Liverpool at Bramall Lane, and 11 more of football's weird streaks and hoodoos
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Dave Bassett's Christmas Party
Come Christmas 1990, newly promoted Sheffield United were languishing at the foot of the table – but a run of seven consecutive wins in the New Year meant they surged to safety. Similarly, they won just five league games before the festive period the following term, but 11 afterwards.
Inspired by their festive fillips, manager Dave Bassett organised an impromptu early Christmas party ahead of the 1992/93 season opener against Manchester United. Brian Deane netted the Premier League's first-ever goal, the Blades won 2-1 en route to a mid-table finish and they reached the FA Cup semi-finals for good measure.
Bassett decided against a repeat party the following season, United were relegated and have only just returned for their third Premier League stint ever.
The curse of Ryoichi Maeda
Ryoichi Maeda is a deadly finisher in more ways than one. For six seasons straight between 2007 and 2012, the team he scored his first goal of the season against were relegated from the J-League.
The former Japan international, at the time playing for Jubilo Iwata, sent Ventforet Kofu, Tokyo Verdy, Jef United Chiba, Kyoto Sanga, Motedio Yamagata and Gamba Osaka on their way to a tumble through the trapdoor to J2 – the latter having finished in the top three for the previous three seasons.
The sequence was finally broken in 2013 when Urawa Red Diamonds ended in a lofty sixth place. Jubilo, on the other hand, were relegated. A now-37-year-old Maeda currently plies his trade for FC Gifu.
Sky Blues singing the blues
Until 2017/18, Coventry City had held the unbelievable unwanted record of having not finished in the top six of any division since 1970. The 47-year run saw them relegated twice, but in that time only finish above 10th four times – in 1977/78 (7th), 1988/89 (7th), 2005/06 (8th) and 2015/16 (8th).
The Sky Blues initially dropped from the Premier League to League One, where financial woes helped them resume this remarkably pathetic run. In 2015/16 they came close to ending it – after the 27th matchday they were fourth, but won only two of their next 14 league games and plummeted to mid-table. Four wins from their last five helped them finish eighth, matching their 2005/06 Championship offering.
Finally, they ended the 2017/18 campaign in sixth – albeit in League Two – and were promoted via the play-offs. So next time you hear a Sky Blue supporter banging on about their 1987 FA Cup triumph, just let them have their moment.
Guttmann's ghastly pledge
Bela Guttmann delivered five trophies in three seasons during his initial spell as Benfica boss. So, following the 1962 European Cup Final triumph over Real Madrid, he asked for a pay rise.
When the board declined, Guttmann stormed out and famously proclaimed: "Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champion."
Since Guttmann 'cursed' the club, the Eagles have duly lost all eight of their European showdowns, including five European Cup finals (1963, 1965, 1968, 1988 and 1990) and three UEFA Cup/Europa League ones (1983, 2013 and 2014) – in 2014/15 on penalties to Sevilla, following late heartbreak against Chelsea the previous season.
Andres the lucky charm
Andres Iniesta has scored some important goals in his illustrious career, not least the 2010 World Cup Final winner for Spain against the Netherlands, plus the late strike that knocked Chelsea out of the Champions League semi-finals in 2009. Remarkably, the midfielder has now scored 66 club and 13 international goals – that's 79 in total, mathematicians – and not one of them has come in a defeat. The only time he's been on the losing side in a game he scored came way back in February 2003; a 2-1 Segunda defeat for Barcelona B.
Iniesta has continued his stunning run at Vissel Kobe in Japan, too: nine goals, in eight matches... with zero defeats.
Similarly, Liverpool's James Milner has never lost a Premier League game in which he’s scored (and he's got 53 goals) – the longest record in league history.
Zlatan's European Cup woe
When he netted in PSG’s 4-1 win over Dynamo Kiev in September 2012, Zlatan Ibrahimovic became the first player to do so for six different clubs in the Champions League (after striking for Ajax, Inter, Barcelona, Milan and Juventus, all of whom have previously lifted the trophy).
