It’s that time of year again, where nerves are shredded, nails are bitten and the relegation trapdoor gets ever closer.
But for those fans of teams at the bottom of the EPL there is hope.
I had a dig round the archives and have found some examples of teams who looked dead and buried, but somehow found Premier League salvation.
Feel free to add your examples – I would be interested to hear your experiences of ‘great escapes’.
But for now here is a few I found (in no particular order!):
A 3-0 defeat to Leeds the previous week had plunged Everton into the drop zone and Mike Walker’s men went into the last game of the season at home to Wimbledon knowing that even a win might not be good enough.
Things got worse for the Toffees when the Crazy Gang went 2-0 up after just 20 minutes. Everton battled their way back to level terms through a Graham Stuart penalty and a Barry Horne stunner, but with nine minutes of the season to go they were still down.
Salvation arrived however in the shape of former Chelsea man Stuart, who sidefooted home his second of the game to save the Blues and condemn Sheffield United, who were losing at Chelsea, to the drop.
Joe Royle’s Oldham had to win three games in seven days and hope either Crystal Palace or Sheffield United lost their last two fixtures in order to stay up. The problem was that the first of those three games was away to Aston Villa, who had to win to keep their title challenge alive. Oldham stunned Ron Atkinson’s men by grabbing the only goal which handed Man United the title and gave them hope of survival.
When a resurgent Sheff United won at Everton on the Tuesday, the survival battle was down to two – Oldham or Palace. A day later Royle’s men beat Liverpool 3-2 at Boundary Park, while Palace drew 0-0 at Manchester City – setting up a last day scrap. If Oldham won and Palace lost, Oldham were safe and Palace were down. On the final day Palace lost 3-0 away at Arsenal meaning a win for Oldham over Southampton would see them safe. It would become an early Premier League classic which swung either way but one that Oldham eventually triumphed 4-3 – despite Matt Le Tissier grabbing a hat-trick. Oldham were back from the brink while Palace were down and stunned.
West Brom 2004/05
The Baggies defied the odds in 2005 by becoming the first-ever Premier League side to be bottom at Christmas and avoid the drop.
An excellent performance and point at Old Trafford in the penultimate week of the season set up a last day decider where three out of four sides could go down. Even then The Baggies knew a win might not be enough and began the final day in the relegation zone. They claimed a 2-0 win over Portsmouth at The Hawthorns thanks to goals from Geoff Horsfield and on-loan Kieran Richardson. Elsewhere Charlton’s late 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace relegated The Eagles and defeats for Norwich and Southampton also condemned them to the drop.
West Ham 2006/07
In a season dogged by controversy West Ham somehow avoided the drop thanks to a last day win at over Man United at Old Trafford. But that isn’t the only story. The controversial signings of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano the previous August broke Premier League rules over third party ownership yet the Hammers avoided a points deduction. With Alan Pardew’s men staring relegation in the face Tevez proved the inspiration for a late surge of form which dragged them to safety and relegated Sheffield United, who lost 2-1 at home to Wigan on the last day. The Blades later sued The Hammers, claiming the illegal signing of Tevez was the main reason they stayed up at their expense. The claim was later settled out of court with West Ham agreeing to pay compensation.
Going into the last game of the 1996/97 season, Coventry were sitting in the final relegation spot of the Premiership and travelled to Spurs needing to win. Goals from Dion Dublin and Paul Williams gave The Sky Blues a 2-0 lead before Paul McVeigh’s effort on the stroke of half-time reduced the deficit. The hero of the day though was veteran ‘keeper Steve Ogrizovic who made some fantastic late saves as Coventry held on for the win which kept them up and relegated Sunderland
Everton (again) 1997/98
Everton once again found themselves needing a result on the last day against Coventry to keep them up. Needing to better Bolton’s result against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge them Toffees made the perfect start when Gareth Farrelly half-volleyed home from 25 yards. Dion Dublin’s late header made it a nervy finish at Goodison but two late goals for Chelsea condemned Bolton and kept Everton up on goal difference.
Fulham looked destined for the drop after a 3-1 defeat to Sunderland at the start of April. With three out of their four remaining games away from home, and the home clash being against Liverpool, the writing was on the wall – especially as Roy Hodgson’s men hadn’t won away from Craven Cottage since September 2006.
But three away wins, at Reading, Man City and Portsmouth on the final day, completed a miraculous escape, sending Reading and Birmingham down instead.