Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Meltdown: The teams that threw the league title away

Premier League 1997-98; Champions: Arsenal; Runners-up: Manchester United
Should United lose out on the title this season, it will not be the first time they've been knocked from their perch at the top of the table. On 1 March 1998, United sat 11 points clear and Alex Ferguson was piling the pressure on the shrewd shoulders of a relative unknown in his first full season of English management. That unknown was Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
While David Beckham was rescuing a point for United against Newcastle on the 18 April, Arsenal were tearing apart Wimbledon 5-0. And United's title hopes expired when against Everton Tony Adams (right) giraffe-stepped across two-thirds of the Highbury turf to collect Steve Bould's pinpoint pass on his chest and volley home the goal that clinched Wenger's first Premier League title. Bould to Adams, one touch, volley. If Chelsea are struggling to believe the position they find themselves in, there are few better examples that miracles can happen.
Premier League 1995-96; Champions: Manchester United; Runners-up: Newcastle United
Manchester United's implosion in the face of Wenger-inspired Arsenal pressure in 1997-98 bore an uncanny resemblance to Ferguson's sinister hunting of Newcastle at the back-end of the 1995-96 season.
Going into the last week of January, Newcastle were 12 points clear, by 20 February they still sat on a nine-point cushion and Faustino Asprilla & Co continued to feast on defences. And then, long before Keegan's oft-regurgitated "I would love it" rant, Newcastle panicked. Three games later the lead was down to one point and United would drop only two more points over the last 12 games. By the time Keegan publicly succumbed to Ferguson's baiting, he was not losing the plot but ranting at the dying of the dream.
Eredivisie 2006-07; Champions: PSV; Runners-up: Ajax
Ferguson may not cite the outcome of the 2006-07 season in Holland as evidence weighing in United's favour, but he can find hope in PSV's drunken stumble over the finish line. Just twelve games earlier they had been lively and merry on the strength of a twelve point lead over runners-up Ajax. April was cruel to them but March even worse, over a six-game period between the two months, PSV picked up only six out of a possible 18 points. A miserable run which included a 5-1 home defeat to a rampaging Ajax and a draw against Utrecht in the penultimate game of the season that left three teams - PSV, Ajax and AZ - all tied on points.
AZ threw away their chance to capitalise on PSV's seeming surrender with defeat to Excelsior, Ajax did their bit with a 2-0 win over Willem II but PSV, whose goal difference saw them start the day in third, won 5-1 at home to Vitesse Arnhem to pip Ajax to the title by a single goal. Phillipe Cocu saved the collapse, and spared Huerelho Gomes' blushes, by scoring PSV' fifth in the 77th minute after Gomes (pictured celebrating after the match) had earlier let a tame free kick dribble from his grasp to peg back the goal difference in Ajax's favour.

Victory for Manchester United against Chelsea seems to have settled to Championship race. But the there have been some massive surprises over the years

>>Click on the image to launch our guide.

If United were to lose the title now, it would mark an incredible meltdown.

Football league history isn't short of tales of teams throwing it away. With the 2010/2011 league title in the balance, we have cited evidence of collapses, meltdowns and title-surrendering chokes from domestic and European football.

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