Radical plan for expansion of play-offs to be rejected

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The Independent Football

Radical proposals to expand the play-offs from four to six teams next season look set to be thrown out by the Football League today following objections by the Premier League and the Football Association.

The idea, the brainchild of the Crystal Palace chief executive Phil Alexander, would scrap home and away legs and potentially mean the side finishing as low as eighth in the First Division could be promoted to the Premiership.

The plan proposes that teams finishing eighth and seventh would visit those finishing fifth and sixth respectively in the quarter-finals. The winners would then be away to the third and fourth-placed teams in a one-off semi-final followed, as in previous years, by the final.

Last month, Football League chairmen narrowly approved the principle of altering the play-offs, but pressure from the Premier League and the FA seems likely to force today's full annual general meeting at Gillingham to vote against expansion. "They regard this as a bridge too far and we obviously have to take these representations into account," said Andy Williamson, the Football League director of operations.

A Premier League spokes-man added the plan would undermine the credibility of the division. "Once you start to extend the play-offs, where does it end? There has to be a cut-off point and we think that's where we are now," he said.

But Alexander was quick to argue the opposite. "Everyone is desperate to generate more income and this system gives the play-offs more rather than less credibility because it is actually stacked in favour of the teams finishing third and fourth in the play-off zone," he said.

However, Neil Doncaster, secretary of Norwich, who finished eighth last season, was against altering the status quo. "To put an accepted system at risk for marginal commercial advantage is a bad idea," he said.

Today's meeting seems certain to approve a recommendation to deduct points - eight or nine being the most likely sanction - from clubs who deliberately go into administration in order to wipe out debts.

Other items on today's agenda include parachute payments for teams relegated from each of the three Football League divisions as well as lowering ground capacity rules for sides promoted from the Conference.