Ranking the 5 biggest bottle-jobs in English football
With Leeds on the verge of blowing promotion, Will Rook looks at the bottle-jobs it would rank among should they miss out.
Leeds were 3-0 up after 52 minutes of against Cardiff on 14 December – a result that would have put them 13 points clear of third in the Championship and closing in the Premier League.
Promotion done and dusted, then? Not quite.
The Bluebirds staged a second-half fightback, netting an 88th-minute equaliser to earn a 3-3 draw.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side have managed just two victories in the 10 league games since that collapse and have lost four of their last six.
Following their 1-1 draw at Brentford, they are now only one point ahead third-placed Fulham haivng played a game more.
It’d be a bottle-job for the ages should they not go up, says Will Rook, and one which would rank alongside these five from football folklore.
Sheffield United 2011/12
What’s worse than bottling promotion?
Bottling promotion and handing it to your most bitter rivals.
The way in which Sheffield United threw away their chance at promotion from League One is enough to make any football fan wince.
Other than Sheffield Wednesday supporters, obviously.
It all started to unravel on a February afternoon at Hillsborough in the most important Steel City derby of a generation.
The Blades were four points clear of third place with 16 games remaining and five ahead of Wednesday, with two games in hand.
They were beaten 1-0 by their rivals, and their pain was far from over.
Top scorer Ched Evans, who had netted 35 goals in all competitions, was jailed with three games remaining and Sheffield United four points clear of third.
They failed to win any of their remaining games and were pipped to automatic promotion by Wednesday, despite finishing on 90 points – the highest total of any side not to go up.
To make matters even worse, they lost 8-7 on penalties in the play-off final, with goalkeeper Steve Simonsen missing the decisive kick.
You can come out from behind the sofa now, Blades fans.
Ever get the feeling that history is repeating itself?
If so, spare a thought for Leeds United fans who must feel like they are stuck in a Matrix glitch.
Of any side mentioned in this list, they have suffered the more recently and regularly than any others.
But it’s last term’s collapse, from a painfully similar position to this season, that gets the nod here.
United were four points clear at the top of the Championship with 19 games remaining, but things quickly went south.
A small squad, clearly lagging from Marcelo Bielsa’s energy-sapping style of play, won only nine times for the remainder of the season.
Dropping into the play-offs and blowing a two-goal first-leg lead against Derby was the ultimate humbler, following Bielsa’s admission that he had spied on their training sessions earlier in the season.
The significance of the result was not lost on a mirth-filled away dressing room.
Before Liverpool and Steven Gerrard’s slip (more on that later), came Newcastle and the capitulation of 1996.
It was one that manager Kevin Keegan felt more than anyone.
Despite having worked their way into a 12-point lead at the top of the Premier League with 15 games remaining, Keegan’s side still found a way to miss out.
Instead of a first league title in 69 years, their campaign would end up being defined by what is still one of the most famous post-match interviews ever.
A run of five defeats in eight games between 21 February and 8 April, including a 1-0 defeat to Manchester United, saw Newcastle fall six points behind.
Then with two games to go, Keegan lost his cool.
With his side trailing United by three points, the Newcastle manager blew his top after a few mind games from Sir Alex Ferguson. The United boss had suggested that teams didn’t try as hard against Newcastle.
Despite Keegan’s assertion that he would “love it” if they beat Manchester United to the title, they didn’t.
Newcastle drew both of their final two games, finishing four points behind Ferguson’s United.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it,” said Steven Gerrard, speaking a year on from his infamous slip against Chelsea.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for the former Liverpool captain, who is haunted by a mistake that cost his side their first ever Premier League title.
Coming just two games after he had passionately told his players that they “do not let this slip” after beating title challengers Manchester City made it all the more horrific.
The Reds had been five points clear of second-placed Chelsea and six ahead of Manchester City, who had played a game fewer, going into their third-last game.
But Gerrard’s tumble on the stroke of half-time, which let in Demba Ba to put Chelsea a goal up, was a blow from which Liverpool never recovered.
They lost that game 2-0 and put the title in City’s hands, given they had a superior goal difference.
A 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace eight days later, in which Liverpool squandered a three-goal lead in 11 minutes, all but confirmed that they had blown it.
So, while it seems bizarre that there are still Liverpool fans who refuse to accept this season’s title race is over, a little self-preservation is perhaps understandable.
Oh dear, Steve McClaren. This is the one that all others should be measured against.
Statistically, Derby’s end to the 2014/15 season was the biggest bottle-job in Championship history.
The Rams were top of the table with 13 games to go, five points clear of third.
It wouldn’t have been unreasonable for fans to start planning away trips in the Premier League for the following season.
Even if the worst was to happen, they would still at least make the play-offs, right? Wrong.
Nobody banked on McClaren’s side, who had occupied a top-six spot since September, collectively forgetting how to play well.
Derby won only two of their remaining 13 fixtures, eventually finishing eighth.
That was after losing 3-0 on the final day to a Reading side that finished 19th, when they only needed a point to secure sixth.
They remain the only ever side to miss out on the play-offs having been top at that stage of the season.
What a legacy.
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