And yet, for all those goals, the big Swede never won the competition. He's done well at being in the wrong place at the wrong time: Barcelona lifted the trophy in 2009 (the season before Ibra joined) with victory over Manchester United, but didn't in Zlatan's solitary season at the Camp Nou – instead, Inter claimed their first European Cup for 45 years, the club he'd left for Catalonia. The following term Barcelona lifted the trophy again but, on loan at Milan, Ibra again missed out.
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He'll never make it
Tottenham fans will fondly remember Gareth Bale’s time at White Hart Lane (we recently remembered his unplayable 2012/13 season). The Welshman netted 56 goals in his six seasons in north London, including a famous hat-trick against Inter, and scooped the PFA Player of the Year award twice.
However, his early days in the Spurs first team weren't happy ones as the Lilywhites failed to record a single victory in the first 24 games he featured in.
Former director of football Damien Comolli claims Harry Redknapp "tried to get rid of" Bale, a claim which Harry later denied (naturally). One position shunt, an £85 million transfer, two Champions League winners' medals and a Copa del Rey crown later, and it's ludicrous to think his struggles ever happened in the first place.
Worse for Rodwell
Forget Bale, though: Jack Rodwell started 39 Premier League matches - 37 for Sunderland - without tasting victory until the Black Cats' 4-0 win at Crystal Palace in February 2017 – a match in which he came off at half-time. The last time he'd celebrated a victory came a whopping 1,370 days before that, while playing for Manchester City against West Brom (May 7, 2013).
The previous winless run record was joint-held by former Derby players Darren Moore and Kenny Miller, plus ex-Spurs right-back Alan Hutton (29 matches).
It must have been a pre-match pep talk from David Moyes what did it. "Today I said to him, ‘It’s about time you started to take a grip of games. You’re going to have to stand up. You’re not a boy any more. Get over it, start getting on it. Isn’t it time you started to show you are a top player?’" the Scot claimed post-match. Rodwell remained a bit-part player as the Black Cats sunk into the Championship, though, and left under a cloud in 2018 when his contract was terminated.
Proper play-off pain
Lincoln City are currently in League One after six seasons out of the Football League from 2011-17, but got out of League Two with back-to-back promotions the easy way: as champions.
In the mid-noughties they were firm promotion contenders in the fourth tier; the Imps reached five consecutive play-offs between 2002 and 2007, but were unsuccessful in all of them.
Their misery was compounded in 2010/11 when they were relegated after three stagnant seasons outside the top seven. It’s not quite all doom and gloom, though – they still need another three defeats to match Brentford and Sheffield United's jointly held record of eight play-off appearances without ever winning the final.
Game No.2, beat the Toon
Some will say it’s fate, others coincidence, but up until David Moyes's arrival at Sunderland, the previous four Black Cats bosses had lost their first game in charge and then beaten north-east rivals Newcastle in their second. Most managers would want to avoid a local derby so soon into their tenure but Paolo Di Canio, Gus Poyet, Dick Advocaat and Sam Allardyce all enjoyed early brownie points.
Thanks to the Magpies' relegation in 2015/16 there was no chance for Moyes to exact the same punishment, though. Now they're separated by two divisions, having swapped places in the pecking order once again.
In 1937, Brazilian side Andarai were drubbed 12-0 by powerhouses Vasco da Gama. So distraught was Andarai’s goalkeeper Arubinha after the defeat that he prayed for Vasco not to win another championship for 12 years – one for each of the goals he'd conceded.
The story goes that Arubinha then buried a frog under the pitch at Sao Januario, as the creatures were said to have mystical powers. Ten seasons later Vasco hadn’t won another title, so they ordered the entire pitch to be dug up and relaid in a bid to banish the frog's crushing curse. Incredibly, it worked – the following campaign, they were crowned national champions once more...
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