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Friday, October 22, 2010

Top Of The Flops

With Gordon Strachan resigning as Middlesbrough boss following a disastrous start to the season, Nobes looks at pre-season favourites of the past who failed to live up to expectations.

Things went badly wrong for Gordon Strachan at the Riverside

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by Middlesbrough, most bookies favourites for the Championship title, struggling towards the start of the season. After all, they received the ultimate kiss of death when even the Soccer AM/MW backed them.

Gordon Strachan should have been preparing to pack his bags there and then - and I'm reliably informed he frequents the site often. He'll have even more time to do so now.

Granted, there's still plenty of time for things to turn around at the Riverside - but failure to do so and, after some heavy summer spending, this Teessiders team will go down in history as one of the game's biggest flops.

Not that they're the first team to fail to live up to such huge pre-season hype though. Here's my rundown of the Top Ten Flops of recent seasons.

10. Millwall - 2006/7

After relegation from the Championship the previous season, the Lions overhauled their squad - investing good money into bouncing back at the first attempt.

Alas though, they decided to hire Nigel Spackman as their manager, and he continued his woeful managerial record at the start of the campaign.

The Londoners collected just five points from their opening ten games, earning Spackman the boot and replacement Willie Donachie having to pull them out of the mire.

They ended up 10th, way short of even a spot in the play offs.

9. Oxford United - 2001/2

There was an air of gloom around Oxford United in 2001 - the club had ended their time at
Manor Ground with relegation from the third tier.

Step forward former Oxen player, local boy done good, and ex-England international - Mark Wright. He had impressed in his first manager's job at Southport and seemed like the man to get Oxford moving again.

He wasn't. The squad looked strong, vastly experienced, and well capable of challenging at the right end.

With 19 games played and sitting just three points off the bottom, Wright - already suspended by the FA after alleged racist comments to a match day official - resigned.

Successor Ian Atkins inherited a shambles of a squad which ended up a pitiful 21st with just 47 points to their name.

8. Hull City - 2002/3

Tigers Tigers burning bright. The future looked optimistic for Hull in the summer of 2002.

Their money troubles behind them, a new ground on the way, and a big name manager proven in the lower leagues.

Everyone was tipping City to finally realise their potential. However, things didn't quite go according to plan for Jan Molby.

The Tigers registered just 12 points from their first 12 games and a loss at Kidderminster - the club Molby had walked out on
months earlier to join Hull - saw his reign brought to a quick end.

Peter Taylor assumed control, but even he failed to turn around their fortunes. Despite resources the envy of the rest of the division, they ended the season in 13th.

7. Leeds United - 2006/7

Leeds had ended the previous campaign as losing play off finalists to Watford. Hopes were high that Kevin Blackwell's side could now go one better.

Perhaps it was a reaction to their close miss a few months earlier, but the Yorkshire side got off to a miserable start and the manager was fired after just eight games.

He left United in the bottom three, but with enough time and a squad more than capable of getting themselves out of trouble.

So you'd think. Replacement Dennis Wise failed to get the most out a team that had come to within 90 minutes of the Premier League and Leeds dropped out of the division with a whimper having entered administration.

6. Sheffield Wednesday - 2003/4

How the mighty had fallen. Wednesday had been a staple of the top flight during the previous decade, but fell down to League One in 2003.

Boss Chris Turner revamped his squad - aiming to steer his home town club back up at the first attempt.

They almost did make it out of League One - but at the wrong end. The Owls ended up 16th - just three points above the relegation zone and a place in the basement division.

Financially troubled off the pitch, perhaps, but Wednesday's squad's toiling and finishing below the likes of Wrexham and Hartlepool was embarrassing.

5. Bradford City - 2007-10

Still flopping. The pre-season choice for League Two winners of every national newspaper for the past four seasons, City continue to disappoint.

They were relegated to the basement division in 2007, promptly installed legend Stuart McCall as manager, and sold 13,000 season tickets on the cheap.

McCall failed to get them even challenging for the top seven for two-and-a-half years before Peter Taylor was appointed his successor.

Last season's positive end has been followed by a dreadful start this term though - they currently sit in 19th. Still time to turn it around and avoid another flop.

4. Ipswich Town - 2009/10

Resources. Check. Money invested. Check. Decent crowds. Check. Proven manager at this level. Check.

Everything seemed set up for Ipswich last season. How they could fail to challenge now Roy Keane was manager?

How? Try not recording a win in their first 14 games - a run which left them bottom of the table.

Albeit there were plenty of draws in that run - which saw Keane avoid an early axe - but Town fans were not getting value for considerable money.

The Suffolk outfit ended the campaign in 15th - well short of a place in the top six, which had been the minimum requirement.

3. Nottingham Forest - 2005/6

Forest made history in 2005 when they became the first winner of the European Cup to drop into their country's third tier of domestic football.

Their embarrassment didn't stop there though. Despite the lower league experience of manager Gary Megson, Forest failed to get to grips with life in League One.

When Megson was eventually sacked - they sat just four points shy of the bottom four and a possible second successive relegation.

Ultimately, a late rally at the end of the term saw them just miss out on a place in the play offs. A talented squad had made a complete meal of the season though.

2. Coventry City - 2001/2

He may yet get onto a future list with Boro but, for now, Gordon Strachan will have to make do with this failure at Coventry.

The Warwickshire side had just been relegated from the top flight under the Scot after over 30 years amongst the country's elite.

However, they were determined to bounce back immediately - ambition illustrated by the £5 million signing of West Brom striker Lee Hughes.

Three losses in their first five games saw Strachan dismissed though, and replacement Roland Nilsson was unable to coax any consistency out of one of the division's strongest squads.

An end of season 11th place was well below-par, particularly as a Hughes-less West Brom went on to gain promotion.

1. Bristol Rovers - 2001/2

You could probably excuse Rovers for still being in a state of shock when they began their League Two campaign in 2001.

Just 12 months after finishing 7th in the third tier, they had been relegated down to the basement division. Unthinkable.

Still, at least they had retained a strong squad - including promising striker Nathan Ellington. At least they would walk all over opponents and gain promotion with ex-Spurs boss and club legend Gerry Francis in charge.

How wrong they were. Francis was a flop, and the Gas ended the campaign in 23rd - second bottom of the entire 92 club and the lowest position in the club's entire history.

Had they done the same 12 months later, they would have been relegated into the Conference. Rovers got lucky.

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