All posts by Simon Wright

Hello, I am Simon, 29 and currently work as a Picture Researcher & Product Editor for Topps Europe Ltd. In my spare time, I run the Premier League at 25 Website. I graduated from the University of Northampton in 2012 with a 2:1 degree in BA Hons Journalism.

Premier League Rewind: 5th-8th May 2001

Results: Arsenal 2-1 Leeds United, Aston Villa 3-2 Coventry City, Bradford City 1-1 Middlesbrough, Chelsea 2-1 Everton, Leicester City 4-2 Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool FC 3-0 Newcastle United, Manchester United 0-1 Derby County, Sunderland 3-2 Charlton Athletic, West Ham United 3-0 Southampton, Ipswich Town 2-1 Manchester City, Liverpool FC 2-2 Chelsea

With three games to go and the title already wrapped up by Manchester United, attention in May 2001 was largely focused on the bottom of the table. Bradford City were already condemned to relegation but the fight for survival was on between Derby County, Manchester City and Coventry City.

All three sides had testing fixtures away from home and with no margin for error, the side able to pull off a victory was more likely to survive. Derby had the most challenging match with a trip to the champions at Old Trafford. Jim Smith’s side had struggled all season and had only won one of their last seven encounters. The Rams though had pulled off an unexpected victory away at Manchester United in April 1997, so they had experience of producing the unexpected and they did so again here, with a shock 1-0 victory. Malcolm Christie scored the only goal of the game in the 34th minute to inflict only a second home defeat on Sir Alex Ferguson’s side all season. This win piled the pressure on Coventry City.

It meant the Sky Blues had to realistically win at Villa Park against Midlands rivals Aston Villa. They were in a very strong position when two spectacular goals from Mustapha Hadji had them 2-0 ahead. However, it was a position Gordon Strachan’s side weren’t used to in the 2000-2001 season. They’d recorded just eight league victories all campaign and it showed. Darius Vassell and Juan Pablo Angel pulled Villa level and with four minutes to go, Paul Merson delivered the final blow with a superb curling effort. The Villans won 3-2 and that result, combined with Derby’s win meant Coventry’s 34-year stay in England’s top-flight was officially over. They haven’t been back since.

Two nights later, a similar fate befell Manchester City. Shaun Goater gave their supporters hope by opening the scoring away to high-flying Ipswich Town in the 74th minute. Matt Holland equalised four minutes later though and Martijn Reuser’s diving header five minutes from full-time sealed a 2-1 win for Ipswich to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the following season’s UEFA Champions League. For Joe Royle and Manchester City, it was the end of the road and relegation back to the First Division.

Ipswich were in a three-horse race for the final UEFA Champions League qualifying position and it was advantage Liverpool FC in this particular battle. The Reds were preparing for the FA Cup final with Arsenal but warmed up by claiming four points from two home fixtures. Michael Owen was in sensational form, scoring yet another hat-trick against Newcastle United in a 3-0 success. Three days later, he grabbed another two goals in an absorbing 2-2 draw with Chelsea, as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink matched Owen’s accomplishment. The Dutchman’s two goals on Merseyside saw him take a giant step closer to winning the Golden Boot.

Elsewhere, Arsenal secured the runners-up position by defeating in-form Leeds United 2-1. Freddie Ljungberg and Sylvain Wiltord scored the goals in what turned out to be a damaging defeat for Leeds’ prospects of matching their third place finish from the previous campaign. Leicester’s wretched run of seven consecutive losses was ended by a 4-2 home victory against Tottenham Hotspur with goals from Gary Rowett, Dean Sturridge, Steve Guppy and a Robbie Savage penalty whilst Middlesbrough’s safety was secured by other results. They drew 1-1 at Valley Parade with bottom-placed Bradford City.

What else happened in May 2001?

  • Campaigning for the UK General Election is dominated by a scuffle between Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and a protestor in Rhyl after an egg is thrown at him.
  • Silvio Berlusconi becomes Italian Prime Minister for the second time after winning the election in Italy.
  • The government decides to start relaxing its tough sanctions put in place to tackle the foot and mouth crisis two months on.
  • Liverpool FC complete a unique ‘Treble’ of cup victories, defeating Arsenal 2-1 in the FA Cup final in Cardiff, before prevailing 5-4 against Spanish side Alaves in the UEFA Cup final in Dortmund.
  • At 16, Temba Tsheri becomes the youngest person to summit Mount Everest.
  • With the song ‘Everybody,’ Estonia win the 2001 Eurovision Song Contest.

 

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Premier League Files: Mustapha Hadji

Premier League Career: Coventry City (1999-2001), Aston Villa (2001-2004)

Currently assistant manager of the Morocco international team, it has been over 20 years since Mustapha Hadji made his impact as a player, scoring a brilliant goal for his country on the opening day of the 1998 World Cup finals against Norway. Hadji tried his luck in the Premier League in 1999 with Coventry City and remained on these shores for five years, having also represented Aston Villa. He still remains as one of the most successful players to represent his country in the Premier League.

