When the form book went out of the window — and the big clubs didn’t get their way
You can’t take anything for granted when you’re chasing glory. As title-chasers face drop-dodgers and mid-tablers, “shock” results can end the big boys’ dreams…
Steven Gerrard might have been a bit over the top when demanding Liverpool treat Norwich as the best team in the world, but those up the glamorous end of the table can’t take wins for granted against the smaller fry — as Everton and Man City found out in midweek. That got us thinking about other times the minnows had bitten the sharks…
Wigan 1–0 Man United (11/04/12)
With six games to go, Wigan were second-bottom while United were eight points clear. Moreover, in seven top-flight seasons Latics had faced United 14 times, including the 2006 League Cup final, and lost them all, shipping 46 goals ands scoring four (only one in the last nine attempts).
So obviously Roberto Martinez’s team triumphed, Shaun Maloney’s 50th-minute winner vaulting Athletic out of the drop zone, whence they would not return: United lost the title on goal difference. The following season the enraged Red Devils beat Wigan 4–0 home and away, but they wouldn’t have been facing Latics had Maloney not made history.
Arsenal 2–3 Leeds (04/05/03)
Eight points off the summit as early as November, Manchester United had worked hard to reel in leaders Arsenal, but they ended up winning the title with their boots off — thanks to their most vociferous rivals. Financially imploding Leeds, only outside the drop zone on goal difference, had their own very real reasons for chasing a win at Arsenal, who needed to win all three games to stop the Red Devils snatching the title back from Highbury.
Sadly for Arsene Wenger, Leeds still had enough heavy artillery to cause damage. Harry Kewell scored after five minutes, Ian Harte restored the lead after Thierry Henry’s equaliser and though Dennis Bergkamp levelled again, Mark Viduka’s 88th-minute chip sealed the win, the title’s return to Manchester and all but mathematically saved Leeds… for one final season.
Deportivo La Coruna 0–0 Valencia (14/05/94)
Three points clear with four games to go (in a two-points-per-win league), Depor only needed two victories to confirm their first ever top-flight title. Instead, they drew 0–0, then did it again, then did it yet again. In their final game, at home to a curiously determined Valencia side, they got a penalty in the dying minutes; as superstar striker Bebeto stared at his shoelaces, sweeper Miroslav Djukic stepped up and saw his spot-kick saved by a wildly celebrating Jose Luis Gonzalez. Barcelona snatched the title at the death, and subsequent revelations that Catalan hands had offered the Valencia players a “sizeable bonus” to avoid defeat led to long-held recriminations in Galicia.
West Ham 1–1 Man United (14/05/95)
Having not won any of the final 25 Division One titles before English football’s big schism, Manchester United would have won the first five Premier League titles but for this unhappy East End afternoon. They started the final round of fixtures two points behind Jack Walker’s Blackburn Experiment, but while the Ewood Park mob had a tough task at fifth-placed Liverpool the champions had an apparently easier trip to West Ham, freshly safe from relegation worries.
Trouble is, Harry Redknapp’s team took the lead through Michael Hughes and although Brian McClair equalised, the Cantona-less United couldn’t find a winner — chief culprit being Andy Cole, their January signing who had bagged 12 in 18 (but five of them in one game against hapless Ipswich). To make matters worse for Fergie, the old enemy Liverpool did their bit, coming from behind to beat Blackburn 2–1 — but United’s struggle meant Kenny Dalglish’s Rovers won the league at Anfield.
Nürnberg 1–0 Bayer Leverkusen (26/04/02)
With a fortnight to go, Bayer Leverkusen were set fair for glory. They had been runners-up three times in the previous five seasons, most painfully in 2000 when Michael Ballack’s last-day own-goal gifted the title to Bayern Munich, but now Ballack and his compadres Ze Roberto, Emerson and Lucio were determined.
Trouble is, so were Nürnberg, and the relegation battlers’ home win through Marek Nikl’s first-half goal allowed Borussia Dortmund to take the lead and the league. Bad got worse when Schalke shocked them in the German Cup final, and it was little consolation to lose to Zinedine Zidane’s perfect volley as Real Madrid won the Champions League. Neverkusen had struck again.
