Both Cardiff and Swansea have seen their dreams of automatic promotion fade and die over the last week – barring any dramatic points deduction imposed on title-winning Queens Park Rangers. Sports reporter Rob King looks at where we stand, and what could come next.
Very well then, the play-offs.
That seems to be the case for both the Bluebirds and the Swans, setting aside that tangled QPR disciplinary hearing now unravelling in London.
But if the two Welsh clubs must make do with the awful endurance test of the promotion lottery, they will surely do so in very different spirits. Swansea’s realistic hopes of a top two finish went west a few games ago. Cardiff’s ambitions collapsed in the most alarming manner when the Premier League prize was still very much a possibility.
Many of their supporters are still stunned by the dreadful defending which gifted Monday’s crucial match to a Middlesbrough team with basically nothing at stake. Norwich duly clinched their place among football’s elite in the game at Portsmouth that immediately followed. The defeat, and the manner of it, is bound to once again raise questions about the squad’s ability to deliver when it really counts.
Swansea, on the other hand, seem to be approaching the nail biting knock-outs in pretty good shape – two wins and a draw in their last three fixtures, and the probability, surely, of another success against relegated Sheffield United at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday. With the Bluebirds at Burnley, there must be every chance that they could leapfrog their rivals to finish third.
Now that might not usually signify too much. It may mean the Swans avoiding Reading in the semis, but such are crazy ups and downs of the end-of-season shoot-out that you do wonder if the identity of the opponents really matters. Last year many Cardiff fans were delighted when they found that they wouldn’t face Nottingham Forest in the final, seeing Blackpool as the better bet. And then….
This year, however, third place could end up as second place, as it were, if QPR are deducted 10 points or more as a result of those charges over player registration and unauthorised agents. Friday’s decision could leave everything up for grabs, although legal appeals would surely follow if the Champions were to be denied in the courtroom the promotion which they’ve so clearly earned on the pitch.
The announcement that the play-off semis and final will definitely go ahead on the planned dates, though, has now led some to believe a damaging points deduction is unlikely. I met a well-respected Cardiff fan who floated the notion of allowing QPR into the Premier League, but sharing ALL the money they would earn from promotion between this season’s 21 Championship clubs who either didn’t go up, or went down. That seems a decent idea – fair to QPR’s own players and to their own supporters, offering some compensation to their opponents, but penalising administrative wrongdoing.
It’s terrible time to be a supporter, in normal circumstances, but all the added uncertainty makes it even worse. Oh, and I think the whole play-off system is a cruel nonsense anyway. After a long season of 46 league games, whoever finishes third deserves to go up. But that’s an argument for another day….