Born in Ifrane Atlas-Saghir, Hadji left his homeland for France at the age of 10 and began playing football shortly afterwards at youth level. He made his professional debut with AS Nancy in 1991 and remained with them for five years, scoring 31 times in 134 league appearances. He was part of the Morocco squad that played in the 1994 World Cup finals, although they would lose all their matches in the group stage. He came on as a substitute in two of these matches and setup a goal for his teammate Hassan Nader against the Netherlands.

In 1996, Hadji moved to Portugal but had an unhappy year at Sporting Lisbon and also struggled to make an impact during a two-year stay at Deportivo La Coruna where he was limited to 31 appearances. So, the 1998 World Cup finals was a chance for him to make his mark. He duly delivered in that opening game against Norway which finished in a 2-2 draw. Hadji was also exceptional in Morocco’s victory against Scotland. However, Norway’s late win over holders Brazil meant the Africans were eliminated in the group stage again. Despite this disappointment, Hadji was named African Footballer of the Year.

In 1999, Gordon Strachan took him to the Premier League, bringing Hadji and his international colleague, Youssef Chippo to Coventry City. A goalscoring attacking midfielder, Hadji scored 12 times in 62 appearances for the Sky Blues and quickly became a cult hero at Highfield Road. He raised his levels when the higher-profile clubs visited Coventry and his best game for the club arguably came on Boxing Day 1999. He scored a brilliant curling effort from distance in a surprising 3-2 victory over Arsenal.

He was the club’s joint top goalscorer in 2000-2001 alongside Craig Bellamy but Coventry were relegated at the end of the season. That was despite Hadji’s best efforts in the game they went down as he scored twice at Villa Park against Aston Villa. His goals in the game put Coventry 2-0 up but they squandered that advantage and Paul Merson’s late winner, coupled with a Derby victory at Old Trafford sent the Sky Blues down to the First Division.

John Gregory was impressed by Hadji’s form at Coventry, so kept him in the Midlands by signing him for Aston Villa in the summer of 2001. He scored in a UEFA Cup tie against Varteks and twice in the Premier League away at Southampton and Everton. However, Gregory’s departure in January 2002 was a disaster for Hadji’s English career. He became a sporadic player for Graham Taylor and was barely used by David O’Leary too. In 2004, he was released and joined Espanyol on a free transfer.

He ended his playing career in July 2010 after periods playing in the United Arab Emirates, as well as for 1. FC Saarbrucken in Germany and CS Fola Esch in Luxembourg. He scored 25 goals in 44 appearances for the latter before hanging up his boots.

Hadji made the move into coaching in 2012 as an assistant for the Qatari club Umm Salal before being appointed assistant manager for Morocco before the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. He is also involved in partnership with plans to invest in Morocco, providing opportunities for local people to help reduce poverty from his homeland.

Iconic Moments: Everton survive by the skin of their teeth (May 1998)

After 44 years of unbroken top-flight existence, Everton’s status was in severe jeopardy going into the final day of the 1997-1998 Premier League season. For the second time in five years, they went into a final round of fixtures in the bottom three and needing a better result than their relegation rivals to avoid the drop to the First Division. They had achieved it in 1994 against Wimbledon with Sheffield United the unfortunate side to experience the heartache of relegation.

In 1998, they were in a head-to-head battle with Bolton Wanderers. Everton were a point behind and had a more favourable fixture at home to Coventry City, whilst Bolton were travelling to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea. Things went Everton’s way in their match when Gareth Farrelly’s terrific early strike put them 1-0 ahead. Bolton fell behind to a goal from Gianluca Vialli in west London but there were to be exciting final twists.

Everton’s Nick Barmby saw a penalty saved by Magnus Hedman and when Dion Dublin equalised for Coventry with an arching header three minutes from time, Bolton knew the situation. A leveller at Chelsea would keep them up and even the Chelsea supporters were urging the Trotters to equalise. This was after Everton had suggested earlier in the week that Chelsea wouldn’t be motivated to win as they had a Cup Winners’ Cup final on the horizon days later against VfB Stuttgart.

In stoppage-time, the home supporters began booing their own players but in a counter-attack, Jody Morris finished off the contest and Bolton’s chances. Fans cheered Morris’ goal but less enthusiastically as any other Chelsea goal scored at Stamford Bridge all season. Chelsea’s 2-0 win meant a point would be enough for Everton and they held on for their draw by the skin of their teeth to achieve another manic final day escape from relegation, this time courtesy of only goal difference.

Great Goals: Kevin Nolan – BOLTON WANDERERS vs. Portsmouth (September 2005)

Kevin Nolan’s best season at Bolton Wanderers was arguably in the 2005-2006 season. He scored a flurry of great goals which saw him linked with a possible England call-up from Sven-Goran Eriksson; a cap he was destined never to receive.

Nolan showed off his acrobatic range with this overhead kick against Portsmouth in September 2005. It was a game low on quality and chances but Nolan did produce a worthy moment to settle the match between the two sides.

After 24 minutes, Henrik Pedersen looped a ball into the penalty area which was kept alive by his strike partner, Kevin Davies. Davies’ header reached Nolan but it was behind him so the midfielder improvised with an awesome overhead kick that left Portsmouth goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown motionless.

