Baring a historic makeup of goal differential, Fulham are in the playoffs. Being four points out of fifth place means Fulham are locked into sixth. We may not yet know are opponent, but we do know the playoff format.
Qualifications and Who’s In?
The qualifications for the Championship playoffs are pretty easy to understand. The teams that finish in third through sixth place are the only teams that make the playoffs. Unlike some other leagues, there is no team from the top flight that competes with the lower division squads to go back up. The four teams for this year are Fulham, Huddersfield Town, Sheffield Wednesday, Reading FC.
The first round of the playoffs is held over two legs. On the first leg of the tie, the sixth place team hosts the third place team, while the fifth place team hosts the fourth place team. Since Fulham are locked into sixth place, the first leg of the semi-final will be held at Craven Cottage. The two semi-final games will happen on consecutive days, Saturday May 13th and Sunday May 14th. The second leg will be hosted by the team that finishes higher three days later (May 16th and May 17th). The winner of each semi-final is determined by the aggregate score of both games. In the case of a tie at the end of the second game, there will be 30 minutes of extra time. If there is still no winner, there will be kicks from the penalty spot. Unlike many other tournament formats, away goals are not a tiebreaker.
The Championship Play-off Final will take place at Wembley Stadium on May 29th. The two teams have almost two full weeks to sit and stew (and get healthy) before facing off in the final. There is no sporting event on Earth more valuable to the winners than this game. The last place team in the Premier League earns about £100M ($130M) in TV revenue for the following season. Because of the huge windfall to the winners, the loser of the final keeps 100% of the gate receipts from the final. The final is a winner take all match. If tied at the end of full time, there are 30 minutes of extra time (no golden goal). Once again, if there is no winner after extra time, kicks from the penalty spot will determine the winner.
Who is Fulham going to play?
With Huddersfield and Wednesday tied at 81 points, and Reading just one ahead at 82, the final positions of the teams will not be known until after the final day of the season. All of the league matches kick off at the same time on May 7th. Fulham of course travel to Wednesday. Reading travel to Burton Albion. While Huddersfield host Cardiff City. Neither Reading, Huddersfield, or Wednesday are facing a side with anything to play for, so it’s very hard to predict the results. Wednesday are far superior to the other sides on goal difference, so they will finish highest in the event of any tie. Normally, you’d want Fulham to take it easy, and just get through their game without anyone getting hurt. However, most reasonable people would see Sheffield Wednesday as the most dangerous of the possible opponents in the playoffs. If Fulham beat them in the final match, they guarantee they can’t face them in the first round. While it’s hard to suggest a team throwing a match, Wednesday should also want to avoid Fulham in the first round. Could they throw out a weakened side to try to avoid that? Whatever happens on the final day, Fulham know what they have to do to get back to the Premier League. They’ve been effectively playing play-off games for the past month. They have one month and three games to go.