Opinion: Points-Per-Game Would Oppose the Very Nature of the Football League

By Frankie Rudland

Just three years ago, celebrations on the south were still ongoing as the Blues were crowned champions of League Two in dramatic fashion.

Pompey were front runners for all of 32 minutes as they executed the mother of all smash and grabs to climb out of the EFL’s basement division. Paul Cook’s side put six past a helpless Cheltenham, sparking a pitch invasion that embodied the crazy, unpredictable, and bipolar nature of the lower leagues.

Whilst that day will take its place high in Portsmouth folklore, each club across the country would probably have a tale of their own dramatic Football League finale to rival it.

In 2013, both Doncaster and Watford were the benefactors of late missed penalties, scoring infamous stoppage time winners to clinch promotion and a spot in the playoff final, respectively.

To this day the mere mention of Troy Deeney’s name summons flashbacks to that operatic afternoon at Vicarage Road.

The blurred melee of yellow as fans clambered over each other to join the players in jubilant celebration, backed by a soundtrack of shrieking disbelief as the Sky Sports’ commentators attempted to construct a sentence that could reflect the bedlam that had unfolded before their eyes.

The polarised emotions as Anthony Knockaert sank into the turf, realising that he, in tandem with his Leicester team mates, must on this occasion play the villain in the Football League pantomime.

A breath-taking moment that will forever be fabled. Although Watford went on to bow out to Crystal Palace at Wembley, stories like these have an accompanying morale.

For sides that reside outside of the Premier League, promotion truly is a game of chance, where an injury, missed penalty, or a purple patch of form can render you a winner or a loser.

In stark contrast, we now face the grim reality of all that unimaginable possibility being replaced by an algorithm.

With the completion of the 2019/20 season looking increasingly unlikely, reports are suggesting that the EFL are poised to scrap the League One and Two season, with a points-per-game average the ‘preferred method’ for settling promotion and relegation disputes.

This would see each sides’ current success home and away accounted for, and an average number of points then awarded based on how many of each match they have left.

Such an outcome would see the Blues slip from their current 4th spot to 7th, meaning that any potential suggestion of a playoff would still exclude Kenny Jackett’s side.

To add some extra perspective, Pompey amassed 22 points in their final nine matches of the 2016/17 season, only recording one loss as they went on to clinch the title.

Had that tally have been decided by the proposed metric, the Blues would have only racked up a combined home and away average of 15.8 points, which would have ultimately cost them the title and automatic promotion.

It seems almost negligent to promote and relegate teams without them standing one of the toughest tests of the season.

With the finishing line in sight, mental challenges arise that can cause some to thrive and others to wilt, both of which we’ve seen happen on the south coast in recent years.

This exact sentiment has been shared by more than one of Jackett’s peers in the past week, with both Darren Moore and Micky Mellon voicing their objections to a points-per-game system being deployed to finalise the standings.

Speaking to the Doncaster Free Press, Rovers boss Moore said: “As a club or player, would I feel like I deserved to be promoted? Would I be sitting in a false position because someone has decided that’s how it should be sorted?

“This is the time of the season where, as a player, you can get a mental block and you can get funny results, it’s the time of the season where you find yourself going ‘where have they come from? They’ve put an incredible run together.’ A lot of it is mental.”

Whilst Catlin has insisted that Portsmouth will do everything possible to ensure that the season resumes, the news that a third Brighton player has tested positive for Covid-19 raises further questions as to whether it is yet safe to even consider scheduling football matches, even behind closed doors.

With both home and away fixtures to fulfil, players would have to travel across country, possibly aiding the spread of a virus that has already proven itself to be highly lethal and contagious.

For me, the safest and ‘least bad’ way to finalise the season is to render it null and void. Whilst it will unarguably sicken those who currently sit at the summit of their respective leagues, attempting to calculate what will unfold over the course of nearly 1000 minutes’ worth of football provides a grim and depressing summary of both this season and football itself.

Voiding the season should not be viewed as a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the sides who have underperformed, rather a mark of respect to the unimaginable escapes and title charges that have endeared us all towards the EFL and our local clubs.

To deploy the classic idiom, ‘football isn’t played on paper’, so why start now.

 

Photo: Andrew Hurdle

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