Bolton’s 1-0 victory took them to third place in the table and this was part of Nolan’s qualities in his game, especially during this purple patch of form during his spell at The Reebok Stadium.

The Foreign Legion: Nigeria

Number of Nigerian Players to have played in the Premier League: 42

Most appearances: Shola Ameobi (299)

Most goals: Yakubu (95)

Appearances (Top 25): Shola Ameobi 299, Kanu 273, Yakubu 252, John Obi Mikel 249, Joseph Yobo 228, Victor Moses 220, Victor Anichebe 204, Celestine Babayaro 180, Efan Ekoku 158, Peter Odemwingie 129, Jay-Jay Okocha 124, Dickson Etuhu 111, Alex Iwobi 100, Kelechi Iheanacho 97, Obafemi Martins 92, Wilfred Ndidi 88, Ade Akinbiyi 76, John Utaka 66, Odion Ighalo 55, Isaac Success 49, Daniel Amokachi 43, Sone Aluko 42, Danny Shittu 40, Seyi Olofinjana 37, Finidi George 25

Goals (Top 25): Yakubu 95, Kanu 54, Efan Ekoku 53, Shola Ameobi 43, Peter Odemwingie 37, Obafemi Martins 28, Victor Anichebe 27, Victor Moses 20, Odion Ighalo 17, Kelechi Iheanacho 16, Jay-Jay Okocha 14, Ade Akinbiyi 11, Alex Iwobi 11, Daniel Amokachi 10, Joseph Yobo 8, John Utaka 7, Finidi George 6, Celestine Babayaro 5, Dickson Etuhu 4, Brown Ideye 4, Wilfred Ndidi 4, Victor Obinna 3, Seyi Olofinjana 3, Sone Aluko 2, Ahmed Musa 2

Assists (Top 25): Kanu 29, Victor Moses 26, Shola Ameobi 20, Alex Iwobi 19, Victor Anichebe 18, Peter Odemwingie 18, Yakubu 16, Kelechi Iheanacho 12, John Obi Mikel 11, John Utaka 10, Odion Ighalo 6, Obafemi Martins 6, Wilfred Ndidi 5, Victor Obinna 5, Sone Aluko 4, Hope Akpan 4, Celestine Babayaro 3, Dickson Etuhu 3, Jay-Jay Okocha 3, Taye Taiwo 3, Brown Ideye 2, Isaac Success 2, Joseph Yobo 2, Julius Aghahowa 1, Ade Akinbiyi 1

All data correct upto the end of the 2018-2019 season

One of the most popular African countries in the Premier League era has been Nigeria. There has been a steady influx of Nigerian players in the first 27 years of Premier League football, with no fewer than 42 representatives. Some have had great success and become Premier League champions, whilst others didn’t have the impact they hoped for.

The first Nigerian player to make a significant impact on the Premier League was Efan Ekoku. He joined Norwich City in 1993 and enjoyed a productive spell on these shores. He first came to attention by becoming the first player to score four goals in a Premier League match when he ran riot at Goodison Park in September 1993. Ekoku got four of Norwich’s five on the day in a 5-1 win at Everton. He transferred to Wimbledon in October 1994 and became a fans favourite with the Dons supporters until their relegation in 2000.

Ekoku was joined in the Premier League in the summer of 1994 by Daniel Amokachi who signed for Everton after his excellent performances for The Super Eagles at the 1994 World Cup finals. Under-pressure Mike Walker signed him for £3 million and it took a while for Amokachi to settle on Merseyside. He started to flourish in the second half of the season. He helped the Toffees win the FA Cup final and scored 10 times in 43 appearances before leaving for Besiktas in 1996. Although he had his outstanding games and became a cult hero, there was a feeling that he hadn’t quite manage to justify the transfer fee Walker paid for him.

Nigeria’s leading marksman in the Premier League is Yakubu. He made his Premier League debut in 2003 with Portsmouth and went on to play for Middlesbrough, Everton and Blackburn Rovers in the top-flight. Yakubu often finished in the top 10 goalscorers for the league in most seasons, making a big impact for all of the clubs he represented. He was part of the Everton side that finished fifth in 2007-2008 and reached the UEFA Cup final with Middlesbrough in 2006.

Nigeria has plenty of title winners among their ranks. John Obi Mikel wasn’t always the most popular player at Chelsea but he did provide nearly a decade of service to the west Londoners. He won the Premier League title with the Blues in 2010 and 2015. He would play alongside Victor Moses at Chelsea. After a series of loan periods away at Liverpool FC, Stoke City and West Ham United, Moses came to the fore in Antonio Conte’s debut season as Chelsea manager. Utilised as a wing-back, Moses was one of the success stories of Chelsea’s 2016-2017 title-winning side. Kanu is also a title winner, part of the Arsenal sides that won the championship in 2002 and 2004. He produced some outrageous moments of skill during his Arsenal days. He also provided the Premier League with one of the most famous misses against Middlesbrough whilst playing for West Bromwich Albion in November 2004.

