Football can be a cruel game as highlighted in the Scottish Premiership/Championship playoff games between Hamilton and Dundee United. Greg Docherty’s strike in the 64th minute was enough to settle this two legged playoff and condemn Dundee United to another season in the Scottish Championship with Hamilton surviving by the skin of their teeth. United, who finished in third place simply ran out of steam after a grueling 38 game season followed by four play off games against Morton then Falkirk before they faced Hamilton.
Failure to gain promotion could have detrimental consequences on United. Despite owner Steven Thompson stating that no budget was assigned before the playoff game, the amount that is going to made available to manager Ray McKinnon will be dramatically less (if anything at all) than if United had won promotion. Indeed it’s more likely that cuts will be need to made both to the playing squad and off field staff in order to balance the books ahead of another season in the Championship. The club which is rumoured to be £1.8m in debt now faces a rebuilding job both in terms of both personal and in confidence ahead of the new campaign.
The situation in Scotland is by no means unique in football. Other leagues operate a similar model including France. This season saw Troyes, who finished 3rd in Ligue 2 faced Lorient placed 18th in Ligue 1 in a two legged playoff. Troyes won the first match 2-1 and when Lorient couldn’t find the net in the return match (game ended goalless) Troyes were promoted along side Strasbourg and Amiens who finished 1st and 2nd in Ligue 2 respectively.
However the fact that there are other leagues with the same structure does not make it right. Achieving promotion should be because you have beaten those around you in the same league not having to beat a team from the league above. United arguably had done this by defeating Morton and Falkirk in the days before. Promotion should have been secured with the win against Falkirk similar to the setup in England. Instead United were undone by 180 minutes of madness against a side that has been competing at a higher level for some time now. The argument has always been that it keeps the game in Scotland interesting but surely it favours the current team in the Premier league? History presents a worrying trend that supports this. Since its reintroduction in the 2013-2104 season only one team has managed to successfully navigate the play offs and win promotion. That team ironically was Hamilton.