Being good is awful, isn't it? The pressure to win week after week, knowing that if you don't, the other lot below you definitely will to crush all of your hopes and dreams. Yes: better to be mediocre and live a life of peace, we say.
The 2018/19 Championship has been a bit like that for Norwich, Leeds and Sheffield United, who have assumed the top three positions for the last eight weeks. The latter pair are switching like fidgety children with seven games to go, while the Canaries above them continue to glide clear at the summit.
Saturday evening's crucial 1-0 win at Middlesbrough, coupled with Sheffield United's disastrous defeat against Bristol City, means Norwich have a seven-point lead over the third-placed Blades. But beware, Canaries: things don't always go to plan...
Ipswich 1998/99 (3 points clear)
With Sunderland well on their way to winning the First Division title with a then-record haul of 105 points, there was only one automatic promotion spot up for grabs with eight games left to play in 1998/99. George Burley’s Ipswich held a three-point advantage over Paul Jewell’s Bradford heading into the March international break, and they did their position no harm by beating Swindon 6-0 and QPR 3-1 following the resumption of domestic action.
A subsequent goalless draw against rivals Norwich represented a minor blip, but that soon descended into full-blown crisis when the Tractor Boys lost three of their next four matches. A final-day victory over Sheffield United proved futile thanks to Bradford’s win at Wolves, and Ipswich went on to lose a thrilling play-off semi-final to Bolton on away goals.
Middlesbrough 2014/15 (2 points)
Bournemouth won the three-horse race to be crowned Championship champions in 2014/15, but they were at a disadvantage after 38 games. Watford and Middlesbrough had each amassed two more points than Eddie Howe’s side at that stage of the campaign, but whereas the Hornets held on to secure second spot, Boro slumped to fourth and lost 2-0 to Norwich in the play-off final.
Aitor Karanka’s men could have no complaints, though, having lost 3-0 to Bournemouth and 2-0 to Watford in the run-in. Those reverses, together with a 4-3 defeat by Fulham and a 0-0 draw with Brighton, saw Boro miss out on the top two by four points.
Blackburn 1987/88 (4 points)
Blackburn weren’t the only guilty party in 1987/88, but they were certainly the worst offenders. With eight fixtures left to fulfil, Rovers were sitting pretty at the summit of the standings, a point clear of second-placed Aston Villa and a further three ahead of Middlesbrough in third. But a sorry sequence of two wins, three draws and three defeats sent them tumbling down to fifth, before Chelsea sent them packing in the play-off semi-finals.
Neither Villa, Middlesbrough nor Bradford – third with eight games left – were able to take advantage, largely because of an astonishing late-season charge which saw Millwall collect 21 points from a possible 24 to scoop the title. Villa pipped Boro to second on goal difference, but Bruce Rioch’s charges joined them in the top flight thanks to a triumphant play-off campaign.
NEXT PAGE: A 10-point lead wiped out – and the one team that held on
Bristol City 2007/08 (4 points)
Having been absent from the top tier since 1970, Bristol City fans were daring to dream when their side opened up a four-point lead over third-placed Watford in 2007/08. But the Robins lost their nerve as the finish line came into sight; they had already failed to win any of their previous three matches before a 2-1 loss to Plymouth in game 39 (presumably not what Richard Scudamore had in mind), and subsequent defeats by Southampton, Stoke and Sheffield United killed their automatic promotion hopes.
Gary Johnson’s team recovered sufficiently to beat Crystal Palace in the play-off semi-finals, but Dean Windass’s volley settled the one-goal Wembley showpiece in Hull’s favour.
Wolves 2001/02 (10 points)
The most catastrophic collapse since the introduction of the play-offs in 1986: Wolves somehow contrived to fritter away a 10-point advantage in 2001/02. Worse still, dreaded rivals West Brom were the beneficiaries of their carelessness, going up automatically alongside Manchester City before watching their neighbours fail to make it to the Millennium Stadium thanks to a semi-final defeat by Norwich.
Dave Jones’s side managed only two victories from their final eight outings, opening the door to a West Brom outfit that didn’t need a second invitation. The Baggies won their game in hand against Crewe and also beat Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest, Barnsley, Coventry, Bradford and Crystal Palace to pip Wolves to second by three points.
And the ones who clung on…
Charlton 1999/00 (16 points)
After 38 games of 1999/00, Charlton were 16 points clear of third place and in with a shout of breaking the 105-point record set by Sunderland the previous season. In the end, they only just limped over the line after ending the campaign with just one win in eight, the Addicks not so much taking their foot off the gas as yanking the key out of the ignition and having a nap on the bonnet.
Alan Curbishley’s side still finished four points clear of Ipswich in third, but not before bums had been squeaking at The Valley.
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.
Thank you for signing up to Four Four Two. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.