The player with the most appearances from Nigeria is Shola Ameobi. Ameobi made 295 appearances for Newcastle United over 14 years and also added another four appearances to his tally in 2015 during a short period with Crystal Palace. Ameobi was often the perfect foil for Alan Shearer and a capable understudy, even if he never managed double figures in any top-flight campaign he took part in. He did though boast an unbelievable record in the Tyne & Wear Derby against Sunderland, scoring doubles in home victories over the Black Cats in 2005 and 2010.

Bolton Wanderers supporters will never forget Jay-Jay Okocha. Okocha was one of the most skilful players in the Premier League during his four-season stay in Lancashire, scoring 14 goals in 124 appearances. His crucial goals and matchwinning contributions were vital to the Trotters staying in the top-flight in 2002-2003.

Other notable Nigerian players include Odion Ighalo. No player in England’s top four leagues scored more league goals than Ighalo in 2015 and he had a prolific period at Watford alongside Troy Deeney. Peter Odemwingie had a lively spell with West Bromwich Albion which ended acrimoniously after famously pulling up in Queens Park Rangers’ car park in January 2013, believing he was about to sign for them, even though he hadn’t received permission to talk to the club! There are five Nigerian players currently in the Premier League. Their current charge is led by Alex Iwobi, who made his 100th Premier League appearance for Arsenal in May 2019.

The Clubs: Leicester City

Updated upto the end of the 2018-2019 Premier League season

All-Time Premier League Record

Played Won Drew Lost Scored Conceded Goal Difference Points No of Seasons
498 157 136 205 623 718 -95 607 13

 

Most Premier League Appearances

Player Appearances Total
Muzzy Izzet 222
Matt Elliott 199
Jamie Vardy 176
Robbie Savage 172
Kasper Schmeichel 163
Steve Guppy 161
Wes Morgan 156
Neil Lennon 155
Marc Albrighton 150
Riyad Mahrez 139

 

Most Premier League Goals

Player Goals Total
Jamie Vardy 80
Riyad Mahrez 39
Emile Heskey 33
Muzzy Izzet 33
Tony Cottee 27
Matt Elliott 22
Ian Marshall 18
Leonardo Ulloa 18
Paul Dickov 15
Shinji Okazaki 14

 

Biggest Premier League Victories

Match Date Season
Leicester City 5-1 Queens Park Rangers 24th May 2015 2014-2015
Derby County 0-4 Leicester City 26th April 1998 1997-1998
Leicester City 4-0 Leeds United 15th September 2003 2003-2004
Leicester City 4-0 Swansea City 24th April 2016 2015-2016
Leicester City 5-2 Sunderland 5th March 2000 1999-2000
Southampton 1-4 Leicester City 13th December 2017 2017-2018
West Bromwich Albion 1-4 Leicester City 10th March 2018 2017-2018
Huddersfield Town 1-4 Leicester City 6th April 2019 2018-2019
Leicester City 3-0 Tottenham Hotspur 13th September 1997 1997-1998
Crystal Palace 0-3 Leicester City 11th April 1998 1997-1998

 

Worst Premier League Defeats

Match Date Season
Arsenal 6-1 Leicester City 26th December 2000 2000-2001
Leicester City 1-6 Tottenham Hotspur 18th May 2017 2016-2017
Arsenal 5-0 Leicester City 20th February 1999 1998-1999
Leicester City 0-5 Bolton Wanderers 18th August 2001 2001-2002
Leicester City 0-5 Aston Villa 31st January 2004 2003-2004
Crystal Palace 5-0 Leicester City 28th April 2018 2017-2018
Leicester City 2-6 Manchester United 16th January 1999 1998-1999
Manchester City 5-1 Leicester City 10th February 2018 2017-2018
Chelsea 4-0 Leicester City 8th October 1994 1994-1995
Leicester City 0-4 Manchester United 15th April 1995 1994-1995

 

Managers

Manager No of Seasons managed Left the Club
Brian Little 1 22nd November 1994
Mark McGhee 1 7th December 1995
Martin O’Neill 4 1st June 2000
Peter Taylor 2 30th September 2001
Dave Bassett 1 6th April 2002
Micky Adams 2 10th October 2004
Nigel Pearson 1 30th June 2015
Claudio Ranieri 2 23rd February 2017
Craig Shakespeare 2 17th October 2017
Claude Puel 2 24th February 2019
Brendan Rodgers 1  

 

Highest Home Attendances

Match Date Attendance Figure Season
Leicester City 4-2 Sunderland 8th August 2015 32,242 2015-2016
Leicester City 2-2 Manchester United 23rd December 2017 32,202 2017-2018
Leicester City 0-0 Burnley 10th November 2018 32,184 2018-2019
Leicester City 1-2 Liverpool FC 1st September 2018 32,149 2018-2019
Leicester City 1-1 Newcastle United 26th December 2003 32,148 2003-2004
Leicester City 0-1 Manchester United 3rd February 2019 32,148 2018-2019
Leicester City 3-1 Everton 7th May 2016 32,140 2015-2016
Leicester City 2-0 Liverpool FC 2nd February 2016 32,121 2015-2016
Leicester City 1-1 Manchester United 28th November 2015 32,115 2015-2016
Leicester City 1-0 Norwich City 27th February 2016 32,114 2015-2016

 

Intro

In 2015-2016, Leicester City produced the greatest story the Premier League has ever seen. The 5000-1 bookies outsiders for the title produced a fairytale, landing their first-ever English top-flight title. Before this, the Foxes had experienced relegation three times in the Premier League and only narrowly avoided another drop in 2014-2015 due to an incredible run-in under Nigel Pearson’s guidance. They are now a regular top 10 club and are managed by the former Swansea City and Liverpool FC boss, Brendan Rodgers.

