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Football League play-offs: Is third place a curse or is that a myth?

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - MAY 07:  Biram Kayal of Brighton and Hove Albion reacts during the Sky Bet Championship match between Middlesbrough and Brighton a
Image: Brighton finished third in the Championship this season

Should Brighton, Walsall and Accrington Stanley be wary of the play-offs after missing out on automatic promotion on the final day of the season?

Brighton and Walsall finished third in the Championship and League One respectively while Accrington ended up fourth in League Two - where there are three automatic promotion places.

The trio will now enter the play-offs as the highest-ranked teams in their respective divisions, but is that a positive?

Since the introduction of the play-offs in 1987 there have been several examples of teams missing out on promotion after finishing well ahead of their rivals in the regular season.

In recent years, Watford, Nottingham Forest and Ipswich have failed to win promotion after finishing third in the Championship.

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Highlights of the clash for promotion between Middlesbrough and Brighton

Sheffield United failed to make it up from League One in 2011/12 after finishing on 90 points, nine clear of Huddersfield in fourth and 17 clear of sixth-placed Stevenage.

But is it really a 'curse' to finish in third? The stats suggest otherwise.

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In fact, 39.50% of the teams that have finished in the top play-off place across the three divisions have been promoted.

Only 21% of teams in the second play-off spot have been successful while those in the bottom two places go up 19.80% of the time.

Positions of teams promoted in play-offs

Position Championship League One League Two Total Percentage
3rd (4th in L2) 10 9 13 32 39.50%
4th (5th in L2) 5 7 5 17 21%
5th (6th in L2) 7 5 4 16 19.80%
6th (7th in L2) 5 6 5 16 19.80%

Brighton, who finished 15 points ahead of sixth-placed Sheffield Wednesday, should be buoyed by the fact that 37% of the sides who have finished third in the Championship have gone up.

In comparison, those finishing fourth (18.50%), fifth (25.90%) and sixth (18.50%) have not fared as well.

Norwich, West Ham and Swansea have won promotion to the Premier League in recent seasons after ending up third in the second tier.

Where have Championship play-off winners finished in table?

Position Total Percentage
3rd (Brighton this season) 10 37%
4th (Hull this season) 5 18.50%
5th (Derby this season) 7 25.90%
6th (Sheff Wed this season) 5 18.50%

In League One, where Walsall finished third this season, the play-offs have proved more unpredictable.

Teams in third have gone up 33.30% of the time, a slightly better success rate than those in fourth (25.90%), fifth (18.50%) and sixth (22.20%).

But Accrington have more reason to be cheerful. Almost half (48.10%) of the teams that have finished fourth in League Two have gone up through the play-offs.

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Walsall thumped Port Vale on the final day but still missed out on second place

Those in fifth (18.50%), sixth (14.80%) and seventh (18.50%) have not enjoyed anywhere near as much success.

However, while the stats do dispel the 'curse' of third, only once, in 2007/08, have all three of the highest-finishing teams enjoyed success in the play-offs, with Hull, Doncaster and Stockport going up.

Who will win promotion this year from the play-offs? Watch all the games live on Sky Sports.

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