A first-half Karabo Tshepe strike secured Lidoda Duvha a 1-0 victory over National First Division rivals Jomo Cosmos in front of a packed Thohoyandou Stadium, as Leopards took an unassailable lead on the promotion/relegation play-offs table to secure top-flight football for the first time since the 2012/13 season.
Since their relegation that year, Leopards have contested the play-offs three times, finally making it fourth-time lucky this year to ensure the province of Limpopo will be represented by three different clubs in the Absa Premiership next season.
In winning the play-offs, Leopards continued a trend in seeing four of the last seven play-off mini leagues won by the team finishing second in the NFD.
In the 2011/12 campaign – the first season in the which the current NFD table and promotion/relegation play-offs format was implemented, following the disbanding of the former Inland and Coastal Stream leagues – second-tier runners-up Chippa United earned promotion, ending the play-offs four points ahead of the PSL’s 15th-placed club Santos and the NFD’s third-placed side Thanda Royal Zulu.
A year later, Mpumalanga Black Aces made history as they still to this day remain the only third-placed NFD side to have earned promotion via the play-offs, edging out second-placed NFD side Santos and 15th-placed PSL team Chippa, who bounced straight back down to the second tier.
In the 2013/14 season, Polokwane City maintained their top-flight status after finishing 15th in the regular season before seeing off the challenges of Leopards and Milano in the play-offs to fight another day.
Leopards was again involved in the play-offs the following year courtesy of their third-place finish in the NFD, yet once more failed to secure the step up, narrowly losing out on goal difference to Cosmos who made their top-flight return at Moroka Swallows’ expense.
For the third time in the history of the play-offs, the NFD runners-up again emerged victorious in the 2015/16 season as Highlands Park won three and drew one of their four play-offs encounters to gain promotion, with the NFD’s third-placed team Mbombela United four points behind as the PSL’s 15th-placed University of Pretoria dropped down to the NFD.
Last year’s play-offs involved the Absa Premiership’s 15th-placed side Baroka, NFD runners-up Lidoda Duvha and third-placed Stellenbosch FC, with Bakgaga going unbeaten as they finished three points above Leopards to top the mini-league and preserve their top-flight status, before finishing 14th on the log this season.