 

1994-1995

It was third time lucky for Leicester City in the play-offs, achieving promotion for the first time to the Premier League elite in 1994. Brian Little was their manager but the going was very tough. Leicester won just twice before Little departed in mid-November to take the reins at his former club, Aston Villa. Mark McGhee took over but had little chance of pulling off a miracle and the Foxes became the first team to be relegated in mid-April, finishing 21st out of 22 teams.

 

1996-1997

Martin O’Neill guided Leicester back into the Premier League at the first attempt after more play-off glory and 1996-1997 would be a triumphant return for Leicester. They finished in a superb ninth place and won the League Cup, beating Middlesbrough in a replay 1-0 in the final thanks to a goal from Steve Claridge. This was also the season where Emile Heskey started to make his breakthrough on the Premier League with 10 goals.

 

1997-1998

Leicester enjoyed another solid season under Martin O’Neill’s guidance. He won the Manager of the Month award in September for his early season achievements which included a stirring fightback to draw 3-3 with Arsenal, having been 2-0 down with only five minutes to go. One of the club’s most eye-catching results came towards the end of the season with a 4-0 away victory at Derby County. Leicester finished the season in 10th place.

 

1998-1999

For the third successive campaign, Leicester achieved a top half finish and it was 10th again. Despite being heavily linked with the Leeds United vacancy in October, O’Neill stayed loyal to the club and signed a new contract. It turned into a fairly uneventful campaign for the supporters but the foundations had been laid and the club from Filbert Street were now seen as a stable mid-table top-flight side.

 

1999-2000

Leicester City surpassed their ninth place finish of 1997, going one better to record an eighth place finish in the table in 1999-2000. There was more joy in the League Cup with a second final victory in four years, as plucky First Division outfit Tranmere Rovers were seen off 2-1. Leicester also took a gamble on Stan Collymore in February and he repaid the faith with a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory over Sunderland. However, he suffered a horrible injury a month later in a defeat at Derby and Emile Heskey’s departure for £11 million to Liverpool FC convinced Martin O’Neill to move on. He went north of the border to manage Celtic at the end of the season.

 

2000-2001

Glenn Hoddle’s former assistant from England duty, Peter Taylor was chosen as Leicester’s new manager and initially, he settled in very quickly. The Foxes stayed unbeaten until mid-October and even enjoyed the October international break on top of the Premier League table. A 2-0 win over Liverpool FC in March took Leicester into fifth place but they finished the campaign dismally. An FA Cup sixth round defeat at home to Wycombe Wanderers was followed by nine defeats in their last 10 games to finish in 13th position. It wouldn’t get any better in the following season for the supporters.

 

2001-2002

Peter Taylor began the season as a man under pressure and it showed. Leicester lost their first two matches by an aggregate of 9-0 to Bolton Wanderers and Arsenal respectively. At the end of September, he lost his job after winning just one of his first eight matches of the campaign.

Dave Bassett was brought in to save the club from relegation but form didn’t improve. Leicester spent Christmas Day bottom of the table and relegation was confirmed following a 1-0 home defeat to Manchester United in early April. Bassett moved upstairs and was replaced by his assistant manager, Micky Adams.

2001-2002 was also the final season of football to be played at Filbert Street. They signed off with a 2-1 final day win over Tottenham Hotspur before moving into their new ground which was initially called The Walkers’ Stadium.

 

2003-2004

Runners-up to Portsmouth in the 2002-2003 First Division, Leicester City bounced back to the Premier League at the first attempt but were destined to struggle all campaign on their return. There was an early season 4-0 thumping of Leeds United in September and three wins in November took them as high as 12th. However, after a last-minute equaliser from Craig Hignett to draw 1-1 with Arsenal, the Foxes failed to win any of their next 12 matches.

In March, eight players were arrested after being accused of sexual assault on three German women during a training camp in La Manga. Three players, Keith Gillespie, Paul Dickov and Frank Sinclair were all charged but the case was later dropped.

Leicester did win at Birmingham a few days after this incident went public but relegation back to the second-tier was confirmed by a 2-2 draw at Charlton Athletic in early May; two weeks before the end of the season.

 

2014-2015

After an absence of 10 seasons, Leicester were back in the top-flight and made a decent start, drawing at home to Everton and Arsenal, then produced a remarkable comeback at home to Manchester United, storming back from 3-1 down to win 5-3 with club-record signing Leonardo Ulloa scoring twice.

However, they spent the bulk of the campaign bottom of the table, winning only two more games between that win over the Red Devils and the end of March. Seven points adrift of safety, Nigel Pearson’s side looked doomed but they produced an incredible run of form, winning seven out of their final nine matches. The remarkable escape from the drop was completed by a goalless draw at Sunderland on the final Saturday of the season. Their escape from relegation is among the best escape acts seen in Premier League history.

