Recent history favours Richards Bay in PSL Play-Off run-in

football13 June 2024 04:58| © Mzansi Football
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Two thirds of the way through the Premier Soccer League’s Promotion/Relegation Play-Offs this season and it is looking like ‘advantage Richards Bay’ as they seek to become the fifth topflight team in six seasons to retain their elite league status.

With four of the six matches played, Richards Bay have four points (+1 goal-difference), as do University of Pretoria (+0), while Baroka FC trail on two points (-1).

But Richards Bay have a game in hand and will retain their status if they beat AmaTuks away from home on Saturday.

A draw would be enough too as long as they don’t then lose their final game against Baroka FC next Wednesday by two goals or more.

Since the 2018/19 season, only Cape Town Spurs in the last campaign managed to win the Play-Offs as a second-tier side, with the post-season competition dominated by DStv Premiership clubs.

That is a somewhat recent change. It used to be that the Play-Offs were ruled by teams from the NFD as they pummeled demoralised topflight sides at the end of a long season.

They went into the Play-Offs with momentum from a strong league campaign, while the opposite was true for the DStv Premiership outfits, who had largely had a campaign filled with defeats.


In the first 14 Play-Off tournaments since the system was introduced in 2004/05‚ just four teams from the top tier managed to retain their status. But the last four have all been won by DStv Premiership teams, and comfortably so.

That record stretches to five of the last six seasons having seen Premiership sides successful, the odd one out being Platinum Stars in 2017/18.

When the Play-Offs were first introduced, they were played between four sides‚ 15th in the top-flight and three teams from the NFD‚ paired off into two-legged semifinals and a final. The format was changed to the current one in 2012.

Manning Rangers finished 15th in the Absa Premiership in the 2004/05 season and were entered into the first-ever Play-Offs‚ but came unstuck at the semifinal stage‚ losing 6-3 on aggregate to the now defunct Hellenic.

In the 2005/06 campaign‚ Umtata Buch Bucks had to fight for survival‚ but also did not even make the final‚ losing both legs to Vasco da Gama for a 4-1 aggregate score.

AmaZulu bucked the trend when they beat FC AK 4-1 on aggregate in the semifinals‚ before completing a 3-1 success over University of Pretoria to become the first top-flight side to retain their status via the Play-Offs.

Black Leopards were not so lucky‚ they lost their 2007/08 semifinal to Bay United‚ going down 2-1 on aggregate to drop a division.

Thanda Royal Zulu made the Play-Off final the following season in 2008/09‚ but could not keep their top-flight status in the end. They defeated FC Cape Town in the semis‚ before losing 3-0 to Mpumalanga Black Aces on aggregate in the final.

Black Aces then became the second top-flight side to retain their place in the Premiership via the Play-Offs when they competed in the post-season competition.

They beat Nathi Lions 4-2 in the semifinals and Black Leopards 5-3 on penalties in the final after their tie had finished 3-3 on aggregate. It is the most nail-biting Play-Off final to date.

But normal order was resumed in 2010/11 as Vasco da Gama could not retain their top-flight status and lost in the semifinals 4-2 on aggregate to Black Leopards‚ who went on to beat Bay United in the final.

Santos finished bottom of the mini-league as the format changed in 2012‚ managing just two draws in their four games.

But Polokwane City showed the way with a commanding performance a year later as they took 10 points from a possible 12 and beat off Black Leopards and Milano United for top spot.

Moroka Swallows finished bottom of the league that also contained Jomo Cosmos and Leopards in 2014/15‚ before AmaTuks did likewise in the next campaign as they capitulated with no wins from their four games.

But then began a change of fortunes for top-tier teams. Baroka FC retained their status as they saw off Stellenbosch FC and Leopards, before the latter did claim Play-Off victory the following year.

Maritzburg United won all four of their games in the 2018/19 season for a full haul of 12 points against TTM and Royal Eagles, as did Leopards the following campaign as suddenly it became extremely difficult for second-tier sides.

In 2020/21 the playoffs were a bit of a farce as Royal AM refused to take part as they believed they were league winners, leaving only Chippa United and Richards Bay to compete. Chippa got a win and a draw to retain their topflight status.

It was Swallows FC who had to run the gauntlet in the 2021/22 season and they came out on top, beating University of Pretoria and Cape Town All Stars with seven points from a possible 12.

Spurs bucked the trend last year when they managed 10 points against demorilised topflight side Marumo Gallants, who just weeks earlier had been in a CAF Confederation Cup semifinal, and Casric Stars.

But it looks as though it may be ‘normal service resumed’ in the current campaign.