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Monday, February 21, 2011

Like The Fox On The Run

With Leicester City surging into promotion contention in the Championship, Nobes looks at other clubs who have come up with a late run to win promotion.

Sven-Goran Eriksson's Leicester are the form side in the Championship

Sure, Steve Claridge may have predicted as much on the BBC's The Football League Show, but so did our very own Doctor Lakes last month - Leicester City are on the march.

In fact, since Sven-Goran Eriksson took charge at the Walkers, no Championship side has done better than the Foxes with the Swede collecting 43 points from his 22 games at the helm.

Now lying 7th and just five points off the top two, City, who were propping up the rest of the division in the first few weeks under Paulo Sousa, are firmly in the promotion mix.

After his team's recent 4-1 loss in the East Midlands, Barnsley boss Mark Robins declared Leicester the best side in the division - and current form backs his judgement.

Should they indeed gain entry back to the Premier League though, they won't be the first side to win promotion off the back of a storming second half season run.

Here's my look at how some of their potential predecessors managed to do it.

Birmingham City - 2001/2

Perennial top six candidates, Birmingham parted company with long-serving boss Trevor Francis in 2001.

They then made an enemy for life in Simon Jordan in poaching Crystal Palace boss Steve Bruce to turn around their fortunes.

However, with nine games of the season remaining, it appeared promotion in his first season at the helm would be beyond former Blues player Bruce.

Not so. A combination of a late run coupled with rivals Preston, Burnley, and Coventry wobbling saw City get back into contention.

Five wins and four draws from their remaining matches secured 5th place and a shot in the play-offs.

There they saw off Millwall over two legs. Then they recovered from a goal behind to defeat Norwich on penalties in the final at the Millennium Stadium and reach the Premier League for the first time in their history.

Wrexham - 2002/3

When the Red Dragons went down to a loss at struggling Exeter at the beginning of March they were still just three points off 3rd in a congested top half of League Two.

However, they were a mammoth 21 points behind league leaders Hartlepool with only 42 points left to play for.

They dropped just eight of those points though, winning ten and drawing four, to finish the season promoted in 3rd.

They ended up three points off top of the table Rushden, a single point behind Hartlepool, and with the largest goal difference in the league.

It earned boss Denis Smith the Manager of the Year award in the basement division. In truth, had the season gone of for a couple more weeks, Wrexham would have been crowned Champions.

Remember when this man used to have the Midas touch? No, seriously.

Crystal Palace - 2003/4

God bless Iain Dowie.

You don't hear those words very often, but the remarkable run his Crystal Palace team went on in 2004 has provided great comfort to many a Championship club and boss since.

Should their side be struggling at Christmas, you can guarantee - in an appeal for more time to turn things around - that they will mention the dramatic turnaround in fortunes Dowie engineered in South London.

True, the Eagles were in the relegation zone at the start of December, but soon surged up the table until, with ten games left, they were just five points shy of the top six.

In those last ten, they won seven and drew one to end up 6th, having only moved into the play off positions for the first time in the penultimate round of fixtures.

Once in the play offs they saw off Sunderland on penalties in the semi finals before earning a sweet victory over Capital rivals West Ham in the final to end the season promoted to the top flight.

Sunderland - 2006/7

It was a run which made Roy Keane a legend on Wearside and established managerial credentials gradually destroyed over 18 months as Ipswich manager.

Still, before we discovered Keane's scouting network was reserved simply for former players, Irishmen, or Manchester United youngsters, he seemed to have the Midas touch in 2007.

The Black Cats rounded off 2006 sitting in 12th after a 1-0 loss to Preston at the Stadium Of Light. They sat six points off the play offs and a massive 16 behind leaders Birmingham.

However, in their final 20 games, Keane's charges won 16 and drew 3 to oust Birmingham from the top after game 42 and stay there to secure the league title and promotion.

The original late run and Blackpool play off win came under Simon Grayson

Blackpool - 2006/7

If Ian Holloway guiding Blackpool to play off success last term was a surprise, their promotion in 2007 was every bit as unexpected, and owed much to a good late run.

The Seasiders had only just avoided relegation the previous season and seemed to be in for a year of mid table mediocrity in League One.

A loss to Millwall in the back end of the campaign left them 10th, a full 12 points off second place.

However, Simon Grayson's men then went on a storming run of 11 wins and two draws to end up in 3rd spot, just two points off promoted Bristol City.

In truth, there was only going to be one winner in the play offs that season. Blackpool swotted aside Oldham in the semi finals before putting surprise package Yeovil to the sword 2-0 in the final.

Bristol Rovers - 2006/7

Clearly 2007 was the year of late runs, with Bristol Rovers filling that particular role in the basement division to win promotion.

When the Gas suffered a 2-1 defeat at Boston, they sat 16th in League Two with only 11 games of the season remaining.

Nobody could have envisaged what was to happen next. Rovers discovered a run of form and won eight and drew two in the run-in.

It culminated in them finishing 6th and they saw off play off veterans Lincoln over two legs to make the final.

There a 3-1 win at Wembley over Shrewsbury secured them the most unlikeliest of promotions to the third tier.

Coming to a concert hall near you soon - Phil Brown on top of the world in 2008

Hull City - 2007/8

Remember when Phil Brown wasn't known for being that eccentric orange-skinned man who enjoys berating his players on the pitch and singing badly?

I know, it seems hard to believe now, but Brown was making a name for himself in East Yorkshire - first saving Hull from relegation from the Championship and then progressing them up the table.

When they lost to table topping Bristol City at the beginning of March, the Tigers sat 11 points off 3rd place with 12 games of the campaign left to play.

Eight of those games were won, and another drawn, as Brown guided City to 3rd place, just four points behind promoted Stoke.

They went into the play offs strong favourites and, after casting aside Watford over two legs, a 1-0 win over, appropriately, Bristol City secured them top flight status for the first time in the club's history.

Notts County - 2009/10

Now, you might be spotting a pattern here - as well as rejoicing that we have the play offs in English football. Late run of form, qualify for play offs, win them.

You're not wrong. However, in the case of Notts County they didn't leave their chances to the end of season lottery.

In truth, County had been the title favourites last season with an expensively assembled squad that nobody thought they could afford - and they were right. They were also right about them winning the league though.

Notts did it the hard way, however. Their third manager of the season, Steve Cotterill, took over at Meadow Lane with them 7th in the division, trailing leaders Rochdale by a full 14 points.

In Cotterill's 18 games in charge, the Magpies won 14 and drew three of them. Coupled with Dale imploding, they secured the title by a decisive ten point margin.

While 14 games may be too few for Sven's men to close the ten point gap separating them and Championship leaders QPR, current form suggests that just points, rather than any other sides, will separate the Foxes and the Rs come May.

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