 

2015-2016

After some off-field transgressions, Leicester’s Thai owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha decided to replace Nigel Pearson with Claudio Ranieri in the managerial hotseat. Quoted 3-1 favourites for relegation and 5000-1 outsiders to win the title, Leicester defied expectations in more ways than one.

They were the final club to taste defeat at the end of September to Arsenal and Jamie Vardy broke the record for scoring in successive Premier League matches (11) against Manchester United in November. Leicester spent Christmas Day top of the table after a 3-2 win over Everton. Riyad Mahrez scored twice at Goodison and the Algerian won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year after an outstanding individual campaign.

Leicester became title favourites in early February when Vardy scored a Goal of the Season contender to defeat Liverpool FC 2-0, and then followed that a few days later with an impressive 3-1 victory away at pre-season favourites Manchester City. The fearless Foxes continued to stun the footballing world with some wonderful displays. In early May, they had the chance to wrap the title up at Old Trafford.

The 1-1 draw with Manchester United delayed the celebrations for 24 hours but Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with title rivals Tottenham Hotspur completed the fairytale story. The 5000-1 outsiders had just completed the impossible dream. Leicester City were the 2015-2016 Premier League champions.

 

2016-2017

It was always going to be a virtually impossible task to repeat the 2015-2016 heroics and the summer departure of imperious midfielder N’Golo Kante to Chelsea didn’t help Claudio Ranieri. Leicester’s away record was abysmal, failing to win away from The King Power Stadium until a 3-2 success in March at West Ham United. They went nearly two months without a Premier League goal and in February 2017 with rumours of player unrest, Ranieri was brutally sacked less than 24 hours after a first leg UEFA Champions League loss to Sevilla.

Ranieri’s assistant Craig Shakespeare was brought in as his replacement and he guided the club to eventual safety. They finished in 12th place which remains the worst title defence from a Premier League championship-winning side.

 

2017-2018

Craig Shakespeare was given the permanent job in the summer but he didn’t last long. Only two wins in his first eight matches saw him fired after an underwhelming 1-1 home draw with West Bromwich Albion in mid-October. He was replaced by former Southampton boss Claude Puel. Puel did inspire a four-game winning sequence early into his reign but Leicester finished in ninth place and a dismal run at the end of the season led to speculation about his long-term future. For the third successive season, Jamie Vardy finished as top scorer, ending with 20 Premier League strikes.

 

2018-2019

Leicester City’s 2018-2019 season was overshadowed by the tragic events that occurred outside The King Power Stadium on Saturday 27th October 2018. Just over an hour after drawing 1-1 with West Ham United, the helicopter belonging to owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha crashed shortly after take-off from the pitch. Five people, including Vichai were killed.

Leicester were united in grief with a wealth of floral tributes outside the ground to their owner. They played on a week later with an emotional 1-0 victory at Cardiff and Puel’s strength in such an overwhelming sense of tragedy was widely praised. There was an excellent festive period which brought about victories over Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton but a run of four defeats in six games and an FA Cup exit at League Two side Newport County AFC saw him sacked towards the end of February.

Brendan Rodgers returned to the Premier League after a trophy-laden spell in Scotland with Celtic and steered Leicester to a ninth place finish for the second successive season.

Shock Results: Manchester United 1-2 Nottingham Forest (December 1994)

Goalscorers: Stan Collymore 35, Stuart Pearce 62, Eric Cantona 68

Teams:

Manchester United: Gary Walsh, Steve Bruce, Denis Irwin, Gary Pallister, Roy Keane, Paul Ince, Ryan Giggs (Nicky Butt 74), Andrei Kanchelskis (Gary Neville 87), Brian McClair, Eric Cantona, Mark Hughes

Nottingham Forest: Mark Crossley, Steve Chettle, Des Lyttle, Stuart Pearce, Alf-Inge Haaland, Scot Gemmill, David Phillips, Steve Stone, Ian Woan, Stan Collymore, Bryan Roy (Lars Bohinen 84)

Referee: Keith Burge, Attendance: 43,744

Manchester United had gone eight whole months without conceding a home Premier League goal at Old Trafford. Despite being distracted slightly by their European commitments, the reigning champions were still just a point behind league leaders Blackburn Rovers before kicking-off at home to Nottingham Forest.

Having made a brilliant start on their top-flight return, Forest’s form had levelled out, with just one win in seven league matches and a recent exit in the League Cup at home to First Division Millwall. Frank Clark’s side were not expected to stop the United juggernaut. The Red Devils had only dropped two points since beating Blackburn 4-2 back in October.

In the first 20 minutes, it was the home side that looked more likely to score. Mark Hughes was desperately unlucky not to open the scoring; with his volley smashing the crossbar with Mark Crossley well-beaten and Andrei Kanchelskis’s fizzling free-kick only just cleared the bar moments later. However, Forest were causing some problems from set-pieces and Stan Collymore had the ball in the net but the goal was disallowed for him impeding his marker at a corner.

