The Premier League season will be extended to a 39th game to accommodate a relegation play-off between Swansea City and Hull City, staged at a neutral venue, should they finish in joint-18th place, level on points, goal difference and goals scored.
Hull are 17th in the table, two points above Swansea, with three fixtures remaining for both clubs. Swansea’s goal difference is -29 compared with Hull’s -31, and the Welsh club have scored four more goals.
Should those records be identical come the end of the season, with a relegation place at stake, the Premier League would take the unprecedented step of organising a one-off match in line with the rules laid out in its annual handbook to decide which club retain their top-flight status.
Premier League rules state: “If at the end of the season either the league champions or the clubs to be relegated or the question of qualification for other competitions cannot be determined because two or more clubs are equal on points, goal difference and goals scored, the clubs concerned shall play off one or more deciding league matches on neutral grounds, the format, timing and venue of which shall be determined by the board.”
Provision has been made for that sort of scenario on two occasions, albeit never before in relation to relegation, where the financial ramifications are so much greater. In 1996 tickets were printed for a play-off between Manchester United and Newcastle United to be held at Wembley in what would have been a title decider had they finished level. United ended up winning the league by four points.
Discussions were also held with Arsenal and Chelsea on the eve of the final round of fixtures of the 2012-13 season, when there was a possibility of both clubs finishing the season tied for third place – automatic Champions League qualification was the prize – and unable to be separated on points, goal difference and goals scored. On that occasion Chelsea finished two points ahead of Arsenal.
It is understood the Premier League has not yet taken the step of consulting with Swansea or Hull over the prospect of a play-off match, though the possibility of a 39th game has been considered by senior club staff and is a scenario everyone involved in would hope to avoid.