With this May seeing no Houdini acts against Premier League relegation, we look back today at some of the greatest escapes of them all.
Everton and Ipswich (1994)
Neither side had an easy finale, with Everton hosting a Wimbledon team bang in-form, while Ipswich travelled to a Blackburn side guaranteed the runners-up spot. Starting the day in the bottom three, and one place below Ipswich, Everton went 2-0 down in calamitous circumstances, but pulled one back within minutes of Wimbledon’s second goal.
2-1 to Wimbledon was the half-time score at Goodison Park, while Ipswich were holding their own (0-0) at Ewood Park. After a quiet start to the second half, a thunderbolt equaliser for Everton (from Barry Horne) gave Everton renewed hope.
Still only needing a draw, Ipswich continued to hold firm at Blackburn. However, they were plunged into the relegation zone in the 81st minute, after Graham Stuart slotted an absurdly-weak toe poke past Wimbledon goalkeeper Hans Segers to win it 3-2 for Everton.
In the end, Chelsea’s Mark Stein did the hard work for Ipswich, scoring a late winner against Sheffield United at Stamford Bridge, condemning the Blades in Ipswich’s stead.
Recently, there has been a raging debate: should the Premier League be cancelled? One possible scenario is to crown Liverpool champions and relegate the current bottom three using a system based on points-per-game.
Naturally, there would be a vicious backlash in that event, especially with stories like Southampton’s 1998/99 season, which prove that you can never write a team off until it is mathematically confirmed.
Southampton’s abysmal start to 1998/99, in which the Saints took just two points from the first 27 available, had some bookmakers paying out early. Form picked up after November, but it was not enough to avoid a last-day relegation dogfight.
After beating Leicester and Wimbledon to haul themselves out of the drop zone for the first time all season, Southampton won their finale (2-0 vs Everton). For a change though, it was not Matt Le Tissier bailing Southampton out of trouble.
Instead, that honour went to Marian Pahars, whose double vs Everton etched (or at least pencilled) him alongside ‘Le God’ in the hall of fame.
West Bromwich (2005)
The ‘Christmas Curse’, in which the side lying bottom on Christmas Day ends up relegated, was a constant theme throughout the first twelve seasons of the Premier League’s existence. Under the management of Bryan Robson, West Bromwich became the first team to break the curse, after negotiating a four-way duel for one final ‘safe’ spot.
West Bromwich’s task was made psychologically harder by the fact that they were bottom of the league going into the final weekend. A win for just one of the other vulnerable teams (Southampton, Norwich and Crystal Palace) would have made any of West Bromwich’s efforts worthless.
Fulham and Manchester United did their part, respectively beating Norwich (6-0 at home) and Southampton (2-1 away). West Bromwich led 1-0 for most of the second half, but Crystal Palace led 2-1 at Charlton as the 2004/05 entered its final ten minutes of life, rendering that meaningless.
Eight minutes from time, Jonathan Fortune became the toast of the West Midlands, equalising against Crystal Palace. That crucial goal saw West Bromwich escape the relegation zone once and for all.
An iconic pitch invasion followed the Baggies’ eventual 2-0 win over Portsmouth, with the sight of Bryan Robson hoisted aloft by West Brom fans an enduring image even today.
For years before the run in of 2007/08, home form had been Fulham’s only saving grace. Away wins were rare, but they took one at the most opportune moment possible in April 2008.
A 2-0 half-time deficit at Manchester City, in their third-from-final game of the season, would have relegated the Cottagers with two games to spare, had it stood until the end. With nothing to lose, Fulham emerged from the Eastlands dressing room a changed side, playing without shackles.
Their first goal did not arrive until the 70th minute, with Diomansy Kamara giving them hope. Danny Murphy equalised nine minutes later, before Kamara completed the comeback in the second minute of added time.
Fulham won twice more to survive, finishing the campaign with a gutsy 1-0 win at FA Cup winners to-be Portsmouth. Just two years later, the Londoners were Juventus-slaying Europa League finalists.
Wigan Athletic (2012)
A horrendous run of just three wins against 15 defeats between September and March left Wigan 19th. Within their final ten games, the Latics were slated to face Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea away, while hosting a title-chasing Manchester United between the latter trips.
Nobody gave Wigan a chance, but a 2-1 victory at Anfield sparked the revival in earnest. After closing March with a 2-1 home win vs Stoke, they hit a wall, going down 2-1 at Chelsea. Thereafter, Roberto Martinez’ team duly went into overdrive, beating Manchester United and Arsenal.
Just one more defeat (at Fulham) preceded three straight victories to seal Wigan’s safety with a game to go. The penultimate game, a 1-0 win at Blackburn – more famous for the ‘chicken’ protest than any quality of note – also relegated their Lancashire rivals.