5 of the worst sporting collapses in history
From a Superbowl comeback to an England batting collapse, we reflect on the most weird and wonderful ways that leads have been lost in sport.
England lose the second Ashes Test v Australia, December 2006
Just bat, lads. Just bat, bank at least a draw, and the Ashes is alive. But no.
England supporters rubbing their eyes in disbelief upon checking the score when they woke on the morning of 5 December 2006 had at least been spared the chilling experience of watching this 18-rated horror unfold.
The tourists, trailing the series 1-0 with four matches to play, had dominated long parts of the second Test in Adelaide.
Paul Collingwood hit a double-hundred and Kevin Pietersen 158 to put England in a seemingly unassailable position. No team had ever lost a Test match after declaring on a higher score than their 551-6.
Leading by 97 with nine wickets in hand going into day five, a draw seemed inevitable. Until Shane Warne – who came so close to denying Michael Vaughan’s side their famous victory in 2005 – reopened the psychological scars that he had inflicted on English cricket fans 15 months earlier.
Alarm bells were ringing when he dismissed Andrew Strauss early, and were blaring loudly when he ran out Ian Bell moments later.
Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff and England’s tail quickly followed to Warne, Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Stuart Clark, to leave the Australians 168 to win in fewer than 40 overs – in theory a difficult task, but one that was made easy for them by a broken England.
Sleep-deprived fans have spent the subsequent 13 years nailing the art of forgetting that the whole thing ever happened.
Newcastle 4-4 Arsenal, February 2011
In the context of the 2010/11 Premier League campaign, this game didn’t mean much – other than two dropped points for Arsenal in their pursuit of the top four.
In the wider context of Arsene Wenger’s time at Arsenal, though, this was the starkest confirmation of their descent.
The Gunners cruised into a 4-0 half-time lead in front of a despondent St James’ Park crowd, many of whom decided to leave at the interval.
Then Abou Diaby’s 50th-minute sending off opened the door for Newcastle.
Previous Arsenal teams under Wenger might have conceded the first goal of the comeback – a penalty from Joey Barton – but most would have stopped it gaining any further momentum.
But this Arsenal team crumbled so quickly that, ultimately, Newcastle nearly had time to steal all three points.
Leon Best’s goal and another Barton penalty preceded Cheick Tiote’s famous volleyed equaliser with three minutes remaining, leaving time for Kevin Nolan to go inches away from winning it.
For Arsenal, the result was ignominious enough, and summed up an era from which they are still in the process of recovering.
Northampton Saints 22-33 Leinster, May 2011
The headlines on the morning after the 2011 Heineken Cup Final were inevitably focused on one thing: Jonny Sexton’s 28-point masterclass.
The Ireland fly-half put in one of his best-ever performances, scoring two tries, three conversions and four penalties, to inspire Leinster’s famous second-half comeback.
His half-time team talk, which referenced Liverpool’s famous comeback in Istanbul, was another line of focus for the press. In truth, though, this was a shocking collapse from Northampton.
The Saints were leading 22-6 at half-time in just their second Heineken Cup final, and still somehow managed to lose the match comfortably, conceding 27 unanswered points in the second half.
While Sexton was busy rallying the troops with images of Vladimir Smicer banging one in from 25 yards, the Saints were in the next room, daydreaming about lifting the trophy.
It is only right that Sexton gets the plaudits for his performance, but Northampton’s capitulation can’t be overlooked.
New England Patriots 34 - 28 Atlanta Falcons, Super Bowl LI, February 2017
The Patriots were formidable favourites heading into Super Bowl LI.
Their 14-2 regular-season record was the best in the NFL, they had eased through their previous two playoff games, and, in Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, were led by the most successful quarterback-coach combo of all time.
So everyone – including the Falcons – was shocked when they trailed by 25 points.
New England’s seemingly unstoppable offense suddenly looked very stoppable. Running back LeGarrette Blount gave up a costly fumble, and Brady threw an interception that was returned 83 yards for a Falcons touchdown.
Then, late in the third quarter, Atlanta got too comfortable. As New England worked their way back into the game, the Falcons’ offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, made some decisions that are still brought up to this day, even though he is now a successful head coach.
Rather than running the ball to keep the clock moving, Shanahan called passing plays that gave the Patriots more time and led to a costly fourth-quarter fumble.
The Patriots tied the game, scored the winning touchdown in overtime and Shanahan took the brunt of the blame for the most infamous choke in NFL history.
Michael van Gerwen 11-10 Peter Wright, May 2017
Nowadays, Peter Wright is the champion of the darting world, but he’s been plenty to get there.
The perennial nearly man, he lost his first seven televised finals, five of which were against the all-conquering Michael van Gerwen.
Even when he finally got off the mark at the UK Open in March 2017, MVG – who had held the trophy for the previous two years – had been forced to withdraw with a back injury.
So, when the two players met in the final of the 2017 Betway Premier League a couple of months later, questions remained about Wright’s bottle in big matches.
Yet that didn’t stop the Scotsman from storming into a 7-2 lead and, after a wobble that saw Mighty Mike level at 8-8 in a race to 11, steadying himself to earn three match darts.
The first flew inside double 16. The second drifted outside double eight, as did the third, after an interminable 10 seconds away from the oche in a bid to compose himself. He got a second chance after Van Gerwen failed to set up a finish, but the result was merely a mirror image of the first.
As Wright staggered, head in hands, to collect his darts before retreating to the back of the stage, it was clear he knew what was coming. One double top and a 12-dart leg later, MVG was crowned champion.
But even as he celebrated, all eyes were on Wright, stood forlornly between the streamers, wondering how on earth he’d let him off the hook once again.