Leeds United play-off counterparts have already done Daniel Farke a huge favour in ironic Wembley boost

Leeds United's promotion charge this season looks set to involve participation in the Championship's end-of-season play-offs, and while the very mention strikes fear into Elland Road supporters, Leeds ironically do have history on their side.
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The irony is that Leeds' record in the play-offs is played five, lost five, but close to half of teams finishing third in the Championship table over the past 19 seasons have gone on to clinch promotion to the Premier League in the division's heart-stopping finale.

Nine times since the Championship's 2004/05 re-brand has the team missing out on automatic promotion the narrowest been promoted via the play-offs, which appears highly likely to be the route Leeds must take to ensure their immediate return to the top flight.

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In two of the last three seasons, the team finishing third in the table has gone on to win the play-off final at Wembley Stadium. Last year, Luton Town defeated Coventry City on penalties to book their place in the top flight for the first time since the 1980s, while the 2020/21 campaign concluded with Brentford going up via the play-offs, having also finished third that year.

Win, lose or draw against Southampton this weekend, Leeds will finish third, so long as Ipswich Town avoid defeat against Huddersfield Town who are all but relegated to League One due to their goal difference. The make-up of the play-offs means Leeds face whichever team finishes sixth in the table and therefore the weakest of the sides entering the end-of-season play-offs.

In each of the last four seasons, the team finishing third in the regular season has been 90 - or 120 - minutes from the Promised Land by winning their play-off semi-final and competing in the play-off final, even if only half of the third-placed sides have been victorious in that time.

Since 2017/18, the only team finishing third not to make the Wembley finale is, as luck would have it, Leeds, which despite history and the Whites' play-off hoodoo, does suggest third-place finishers have a significant advantage on those finishing sixth. This year, Leeds are likely to have earned around 20 additional points compared to the side they face in the play-off semis, which could yet be West Bromwich Albion, Norwich City or Hull City.

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Granted, Leeds' record is a miserable one, but that has little bearing on the outcome of this season's play-off campaign, if United are consigned to them on the final day. Those of a glass-half-empty disposition will rightly draw attention to the fact Leeds' 90-plus-point haul is the most by a team not to clinch automatic promotion in the Championship's history and therefore mood in camp will be one of disappointment, rather than excitement, having built momentum towards the end of the season like other sides who will contest the play-offs in fourth, fifth and sixth.

They may also point towards the failure to beat West Brom on two occasions this term, the stalemate with Liam Rosenior's Tigers at the beginning of the campaign and victory by the narrowest of margins against Norwich having gone two goals down at Carrow Road.

But the fact remains, Leeds have won 27 league games this season, four of which against tougher opponents than they could encounter in the play-offs. It might only require one more victory over 90 minutes to book their place in the top flight alongside Leicester City, and most likely Ipswich. In doing so, they would become the tenth team finishing third in the Championship to go up via the play-offs over the past 20 seasons and be nothing short of what their efforts this season have deserved.

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