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Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Collapse-o-meter

Nobes takes a look into the football history books to remember sides who seemed to be coasting, only to throw it all away.

Back in January, Leeds found themselves a full 21 points ahead of Millwall in the race for promotion from League One.

However, after the weekend's results, the two sides are level on points with Leeds only ahead on goal difference.

The Yorkshire side have been in the top two since August but have seen their promotion charge disintegrate after the turn of the year.

Could they be set to blow a huge advantage and have to settle for the play-offs for the third successive season? It could happen, and they wouldn't be the first side to suffer a collapse in form.

However, how would Leeds's collapse compare to previous sides'? Inspired by Opportunity Knocks and their Clap-o-meter, here's my very own 'Collapse-o-meter' to rate just how disastrous some team's falls have been.

Hartlepool United 2002/3

Nine games to go, ten points clear at the top, Hartlepool were on course for the first piece of silverware in the club's history.

However, they then picked up just two points out of the next 12 to see their lead reduced to just a single point ahead of Rushden & Diamonds.

One win in their last four, including a draw against Diamonds, saw them finish two points behind the Northamptonshire outfit in the title race.

Pools manager Mike Newell paid for the collapse with his job - removed during the summer despite leading his side to promotion.

Collapse-o-meter rating: 4

Pools were firmly in the driving seat for the title but a late blip cost them against a Rushden side bang in form. They still won promotion though, so the missed opportunity of a trophy was at least cushioned.

Southend United 2004/5

With just three games of the season to go, the Shrimpers were top of League Two by a point, and three points clear of 4th placed Swansea.

Then, inexplicably, they lost back-to-back league games for the first time all season - including a defeat to closest challengers Yeovil.

That left them clinging on in third, but a last day draw saw them overtaken by the Swans and forced into the play-offs. Fortunately for the Essex club - their blushes were spared with a Millennium Stadium victory over Lincoln.

Collapse-o-meter rating: 5

With so few games left, Southend fans were dreaming of the League Two title. To miss out on automatic promotion altogether was bitterly hard to take therefore.

They still managed to win promotion via the play-offs though, which made up for their late wobble.

Cardiff City 2008/9

With four games of last season remaining, Cardiff were looking up, not down. They had a game in hand which, if won, would move them a point behind the automatic promotion places.

At the very least, a place in the play-offs look assured. Then City lost 6-0 at top six outsiders Preston. A draw and a loss in their next two games still left them three points ahead of Preston.

However, a final day defeat at Sheffield Wednesday, coupled with a Preston win over QPR, saw the two sides finish level on points and goal difference and City missing out on the play-offs on goals scored.

Collapse-o-meter rating: 6

They were having nightmares in the Welsh capital for many weeks last summer after Cardiff's horror ending to the season.

With time running out, City never expected to finish lower than sixth. The fact they only did so because of the nature of their heavy defeat to Preston made things even more painful. One of the most dramatic of collapses.

Oxford United 2005/6

With 42 games played, Oxford stood 18th in League Two - three points clear of the division's relegation zone.

Going into their penultimate game at Wrexham, the Oxen still sat outside the drop zone, but come full time at the Racecourse had dropped into the bottom two for the first time all season.

It led to a final day must-win game against Leyton Orient. They lost 3-2, ending their 44-year spell in the Football League.

Collapse-o-meter rating: 6

Nobody in League Two expected Oxford to be relegated. Indeed, with four games left they realistically only needed as many points to survive.

However, tricky games against promotion chasing Orient and Northampton and a hard trip to Boston were all lost - and other sides took advantage. In total they spent just a week in the bottom two, it just happened to be the last week.

Preston North End 2006/7

Under Paul Simpson, Preston had topped the Championship for the first time in 50 years.

With eight games of the season left, they remained in 4th, and two points off the automatic promotion places.

Unbelievably though, North End imploded. Six defeats in their next seven games saw them drop to 8th and needing a win against Birmingham on the final day.

They duly delivered it, but other results conspired to see them miss out on the play-offs by a single point.

Collapse-o-meter rating: 7

always difficult to know why sides suddenly have a collapse of form, but Preston's was incredible. Matches against struggling sides were lost, yet they still managed to record their biggest away win of the season during the collapse.

In the end, missing out on the play-offs was a massive disappointment the club - and manager - never recovered from.

Wolverhampton Wanderers 2001/2

The men from the Black Country finally looked like ending their long exile from the top flight as they raced towards promotion.

With just nine games remaining, Wolves stood top of the table, on a run of seven straight wins, and were a full ten points clear of bitter rivals West Bromwich Albion in third.

What could possibly go wrong? The answer - everything. One win in their next seven, coupled with a relentless charge from West Brom, saw them overtaken by Albion by a single point going into the final game.

They drew that and had to settle for a spot in the play-offs - where they were beaten by Norwich.

Collapse-o-meter rating: 8

Horrific. To lost such a commanding lead over any team is hard to take. When it's to your closest and most loathed rivals, it's just rubbing extra strength salt into a very large wound.

The size of the prize on offer - a place in the Premier League - also made this an especially painful late collapse of form for Wolves. They made up for it 12 months later though - taking Albion's place in the top flight.

Oxford United 2003/4

After 26 games of the 2003/4 season, Oxford had still only been beaten once. They sat comfortably in second - four points clear of the side in 4th, and a massive 13 points ahead of the team in 8th.

Then, they lost 4-2 to leaders Hull - and the collapse began. After that defeat, they won just three of their next ten matches.

Then came a change of manager - Graham Rix in for Bristol Rovers-bound Ian Atkins. By now, the Oxen were out of the top three but still looking good for a play-off spot at the very least.

Rix failed to get a win in his first eight matches though - only winning the final game of the season against Rochdale. Unfortunately for United, it was too little, too late - they were already out of top seven contention.

Collapse-o-meter rating: 9

Rarely can a side have gone from so hard to beat in the first half of the season to so poor in the second. After that run of one loss in 26, the Oxen lost half of their remaining matches.

They went from top-three candidates, to play-off certainties, to missing out on the top seven altogether in one of the most baffling slides in recent memory. It also makes them the only side to feature twice on this list.

York City 2003/4

On January 10 2004, York City defeated Carlisle United 2-0. The Minstermen sat 10th in League Two, just three points off the coveted play-offs. The Cumbrians were bottom of the division - a full ten points from safety.

Come the end of the season, Carlisle were relegated after finishing 23rd - one place above York. That win in January had turned out to be City's final one of the season.

What happened in-between, as well as a remarkable upsurge from the Cumbrians, was York failed to win any of their remaining 20 matches - picking up just five points from a possible 60.

Collapse-o-meter rating: 10

Ironically, financially-stricken York had actually started the season as favourites for the drop, but were top of the table after the first few games. Indeed, even into the New Year they appeared on course for a comfortable mid-table finish.

Their plunge down into the Conference from such a height was a nightmare for City supporters who watched in disbelief as their team plummeted with every passing week.

It was an unprecedented collapse - unlikely to ever be matched. Unfortunately for York that means, when it comes to talking about teams collapsing, their name will always be top of the list.

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