The House of Payne: Play-offs may be heartbreaking, but do we want it any other way?
You probably won’t find too much love among Kingstonian or Sutton United fans for the play-offs at the moment.
While the “end-of-season lottery” has become an integral part of football from the Championship down over the past 25 years or more, they are at their harshest in the upper echelons of non-League football.
To be automatically promoted from the various Conference divisions or the Isthmian League there is only one option – win the league.
In divisions of 24 teams it’s a pretty tough ask and, in Skrill South, Sutton came pretty close – finishing just five points adrift of Eastleigh at the top.
That was also a dozen points clear of Dover Athletic, who only made it into the play-offs by virtue of an 85th minute penalty in their final league game of the season at Hayes & Yeading.
But this is the play-offs and the league table really does count for nothing with injury-hit United crashing 3-0 in the home return fixture after earning a creditable 1-1 first-leg draw in Kent.
Although Ks also finished second, their ultimate failure was probably less of an injustice having finished 11 points adrift of champions Wealdstone and just four ahead of seventh-placed Maidstone United in a play-off race that saw six teams in contention until the very end.
Granted the fairly dubious privilege of home advantage for their one-off match with AFC Hornchurch, Ks slipped to a 1-0 defeat, but neither side will be facing Sutton in the league next season after Lowestoft Town won 3-0 in Saturday’s final.
The play-offs keep the season alive till the very end and cut out the swathe of meaningless mid-table matches, which used to blight football until the late 1980s.
It does seem harsh though that a side can be clearly second best in the division for 46 games only to miss out through a refereeing decision, the bounce of the ball or a badly-timed injury.
Ks and Sutton are the obvious victims of this at the moment, but would we really want it any other way?
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