Collymore was a Manchester United transfer target and had scored in the 1-1 draw between the sides back in August at The City Ground. 10 minutes before half-time, he found the back of the net again against the team who had turned Premier League clean sheets at Old Trafford into an art. Found by Bryan Roy, Collymore cut inside Denis Irwin and before Gary Pallister could make a sliding challenge, the striker unleased a powerful shot into the top corner of Gary Walsh’s goal. United’s defence had been breached after 1,135 minutes since Graeme Sharp had scored in April 1994 for Oldham Athletic.

Collymore missed another glorious opportunity early in the second half but Forest found their second goal just past the hour mark. From a short corner routine, Steve Chettle’s flick-on was only partially cleared into the path of the captain, Stuart Pearce. His shot took a deflection off one of the charging defenders and left Walsh completely stranded. The visitors had a two-goal buffer to defend.

The home side’s frustration started to boil over. Referee Keith Burge gave out yellow cards to Ryan Giggs, Roy and Des Lyttle after a couple of ugly skirmishes. Both Giggs and Roy were lucky to avoid further sanction. On 68 minutes, Manchester United found a way through. From a Giggs corner, Eric Cantona flicked the ball into the net on the near post despite the efforts of Steve Stone on the goal-line.

Stone did clear a late effort off the line from Paul Ince and despite waves of intense pressure, Nottingham Forest held on for their fourth victory in their last 12 visits to Old Trafford. It would turn out to be Manchester United’s only home loss of the domestic season and a costly one. They missed out on a third successive title in May by just a single point.

Premier League Files: Benjani

Premier League Career: Portsmouth (2006-2008), Manchester City (2008-2009), Sunderland (2010), Blackburn Rovers (2010-2011)

Benjani became only the third Zimbabwean player after Bruce Grobbelaar and Peter Ndlovu to play in the Premier League. He played for four clubs in the top-flight between 2006 and 2011, though it was his spell at Portsmouth for which he will forever be associated with.

Benjani began his career playing in South African football before moving to Europe in 2001, joining Swiss outfit Grasshoppers Zurich on-loan. A year later, he moved to a talented Auxerre side and made the most of an injury to Djibril Cisse, settling down and scoring goals quickly for Guy Roux’s side. He scored seven times in his debut season and experienced UEFA Champions League football for the first time. 11 goals followed in the 2004-2005 campaign but when Jacques Santini succeeded Roux as manager, he tweaked the formation and Benjani was made surplus to requirements.

Marseille expressed an interest to sign him but Benjani liked English football and went to Portsmouth instead. The south coast club paid a club-record fee of £4.1 million to sign him in January 2006. Harry Redknapp made the purchase after receiving a recommendation from Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger.

Benjani was instantly ridiculed by pundits for his lack of goals but the fans loved him at Fratton Park, impressing with his high work-rate and setting up chances for his teammates. It took him 15 games before he found the back of the net for Pompey but it was a crucial goal in a 2-1 victory away at Wigan Athletic, helping Portsmouth to avoid relegation from the top-flight.

His best season undoubtedly was in 2007-2008. In the encounter against Reading in September 2007, Benjani scored a hat-trick in a thrilling 7-4 victory for Portsmouth which remains the highest scoring match in Premier League history. In January 2008, he scored another treble as Pompey came from behind to defeat Derby County 3-1. That took his tally to 12 goals for the season, surpassing his target of 10 that he’d personally set. However, it would be the last goal of his first spell at the club.

Sven-Goran Eriksson was interested in signing the player and on transfer deadline day, Portsmouth accepted an £8 million bid from Manchester City. Benjani was reluctant to leave but Pompey had already agreed to sign Jermain Defoe from Tottenham Hotspur and planned to finalise the transfer by selling Benjani. Despite missing two flights to Manchester for a planned medical, the move did eventually go through.

He made a great debut, scoring a header to win the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford for his new club. He added further goals against his former club Portsmouth and Fulham. However, Eriksson left in the summer of 2008 and along with injuries and added competition from the likes of Robinho and Craig Bellamy, Benjani’s amount of game time became seriously limited.

He was allowed to leave in the summer of 2009 but failed to agree personal terms over a transfer to Hull City. He remained at Eastlands until a loan move to Sunderland in February 2010 which didn’t materialise into a permanent switch. Released by Manchester City in summer 2010, Benjani joined Blackburn Rovers in August 2010. He did score twice in a 3-1 victory over Liverpool FC in January 2011 but although Blackburn were interested in keeping him beyond 2010-2011, he turned a new contract down and made an emotional return to Portsmouth, who were now playing in the Championship.

However, he couldn’t replicate his form from his previous spell at Portsmouth and was released after just a year. He finished his playing career in 2014 after a spell back in South African football.

Memorable Matches: Everton 2-3 Aston Villa (December 2008)

Goalscorers: Steve Sidwell 1, Joleon Lescott 30, 90 + 3, Ashley Young 54, 90 +4

Teams:

Everton: Tim Howard, Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott, Joseph Yobo, Phil Neville (Andy van der Meyde 85), Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill, Marouane Fellaini, Leon Osman, Steven Pienaar, Victor Anichebe (Leighton Baines 87)

Aston Villa: Brad Friedel, Carlos Cuellar, Curtis Davies, Martin Laursen, Luke Young, Gary Barry, James Milner, Stiliyan Petrov, Steve Sidwell, Ashley Young, Gabby Agbonlahor

Referee: Martin Atkinson, Attendance: 31,922

In the 2008-2009 season, Everton and Aston Villa were considered as the most likely challengers to the traditional top four teams at the time of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool FC. The pair met each other in December 2008 at Goodison Park and produced an afternoon of terrific entertainment and a gripping conclusion.

