Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 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 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.
Division One 1988-89; Champions: Arsenal; Runners-up: Liverpool
With three games to go Arsenal held a two-point advantage over Liverpool with home games coming up against teams with nothing left to play for in Derby and Wimbledon. Liverpool did not have it so join-the-dots easy; they had to host QPR and face a West Ham side playing for top-flight survival.
The pair met at Anfield in the final game of the season and by the time it kicked off on 26 May 1989, it looked like Arsenal had squandered their title opportunity with a defeat and a draw in their last two home matches while Liverpool beat QPR 2-0 and dismantled West Ham 5-1. Liverpool were three points clear, with a superior goal difference. But, a late title clinching goal from Michael Thomas (pictured) proved it was a game too far for an emotionally battered Liverpool side.
Division One 1974-75; Champions: Derby County; Runners-up: Liverpool
The 1974-75 season not only gives the usual suspects license to hope, it also gives mid-table managers the opportunity to dream. On Boxing Day 1974, Dave Mackay's (pictured) Derby County side occupied tenth. Come March it seemed the title was bound for Everton, with Derby's charge talked of in only fanciful terms. The Toffees went to bottom of the table Carlisle on the 29 March looking to extend their lead at the top of the table. The Cumbrians were in their only ever top-flight season and destined for relegation, but they were kryptonite to the superman skills of Everton's expensively assembled squad, which included Bob Latchford, Andy King and Martin Dobson.
Everton lost fewer matches than any other team that season but the two defeats they suffered to basement-dwellers Carlisle - conceding six goals in the process - opened the door for Derby County. Mackay's side lost only one league match after Christmas and clinched the title with a point against the only side Everton manager Billy Bingham failed to dip into the River Styx. To this day Carlisle's intervention in the destiny of the 1975 title means they remain the only English side with a 100 per cent record against Everton.
Division One 1974-75; Champions: Derby County; Runners-up: Liverpool
The 1974-75 season not only gives the usual suspects license to hope, it also gives mid-table managers the opportunity to dream. On Boxing Day 1974, Dave Mackay's (pictured) Derby County side occupied tenth. Come March it seemed the title was bound for Everton, with Derby's charge talked of in only fanciful terms. The Toffees went to bottom of the table Carlisle on the 29 March looking to extend their lead at the top of the table. The Cumbrians were in their only ever top-flight season and destined for relegation, but they were kryptonite to the superman skills of Everton's expensively assembled squad, which included Bob Latchford, Andy King and Martin Dobson.
Everton lost fewer matches than any other team that season but the two defeats they suffered to basement-dwellers Carlisle - conceding six goals in the process - opened the door for Derby County. Mackay's side lost only one league match after Christmas and clinched the title with a point against the only side Everton manager Billy Bingham failed to dip into the River Styx. To this day Carlisle's intervention in the destiny of the 1975 title means they remain the only English side with a 100 per cent record against Everton.
Bundesliga 2001-02; Champions: Borussia Dortmund; Runners-up: Bayer Leverkusen
Five games to go and Leverkusen had just extended their lead over Borussia Dortmund to a convincing four points, hitting four goals past Kaiserlauten in the process. Then past failings began whispering doubts into the ears of Michael Ballack (pictured) and his teammates. Two season's earlier the German midfielder put the ball past his own 'keeper as Leverkusen lost to the now unknown Unterhaching, and in doing so surrendered the title to Bayern Munich on the last day of the season. Those doubts held them to a draw with Hamburg but a day later Dortmund lost to flaky Kaiserlauten and Leverkusen's initial choke had turned into a hearty bellow and a five point lead with three to play.
Back in 2002 Ballack was Europe's most complete footballer and, alongside the Samba trio of Ze Roberto, Emerson and Lucio, he had steered Leverkusen to the brink of the Bundesliga title and into the German and European Cup finals. A defeat to relegation threatened Nuremburg saw their five point lead turn into a one point deficit and Dortmund's win over Werder Bremen on the last day of the season was enough to rob Leverkusen of a trophy that had seemed locked-up, alarmed and CCTV-protected. Within ten days they had lost the lot: Bundesliga to Dortmund, German Cup to Schalke and European Cup to Zidane's perfect volley.
Serie A 2001-02; Champions: Juventus; Runners-up: Internazionale
Just like a riderless horse leaving his unwitting but indelible mark on a steeplechase finish, so occasionally a floating team with no chance of winning anything leaves a lasting mark on a title race. In Italy in 2002 it was Lazio. With six games to go, Lazio held Juventus to a draw at the Stadio delle Alpi and an Inter win over Fiorentina extended the Milanese team's lead to six points. The pundits wrote off Juventus but no one was expecting Hector Cuper's Inter to drop five points over the next four games, including a home defeat to Atalanta, while Juventus claimed a maximum 12 points to cut Inter's lead to one with just one to play.
Inter's final game of the season was against Lazio and a win would guarantee the Scudetto. Inter negotiated the early hurdles and were about to take a 2-1 lead into the break when Lazio bucked the jockey; three goals in the next thirty minutes turned the game and Inter's title chances on their heads, leaving their world player of the year Ronaldo (pictured) in tears.
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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