I'm writing this before last night's home game with Stevenage, a game that will help decide Coventry City's fate this season. The Sky Blues need three wins from their final four games to make certain of a top-seven finish and thus earn a play-off position for the first time ever. They may not need three wins however, depending on the results of the clubs around them.
I've been doing some research into the teams that have played in the play-offs since they were inaugurated in 1987. The first season, for the only time, featured three sides immediately below the automatic promotion places plus the side immediately above the relegation places. So, for example, in the Division Two play-off games Charlton Athletic, who had finished 20th in the old Division One battled it out with Oldham, Leeds United and Ipswich who had finished 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively in the old Division Two. In the days before the play-off finals were played at Wembley, Charlton beat Leeds in the final after two legs and a replay, to retain their top flight status. The following season the system was unchanged and Chelsea, who finished fourth from bottom in the old Division One, were relegated in a two-leg play-off final against Middlesbrough. In 1989 the system changed and the four sides immediately below the promoted teams fought it out for the extra promotion place with a two-leg final. The final became a one-off game at Wembley in 1989 and has remained unchanged since then with the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff hosting the final when Wembley was closed for rebuilding.
In the 30 years since the play-offs were introduced Preston North End have qualified the most times, with 10 appearances, but have only made it to the final three times, all of them ending in defeat. Last season's Championship play-off winners Huddersfield Town are second best with nine appearances with five final appearances and four victories. Ipswich have reached the play-offs on eight occasions (all in the championship) but have been knocked out at the semi final stage seven times but won the final once in 2000. Lower down the leagues Scunthorpe have reached the play-offs eight times but won the final only twice. Tranmere and Torquay who are no longer in the league have both reached the play-offs on six occasions each.
Looking at City's possible opponents in the League Two play-offs there are mixed findings. Exeter reached their first play-off last season but lost at Wembley to Blackpool. Notts County have reached the play-offs four times. They won the Division Two play-off in 1991, a year after winning the Third Division final and been losing finalists on one other occasion. Lincoln have a miserable record, qualifying for the League Two play-offs five years running between 2003-2007, losing the final twice and semi-finals on three occasions. Mansfield, perhaps City's greatest threat of reaching the top seven, have twice reached the League Two play-offs but never won them.
All City fans are acutely aware that their team has never qualified for the play-offs but how many other teams have failed. The simple answer is ten but five of those have an unbroken run in the top flight since 1987 and one, Aston Villa, have spent only two seasons out of the top flight and gained automatic promotion in one (1988). Villa also look certain to be in this year's Championship play-off. Then there are the two clubs playing in the Football League for the first time this season, Forest Green and Newport County. The old Newport were voted out of the league in 1988 so barely had a chance to reach the play-offs. That leaves two others: Crawley Town and Oxford United. Whilst neither has been in the play-offs both have won promotions in the last few years.
So strictly speaking City aren't the only side not to have reached the play-offs but their record since leaving the Premiership in 2001 is without doubt the worst of all.
It's award time again and congratulations go to Jack Grimmer who has been selected in the PFA League Two team of the season. He is only the seventh Coventry City player to be honoured since the awards were introduced in 1974. The others are:-
1983 Danny Thomas (Division 1)
2009 Danny Fox (Championship)
2009 Keiren Westwood (Championship)
2013 Leon Clarke (League One)
2014 Callum Wilson (League One)
2016 Adam Armstrong (League One)Danny Thomas winning a CCFC player of year award
In 2015 the Football League (EFL) introduced their own awards and Lee Burge and Jordan Willis were the first City players selected for their efforts this season. The awards are testimony to the excellent defensive performances (Yeovil apart) put in by the club's defenders this season. It is still possible for the defence to set a new club record low goals conceded in a 46-match season. The record is 47, set in the 1958-59 promotion season. Before last night the team had let in 41 goals.