But what the stats tell us? Our data boffin Will Dyer (@w2Dyer) looks at some of the key trends and how to benefit from that.

WLB Analysis | Play-Offs: Who The Stats Say Will Get Promoted

I’m already wrapped up in the magic of the play-offs; as a Swindon fan it’s something I’ve been heavily involved with in the last few years. Whilst it’s all ended in heartbreak for us lately, our recent record pales in comparison to the suffering Preston, Sheffield United and Brentford fans have had.

I thought I’d look in to the stats of the past few years to see if that can help us pick out a winner. Of course stats should be used in a combination with other factor when placing a bet but it’s quite interesting just how strong some patterns are from recent campaigns.

In this analysis I’ll be looking at three different trends; firstly what position in the table play-off winner have come from, secondly each sides current season records versus their play-off rivals and thirdly the historic play off records of each club.

Final Standings Analysis

The Play-Offs have existed in some shape or form since the 1986-87 season. The first two years had a format like Scotland whereby the play-off sides in the lower division played the relegation sides in the higher division in the final so those seasons have been discounted from this part of the analysis.

That leaves us with 26 qualifying seasons (25 in League Two due to changes in the League structure in the 1994-95 season). The winners in each division have come from the following places in the final

  • Championship – 3rd = 9 times. 4th = 4 times. 5th = 7 times. 6th = 6 times
  • League One – 3rd = 8 times. 4th = 7 times. 5th = 5 times. 6th = 6 times
  • League Two – 4th = 13 times. 5th = 3 times. 6th = 4 times. 7th = 5 times

The first thing we notice is that overall quality does shine through, if only marginally in some cases. The most winners in all three divisions since 1988-89 have come from the teams finishing highest in the play-off places, with the following percentages; Championship 34%, League One 31% and League Two 52%. That League Two percentage looks particularly telling.

Record vs Play-Off Rivals

I’ve looked at the regular season meetings between play-off qualifiers in the last three seasons. I think a team’s record against sides of similar ability can be very influential when it comes to the big knock-out fixtures and that seems to be well illustrated by recent seasons.

Each side will have played six games against their fellow play-off contenders in the normal season and I’ve looked at their records to try and find any trends;

2011/12 Championship – West Ham promoted

  • 3rd West Ham – W3 D2 L1…….4th Birmingham – W1 D4 L1
  • 5th Blackpool – W1 D2 L3……..6th Cardiff – W2 D2 L2.

2011/12 League One – Huddersfield promoted

  • 3rd Sheff Utd – W2 D1 L3……..4th Huddersfield – W2 D3 L1
  • 5th MK Dons – W2 D2 L2………6th Stevenage – W2 D2 L2

2011/12 League Two – Crewe promoted

  • 4th Southend – W4 D1 L1……..5th Torquay – W2 D3 L1
  • 6th Cheltenham – W1 D1 L4….7th Crewe – W2 D1 L3

2012/13 Championship – Crystal Palace promoted

  • 3rd Watford – W4 D1 L1………..4th Brighton – W2 D1 L3
  • 5th C Palace – W2 D2 L2………..6th Leicester – W1 D2 L3

2012/13 League One – Yeovil promoted

  • 3rd Brentford – W3 D1 L2………4th Yeovil – W3 D0 L3
  • 5th Sheff Utd – W2 D2 L2……….6th Swindon – W2 D1 L3

2012/13 League Two – Bradford promoted

  • 4th Burton – W2 D1 L3…….……..5th Cheltenham – W3 D2 L1
  • 6th Northampton – W1 D1 L4…7th Bradford – W4 D1 L1

2013/14 Championship – QPR promoted

  • 3rd Derby – W4 D0 L2……………..4th QPR – W2 D2 L2
  • 5th Wigan W2 D1 L3……………….6th – Brighton W2 D1 L3

2013/14 League One – Rotherham promoted

  • 3rd Leyton O – W2 D1 L3…………4th Rotherham – W2 D2 L2
  • 5th Preston – W2 D3 L1…………..6th P’boro – W3 D0 L3

2013/14 League Two – Fleetwood promoted

  • 4th Fleetwood – W2 D1 L3………5th Southend – W4 D2 L0
  • 6th Burton – W1 D2 L3…………….7th York – W1 D3 L2

A few things stand out from these numbers to me. Firstly in the last three seasons, that’s 36 teams in total and nine eventual play-off winners, not one side has been promoted with the worst season record versus their rivals. However, the team with the best season record has only been promoted on three occasions; Bradford in 2012-13, West Ham in 2011-12 and Huddersfield in 2011-12.

