How playing behind closed doors could help shape the Championship Play-Offs
There is still plenty to be decided when the EFL Championship gets back underway on June 20th. Although Leeds and West Brom are seemingly destined to play Premier League football next season, the play-off picture is far less clear-cut.
With the remaining fixtures being played behind closed doors, the form book is likely to be thrown out of the window and this seismic change is likely to affect the promotion hopefuls in very different ways.
Following Saturday’s announcement by the Government to allow elite sporting events to return behind closed doors, the EFL has this weekend agreed to a provisional restart date of the weekend of 20 June 2020 for matches in the Sky Bet Championship. #NFFC pic.twitter.com/9D3sGXoCfO
— Nottingham Forest FC (@NFFC) May 31, 2020
As former West Ham defender Alvin Martin explains as part of some recent research, the atmosphere created by home fans “helps give you an extra five or ten percent” which in turn can give players a significant psychological boost. Anyone who has been following the Bundesliga over the past couple of weeks will have noticed the largely sterile atmosphere and with every single echo reverberating around the stadium, it creates an unusual situation for both sets of players. Home advantage appears to be a thing of the past in the German top flight, and with around 50% of away sides picking up maximum points since mid-May, it’s a trend which is likely to be reproduced in the Championship.
Who Will it Benefit?
Bristol City are one of two clubs who could potentially benefit from playing behind closed doors over the coming weeks. Despite being on the fringes of the play-offs, the Robins have won just seven times at Ashton Gate this campaign, and have been far more efficient on their travels. Only three teams have a better record on the road than Lee Johnson’s men, and although they weren’t helped by the departure of key players in January, they still remain firmly in contention for a top six finish.
Nottingham Forest are another side who have failed to benefit from home comforts this season, and Sabri Lamouchi’s men are unlikely to be overly fazed by an empty City Ground. The Tricky Trees have lost just three times on the road this season, and a combination of their solid defence and unwavering belief in the system has helped them become formidable travellers this campaign. The East Midlands outfit have already taken a point off West Brom at the Hawthorns this season, and were the first team to leave Elland Road with something to show for their efforts.
EFL Championship 2019-20 – Average Total Attendance as a % of total capacity (After GW37)
1 #LTFC 97%
2 #FFC 95.8%
3 #Brentford 95.1%
4 #LUFC 92.3%
5 #NFFC 91.1%
6 #HTAFC 90.2%
7 #WBA 89.1%
8 #BristolCity 80.8% pic.twitter.com/y8OqirlojN
— EFL Stats (@EFLStats) June 8, 2020
Who Will it Hinder?
Preston have the fourth best home record in the Championship with the Lilywhites winning 11 of their 19 matches at Deepdale this season. Alex Neil has acknowledged that his side have struggled to replicate this on the road, and without the passionate home crowd roaring them on, PNE could be in danger of slipping out of the play-off picture altogether.
It may also hinder Leeds United’s title hopes, with the Whites boasting the third best home record in the division. Marcelo Bielsa’s side have been defeated just three times at Elland Road, and are clearly helped by their incredibly passionate following. Without the West Yorkshire natives creating a wall of noise, the Championship leaders may struggle to replicate their early season form
With Fulham having picked up 38 of their 64 points at Craven Cottage this season, Scott Parker’s outfit may also suffer an inevitable dip in form when the season gets back underway.
With an eleven point advantage, Fulham should already have enough points to guarantee their spot in the play-offs, although it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them surrender third place. Nottingham Forest and Bristol City’s away form suggests that they will be the ones who will benefit from the changes in circumstance, with Sabri Lamouchi’s side arguably best place to secure promotion via the play-offs this year.