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Winning The Play-Offs: Does Form Going In Matter?

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All superstition aside, all logic points to the fact that we should now start thinking about Reading in the play-offs. With that in mind, is there any link between form going in, and whether you win that juicy promotion prize?

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Over the years Reading have gone into the play-offs in various degrees of form, mindsets and mentalities. We've had the plucky underdog years of 1995 & 2003. The seasons when we've failed miserably to win automatic promotion and it's felt like a damp squib/squid (2001 & 2009) and 2011 when we just didn't know what to think. The common link between them? We bloody lost.

So, while we've never found the magic formula for winning the damn thing, is there anything history can tell us from the teams that have won the second tier play-offs since it became the Championship in 2004/05?

With eight games still to go, I've taken a look to see whether results over the final games in a season has had any link with who's made it up. The common thought is that it's best to go into this lethal lottery in top form but has form always dictated the winner? Here's how it shakes out, sorted from most points down:

Championship Play-Off Winners
Year Team League Position Points In Last Eight
2010 Blackpool 6th 19
2015 Norwich 3rd 19
2012 West Ham 3rd 17
2005 West Ham 6th 17
2008 Hull 3rd 16
2009 Burnley 5th 15
2016 Hull 4th 14
2007 Derby 3rd 14
2011 Swansea 3rd 14
2006 Watford 3rd 12
2014 QPR 4th 11
2013 Crystal Palace 5th 6
Average 14.5

With 67 points and a six point cushion, it's possible to see a scenario where Reading limp into the play-offs on around 73-76 points. Yet that would mean we'd have picked up just six to nine points from our final eight fixtures, a tally that's only seen one team promoted, Ian Holloway's Crystal Palace side of 2013.

Limping in rarely seems to work, and Reading need at least three wins and two draws from our final eight games just to match the second lowest total of 11, set by Bobby Zamora QPR in 2014, on their way to beating Derby at Wembley.

Positions Win Prizes?

Fourth, fifth and sixth placed teams have all ended up winning twice, although sixth placed teams have only succeeded on the back of storming runs to end the season.

Blackpool lost just one of their final eight games on their way to an unexpected promotion in 2010 while West Ham pipped Steve Coppell's Reading to the final play-off spot in 2005, after a run that saw them earn 17 points out of a possible 24. Burnley's 15 points saw them into fifth and eventually on to the Premier League in 2009, again at Reading expense, while Palace are again the statistical freak of this whole table. However, given Reading's tags as this season's 'statistical freaks' could lightning strike twice?

Teams that finish third have usually done so because they're a strong side and while the 'hangover' effect of just missing out on automatic promotion has certainly derailed teams in the past, 50% of the teams that finished there have eventually wound up Wembley winners.

What Will Reading End Up With?

Marc gave his take on Reading's run-in above, and Mr Mayo joined our TTE editorial team in giving his prediction for our final points total a few weeks back. The end result was a spread of points over those final eight games that ranged from 12 to 20, with the average coming in at a solid 15. That total is more than good enough to win promotion looking at past success, so fingers crossed we can at least tick the box.

Of course, form ultimately means nothing if you don't perform on the day. Tthe stats above don't include the teams that were in stonking form and missed out, so just because you do go into the play-offs on fire doesn't mean you'll end them that way.

Tthe bottom line from the table for me is that Reading can't afford to coast into these play-offs on the back of other teams doing us favours. Four wins should be the minimum target, and that means we'll have to win at least one more tricky fixture between now and the season's end.

Oh, and if we don't end up in the play-offs at all, you can feel free to forward this on to Fulham/Preston/Norwich fans, while I'll be at the Mad Stad next August to take the rotten vegetables I deserve for jinxing us.