So, 33% of winning sides have had the best season record against their play-off rivals and 0% of sides with the worst record have been promoted. That leaves six other sides that had an average record and been promoted. Let’s see how that might affect the current season;

2014/15 Championship

  • 3rd Norwich – W3 D0 L3…………..4th M’boro – W5 D0 L1
  • 5th Brentford – W1 D1 L4…………6th Ipswich – W2 D1 L3

2014/15 League One

  • 3rd Preston – W2 D2 L2……………4th Swindon – W4 D0 L2
  • 5th Sheff Utd – W2 D2 L2…………6th C’field – W1 D2 L3

2014/15 League Two

  • 4th Wycombe – W3 D2 L1………..5th Southend – W1 D2 L3
  • 6th Stevenage – W2 D2 L2……….7th Plymouth – W2 D2 L2

It would be foolish to write off the chances of any side in a competition like this but for the purposes of the statistical analysis I will do just that.

It looks likely, based on previous seasons, that Brentford, Chesterfield and Southend will struggle in their respective play-off campaigns because they have the worst season record against fellow play-off rivals, in comparison to those play-off qualifiers.

Historic Play-Off Records

Many people don’t care for older historic records but there are some interestingly strong trends with some sides having a history of failure and others having a history of success in the play-offs.

Everyone at the club will be aware of such records, most obviously these things play on the minds of fans and I think that psychology does have an impact on management and footballers.

All 12 sides involved this season have made appearances in the play-offs before, 10 of them have made multiple appearances and only one of them has never made a play-off final.

  • Middlesbrough – Qualified – 2, Final – 1, Won – 0.
  • Norwich – Qualified – 1, Final – 1, Won – 0.
  • Brentford – Qualified – 7, Final – 3, Won – 0.
  • Ipswich – Qualified – 7, Final – 1, Won – 1.
  • Preston – Qualified – 9, Final – 3, Won – 0.
  • Swindon – Qualified – 7, Final – 4, Won – 3.
  • Sheff Utd – Qualified – 6, Final – 4, Won – 0.
  • Chesterfield – Qualified – 2, Final – 2, Won – 1.
  • Wycombe – Qualified – 3, Final – 1, Won – 1.
  • Southend – Qualified – 4, Final – 1, Won – 1.
  • Stevenage – Qualified – 2, Final – 1, Won – 1.
  • Plymouth – Qualified – 1, Final – 0, Won – 0.


Adding this information to the other factors mentioned the three teams I like from a stats point of view are:

Norwich tick all the boxes, an average record versus their rivals this season, one play-off final appearance from one attempt and their third placed standing has provided more winners than any other.

Swindon are the only side featured to have won multiple play-off finals. They’ve won three from four attempts, and have a pretty good record of reaching the final though their last three campaigns have all ended in failure. The last four League One play-off winners have all finished in fourth place which is a plus for them and on top of this they have the best record versus their play-off rivals this season.

In League Two it's all about the dominance of third place finishers and with Wycombe holding the strongest season record of W3 D2 L1 they look ominous here.

Best Bets

Championshop Play-Offs – Norwich to win (19/10 Ladbrokes)

League One Play-Offs – Swindon to win (3/1 Skybet)

League Two Play-Offs – Wycombe to win (3/1 Betway)

About Author

Will's an avid supporter of his local team, Swindon Town. He got into betting after a serious case of beginners luck landing a 14 fold BTTS accumulator. Whilst mostly transfixed to the English Leagues, he can't get enough of football and can regularly be found watching more obscure matches from around the globe. Will has a growing interest in American Football after watching the Atlanta Falcons in the States a few years ago. Outside of betting he loves nothing more than snowboarding, travelling the world and a weekend with his pals.

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