Thursday, 9 April 2009

The Great Escape

There's no point denying it – after getting shafted by Bolton last week, we are in serious trouble. There really isn't anything on the pitch to inspire much confidence – the defence is hopeless and the attack toothless. Given Boro have made clear they won't be relying on underhand tactics like tactical organisation or competent management, is there anything we can learn from those teams who have managed to defy footballing gravity in the past?


Distracted by a run to the FA Cup semi-finals, few gave Joe Royle's Oldham much chance of survival in May 1994. With one week to go, they needed to win their three games while hoping Crystal Palace took no more than one point from the two they had left. After winning 1-0 at high flying Villa, an Ian Olney-inspired Latics side beat Liverpool 3-2 while Palace could only draw at Man City. On the last day of the season, Royle's men raced into a 4-1 lead while a defence marshalled by a young Gareth Southgate was being overcome at Highbury. Despite conceding two late goals, Oldham held on to stay up on goal difference.

What lessons can we learn? Keep faith with crap strikers. Hope your opponents employ Gareth Southgate.


A relegation battle we can remember well. For a while, it seemed Coventry were going to save Bryan Robson's bacon. The tide turned at the beginning of April – on the same day Emile Heskey bundled that heartbreaking equaliser past Mark Schwarzer at Wembley, Gordon Strachan's City side nicked an improbable, last minute win at Anfield. This meant they were level on points with Boro and two behind the Mackems going into the final day. With neither side winning and kick-off at White Hart Lane suspiciously delayed, Coventry knew a win would save them. They beat Spurs 2-1 and stayed up by a point.

WLCWL? Hope you can find two inept north-east based sides to go down instead.

PORTSMOUTH (2005-06)

Portsmouth were in trouble in 2005. With agents' favourite Harry Redknapp gone, top scorer Yakubu buggered off to Boro. “You're welcome to the idle, moody get”, the Pompey fans said. They were clearly just bitter. Hmm.

On the pitch, Pompey stank, even after Redknapp returned to replace the permanently bemused Alain Perrin. Eight points adrift at one stage, a run of six wins and two draws in nine games ensured an unlikely rescue was confirmed with a game to spare. The run began with a preposterous last minuter winner, blattered from 30 yards by Pedro Mendes against Man City.

WLCWL? The best manager is the one you've just had. Tremendous.


Like Boro, West Ham were five points adrift with seven to go. Unlike Boro, West Ham had Carlos Tevez and, inexplicably, the ability to avoid a points penalty in their hour of need. The Hammers became the first team to beat Arsenal at the Emirates and clawed their way into touching distance of the pack above. With rivals Sheffield United and Wigan going head to head on the final day, West Ham had a chance to haul themselves out of the bottom three but had to go to Old Trafford. With the title already sealed, a Carlos Tevez goal kept the Hammers up. Wigan won at Bramall Lane to send the Blades down and, by god, we've never heard the end of it.

WLCWL? Crime pays. Beating Arsenal and Man United would help.

FULHAM (2007-08)

After employing Lawrie Sanchez and foolishly financing his attempts to sign the entire Northern Ireland team, it was no surprise to find Fulham up shit creek bereft of paddles. Poor Roy Hodgson was almost in tears as his team stared “wewegation” down the barrel, five points adrift with three matches left, then 2-0 down at half time in their next game at Man City. Three goals in the last twenty minutes sealed an improbable win. Rivals Birmingham were doomed after losing 2-0 at Craven Cottage. On the last day, with Portsmouth's minds already on Wembley, Danny Murphy's goal completed the great escape.

WLCWL? Its not over until its over.

So there we have it – it might not feel like it but there are still straws to clutch at. I'd love to present a case for our survival based on our peformance or ability but I can't. The only hope left is that we can become another statistical freak. If robust defence and penetrative attack can't save us, adherence to footballing cliché may yet.

Read this and more in this Saturday's Fly Me To The Moon

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