Monday, May 05, 2008

Leicester Blows

It probably won't help them much but, for the purposes of clarification, here is a list of just some of the teams that have spent at least some time in the bottom two divisions of the Football League: Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest, Bristol City, Watford, Sunderland, Leeds United, Bolton Wanderers, Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, Manchester City, Portsmouth, Birmingham City, Stoke City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, West Bromwich Albion, Queens Park Rangers & Burnley. I could go on. In other words, Leicester City's relegation from the Championship on Sunday afternoon was not the greatest tragedy in the history of football. In fact, considering the size of the club and the fact that that they have never won the championship or the FA Cup, it is something of a statistical anomaly that Leicester City, who were elected into the Football League in 1894, have never played below the second division before.

It was a tense weekend across most of the Football League. Considering what an undignified chase the race to beg for the scraps from the Premier League trough had been, results over the last week or two hadn't left the final day of the Championship as as ridiculous as it might have been, with Stoke City only needing a draw from their match against Leicester to guarantee second place behind West Bromwich Albion, who sewed up their first league title of any sort since they became the English champions in 1920. Stoke scrambled their way to a goalless draw, but it was irrelevant for Stoke in any case, since Hull City were in the process of losing at Ipswich. The race for play-off places was much more interesting, with Watford and Crystal Palace holding onto the last two positions, though Watford were left sweating through eight minutes of second half injury time at Molineux, where Wolves were leading Plymouth Argyle 1-0 and needed a second goal to usurp the Hertfordshire club. They didn't manage it, so Watford will Hull City, while Palace take on Bristol City. At the bottom of the table, Leicester's fate was sealed by their failure to score at Stoke, while Southampton crawled out of the drop zone with a 3-2 win against Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday leapt up to sixteenth place with a 4-1 win against Norwich City.

At the top of League One, the situation was just as tense. Swansea were already up, but an automatic promotion place was still up for grabs for one of Doncaster Rovers, Nottingham Forest or Carlisle United. Doncaster, with a trip to struggling Cheltenham, should really have tied things up with a win, but contrived to lose 2-1, allowing Forest to slip in by the back door with a 3-2 win against Yeovil Town at The City Ground. At the bottom of the table, AFC Bournemouth had showed extraordinary tenacity by winning six in a row when all seemed lost, but they couldn't manage the final hurdle of the race, drawing 1-1 at Carlisle United - a result that did neither team any favours. They will be joined in League Town next season by Gillingham, who went down 2-1 at Leeds.

Finally, a couple of other bits and pieces to tie up. In the Premier League, the title will go to the final day of the season after Manchester United and Chelsea unsurprisingly won at the weekend, but the important matches were played at the bottom of the table. Fulham's remarkable climb out of the bottom three continued with a 2-0 win against Birmingham City at Craven Cottage, while Reading's 1-0 home defeat by Tottenham Hotspur drops them into the bottom three with one match left to play. Yes, that would be the same Reading that were too big for the FA Cup in January (excuse my sniggering at this). Any two of Birmingham, Reading or Fulham could yet avoid the drop - more on this later in the week. Last of all, there was a contender for the comeback of the season at Plainmoor on Monday lunchtime. Torquay United had beaten local rivals Exeter City 2-1 in the first leg of the Conference semi-finals at Exeter's St James Park last week, and extended their aggregate lead to 3-1 just before the hour mark in the second leg through a goal from Kevin Hill. Exeter, however, summoned up extraordinary reserves of fight, and scored four times in the last twenty-one minutes to win the match 4-1, and the tie 5-3 on aggregate to book a place at Wembley for the final against Burton Albion or Cambridge United. Burton and Cambridge play their second leg at Cambridge tonight with the scores tied at 2-2. Too close to call, that one.


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