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How Do Teams Historically React To Play-Off Final Defeats?

Another promotion push? Mid-table obscurity? Relegation?! We look at how the Championship's beaten play-off finalists perform the following season.

Huddersfield Town v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Play Off Final Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

If you've read any of the messages from Reading players on social media in the aftermath of Monday's play-off final defeat, you'll be very familiar with the term "we'll learn from this". Indeed, that is the only thing you really can do in times of adversity, and the Royals will be desperate to go one step further next season.

Reading have historically reacted fairly well to play-off final defeats. After losing to Walsall in the old Division 2 showpiece in 2001, Alan Pardew's team went up as runners-up the following season. Then in 2011, the Championship play-off defeat was immediately followed up by promotion to the Premier League as champions.

But it's not always that easy. Here's how the play-off losers have performed the following season since the second tier was renamed the Championship in 2004...

Play-Off Final Losers

Season Play-Off final loser Position in the following season Promotion earned since?
Season Play-Off final loser Position in the following season Promotion earned since?
2004/05 Preston North End 4th - lost in play-off semi-finals No - relegated to League One in 2011
2005/06 Leeds United 24th No - relegated to League One in 2007 (as shown)
2006/07 West Brom 1st - promoted as Champions Yes - in 2008 as Champions (as shown)
2007/08 Bristol City 10th No - relegated to League One in 2013
2008/09 Sheffield United 8th No - relegated to League One in 2011
2009/10 Cardiff City 4th - lost in play-off semi-finals Yes - in 2013 as Champions
2010/11 Reading 1st - promoted as Champions Yes - in 2012 as Champions (as shown)
2011/12 Blackpool 15th No - relegated to League One in 2015
2012/13 Watford 13th Yes - in 2015 as runners-up
2013/14 Derby County 8th No
2014/15 Middlesbrough 2nd - promoted Yes - in 2016 as runners-up (as shown)
2015/16 Sheffield Wednesday 4th - lost in play-off semi-finals No

Automatic promotion

Just a quarter of the teams who have lost play-off finals in the last 12 years have gone on to earn promotion the following season, which doesn't bode well. West Brom (2007/08) and Reading (2011/12) did it as champions, whilst Middlesbrough (2015/16) finished as runners-up. Ben Brenton went in to more detail about this trio of turnarounds, which you can read here.

More play-off heartbreak

The most common position for beaten play-off finalists to finish the following year is fourth, as Preston (2005/06), Cardiff (2010/11) and Sheffield Wednesday (2016/17) have all done. Yet once back in 'the lottery', none of those three teams could even make it back to Wembley (losing to Leeds, Reading and Huddersfield in the semi-finals respectively), showing that prior experience often haunts rather than helps.

Preston would go on to finish in the top six again in 2009, but were still unable to break their play-off curse, in the end going down to League One in 2011. Cardiff would eventually earn promotion as champions in 2013, whilst it's only been a year since Sheffield Wednesday were beaten at Wembley so it's perhaps too soon to make a judgement on the Owls just yet.

Mid table obscurity

Worryingly, half of the last 12 beaten finalists haven't even qualified for the play-offs the following season, a route that I pessimistically feel that Reading will also follow. Bristol City (2008/09), Sheffield United (2009/10) and Derby County (2014/15) all achieved top half finishes a year after Wembley heartbreak, whilst Blackpool (2012/13) and Watford (2013/14) sunk into the bottom half.

The Hornets do bring a glimpse of hope however, as the season after their 13th place finish, they went up to the Premier League as runners-up. Other than that, it is pretty bleak reading. Bristol City, Sheffield United and Blackpool were relegated to League One before they even had another shot at the play-offs.

The nightmare scenario

The anomaly from the last 12 years is Leeds United, who went from beaten play-off finalists to bottom of the Championship in the space of a year. Problems behind the scenes led to the club's downfall and by October of the 2006/07 season they had already had three different managers. They went into administration at the start of May, meaning they were docked 10 points as they finished 13 points adrift of safety. You would hope that with the arrival of the new Chinese owners, this nightmare scenario is something that Reading steer well clear of.

What does this all mean?

Well, not an awful lot apart from the fact that it's clear that the season after a play-off final defeat really can go either way, and more often than not it doesn't go that well. Only five of the last 12 beaten finalists have earned promotion to the Premier League since (three of which did it at the first time of asking). Meanwhile, five other teams actually went out of the division the other way, with relegation coming before another shot at the big time.

It really is very hard to predict which path Reading will follow. On the one hand, with new owners who could be willing to spend and the core of a decent side already in place, it certainly is possible that we can build from this season and go one step further in 2017/18. Yet at the same time, there are lingering thoughts in the back of my head that we may have blown our chance and might not get another opportunity anytime soon. The Championship is shaping up to be of a much higher quality next year, so it's important that we don't get left behind.

Certainly with our abysmal record in the play-offs it seems that really our only realistic chance of promotion is finishing in the top two, but that in itself seems hard to envisage.