Aston Villa 0–1 Oldham Athletic (02/05/93)
It takes a brave man to disturb Alex Ferguson on the golf course, but the news was good: his Manchester United side had won the top-flight title at long last, on their day off. The evening before United played Blackburn in their penultimate game, and with a healthy four-point lead in the bag, Fergie had headed for the Mottram Hall course instead of watching his title rivals Aston Villa’s televised game.
Villa visitors Oldham were nobody’s patsies, having reached the FA Cup semi-finals and League Cup final in 1990, won the Second Division in 1991 and stayed in the final pre-Premier League top flight — but were six points from safety with three games to play. Nicky Henry scored the winner, prompting celebrations in Greater Manchester — which continued when two home victories helped the Latics stay up.
Bolton 2–2 Arsenal (26/04/03)
The Gunners were three points behind leaders Manchester United with a game in hand when they rocked up the Reebok, where Bolton were unbeaten in five, with the Lancashire Galacticos of Jay-Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff, Ivan Campo and Bruno N’Gotty bringing their immense experience to the relegation battle. Even so, they couldn’t stop Sylvain Wiltord putting Arsenal head immediately after half-time, or Robert Pires doubling the lead soon afterwards.
Perhaps unbelievably in retrospect, Arsenal’s defence started to look suspect when Pascal Cygan pulled up lame and was replaced by Martin Keown. Djorkaeff halved the arrears with 14 minutes to go and then saw his free-kick glanced in by Keown to level matters. United won the league by five points, while Bolton — who would spend the next four seasons finishing in the top eight — doomed West Ham to relegation on 42 points, still a record for a 20-team top flight.
West Ham 2–1 Tottenham (07/05/06)
The top four hadn’t changed positions since before Christmas. While Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool cemented the top three places, Spurs had never quite shaken off Arsenal; even so, they only had to match their rivals’ final result to claim that first taste of Champions League football. However, on the morning of their match at West Ham, a number of Tottenham players were taken ill with suspected food poisoning after eating the lasagne while staying at the Canary Wharf Marriott. Spurs suspected foul play, although Health Protection Agency tests proved negative and the vomiting was eventually ascribed to norovirus.
After the police nixed Spurs’ appeal to delay the game, West Ham delighted in spoiling their rivals’ party: Carl Fletcher scored the opener before former Boleyn boy Jermain Defoe levelled. In the last game at Highbury, Arsenal came from behind to beat Wigan 4–2 — and the weakened Spurs, pressing forward for the necessary winner, instead conceded an 80th-minute goal to Yossi Benayoun.
Lazio 4–2 Inter Milan (05/05/02)
Starved of scudetti since 1989, Inter were six points clear with five to play and managed to throw it all away. Hector Cuper’s side lost to Atalanta and were held at Chievo while Juventus’ 100% haul cut the lead to one point as the final day dawned with Inter at Lazio while Juve went to Udinese.
A Lazio win could take them into the UEFA Cup and Karel Poborsky equalised Inter’s opening effort from Christian Vieri, the beefy striker’s 25th of the campaign. Luigi Di Biagio put the Nerazzurri back in front but Poborsky levelled again and Juve’s two early goals at Udinese left them top of the live table at half-time. After the restart Diego Simeone put Lazio in the lead, Simone Inzaghi extended it and Inter’s dream was over, as substituted World Player of the Year Ronaldo sat in tears on the bench. They would not win the title until after Calciopoli.
Bradford City 1–0 Liverpool (14/05/00)
A little scoreline with big consequences. Liverpool needed a last-day win to overtake Bradford’s neighbours Leeds for the third and final Champions League place, but the Bantams desperately needed their own victory: in their first top-flight campaign for 77 seasons, they were in the drop zone.
David Wetherall’s towering early header gave Bradford a lead they never surrendered, and the win leapfrogged them over Wimbledon, who were relegated instead; 15 months later, the Dons announced their intention to relocate to Milton Keynes. While Liverpool were restricted to the UEFA Cup, Leeds qualified for the Champions League, reaching the 2001 semi-final and prompting ill-advised financial speculation based on future success — while Bradford also spent beyond their means on overpriced duffers like Benito Carbone and Stan Collymore, suffering financial fallout for years to come. Every silver lining has a cloud, and all that.
Originally published by FourFourTwo on April 17, 2014.