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11/05/2007 No.16
Kevin Pullein
Friday May 11, 2007
  A profitable strategy for the play-offs

A profitable strategy for the play-offs in previous years has been to bet against famous and well-supported clubs because the betting markets sometimes give them greater respect than they deserve.

The best example this season is Nottingham Forest, twice European champions more than 20 years ago but now reduced to a scramble for the last promotion place in League One. Forest are favourites in the betting markets even though Blackpool, who finished just above them in the regular season, have much better recent form. The results a team have achieved over the past 46 games give a better indication of present ability than those they might have achieved in the more distant past.

The factors that influence the results of play-off games are the same as those that influence the results of all other games: the better teams win more often than they lose. In play-off semi-finals contested during the past 18 seasons, the highest-finishing qualifiers beat the lowest-finishing qualifiers 63% of the time, and the second-highest teams beat the third-highest teams 56% of the time. In finals the higher-finishing survivors beat the lower-finishing survivors 57% of the time.

The betting markets, however, can sometimes be influenced by irrelevant notions about a club's suitability - rather than ability - to win promotion.

Last season Watford were the highest-finishing qualifiers for the Championship play-offs but they were available at bigger odds than Crystal Palace, whom they beat in the semi-finals, and Leeds United, whom they beat in the final. Between 1999 and 2001 Birmingham City were knocked out in three successive semi-finals by clubs who were rightly perceived to be inferior to them in terms of size but wrongly perceived to be inferior in terms of ability: the increasingly familiar Watford, Barnsley and Preston North End.

In 1998 Charlton Athletic were regarded as a small club but they still won Championship play-offs that included Sunderland, Sheffield United and Ipswich Town. It is possible that similarly irrelevant notions are influencing the odds being offered about this season's League One play-offs, which include 6-4 for Yeovil to knock out Nottingham Forest in the semi-finals and - better value still - 9-4 for Blackpool to win the competition. Kevin Pullein is football tipster for the Racing Post

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