With only one home win all season upto this point, Everton were desperate to improve that statistic but they made the worst possible start, falling behind with the first shot on goal. James Milner teed up Steve Sidwell who crashed his shot past Tim Howard inside 34 seconds. It was the fastest goal of the 2008-2009 Premier League season so far and Sidwell’s third for the club.

David Moyes’ side responded well to the early setback despite missing star strikers Louis Saha and Yakubu because of injury. Tim Cahill got in behind Carlos Cuellar but his shot was palmed away by Brad Friedel before the American goalkeeper made a more straightforward stop to deny Marouane Fellaini.

Everton were doing all the pressing and equalised deservedly on 30 minutes. After Cuellar had impeded Cahill, Mikel Arteta’s cute free-kick was flicked on by Leon Osman and lifelong Villa fan Joleon Lescott escaped the attentions of Martin Laursen to poke the ball beyond Friedel. It was a nice way for Lescott to celebrate his 350th career appearance.

Into the second half and Everton were still bossing proceedings. Fellaini’s height was causing Villa major problems, especially at set-pieces. From numerous corners, he was winning headers all afternoon. One of them hit the crossbar when unmarked. It looked like a bad miss but replays showed Friedel had produced a late intervention, sticking his hand up to tip his effort onto the bar. It was unconventional but effective and moments later, the visitors had regained their lead. Phil Jagielka had a nightmare moment with a dreadful backpass that allowed Ashley Young in for a simple finish.

Three minutes of stoppage-time were signalled and it looked like the Toffees had rescued a point when Jagielka and Cahill won headers and Lescott had gone forward again to produce an acrobatic effort that beat Friedel to level the scores. Martin O’Neill’s side were crestfallen but had one final chance. Gabriel Agbonlahor played Young through who seared past Lescott and coolly slotted his shot into the bottom corner to win the match for Aston Villa with the last kick of the game.

It had been a great game and the Villans had shown great determination to snatch all three points despite being dominated all day in the aerial battle. Ultimately, Everton finished above them in the table but neither was quite able to break the stranglehold on the top four by the end of the season.

The Managers: Chris Coleman

Premier League Clubs Managed: Fulham (2003-2007)

After a testing year experiencing relegation with Sunderland in 2018, Chris Coleman was recently trying to reboot his managerial career in China with Hebei China Fortune. However, this venture came to an end recently. Coleman’s peak moment came three years ago when he led Wales famously to the semi-finals at the 2016 European Championships.

In the Premier League, he played for Crystal Palace and Blackburn Rovers in the 1990s and spent four years as boss of Fulham, keeping the west Londoners comfortably in the mid-table reaches during that period.

Born in Swansea, Coleman’s first professional contract as a player was at Manchester City aged 16. However, he never made a senior appearance for the Citizens and left after just a year on their books citing homesickness as the reason for his departure.

Playing days at the Palace

He signed for his hometown club Swansea and spent four years with them, making nearly 200 appearances. He moved in 1991 to Crystal Palace and it was with the Eagles that he made his Premier League debut, featuring on the opening weekend in their thrilling 3-3 draw with newly-promoted Blackburn Rovers.

They reached the semi-finals of the League Cup in that campaign but were relegated in the Premier League on the final day of the season. Promotion from the First Division followed in 1994 but relegation came a year later for the second time. In December 1995, he bought his time at Selhurst Park to an end and signed for the Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers in a £2.8 million deal. He made 143 appearances for Palace, scoring 16 times which included five goals in the inaugural Premier League season of 1992-1993.

Coleman’s career at Blackburn never really took off. A persistent Achilles injury restricted him to 28 league appearances and he took the brave decision to drop down two divisions to continue his playing days at Fulham. Signing for the Cottagers in 1997, it began a 10-year association with the club as player, coach and eventually manager.

Fulham were in the Second Division on his arrival but had Kevin Keegan as manager and were owned by the Harrods owner Mohamed Al-Fayed. Keegan quickly appointed Coleman as club captain and he led Fulham to the Second Division title in 1998-1999.

When Keegan left to take the England post in March 1999, he would be succeeded by Jean Tigana and he kept Coleman as skipper. However in January 2001, his professional career as a player effectively ended in a serious car accident in Surrey just days before an FA Cup third round tie with Manchester United. Coleman broke his leg in the accident and although he did play one reserve match in 2002, it was clear to Chris that he wouldn’t recover sufficiently to continue his playing career. In October 2002, he announced his retirement and took a place on the club’s coaching staff.

Flying at Fulham

In April 2003, Tigana left Fulham after contract negotiations broke down. Coleman was given the opportunity to take caretaker charge of the first-team for the final five matches of the season. At the time, the Cottagers still had an outside chance of being dragged into the relegation dogfight.

In his tenure, Fulham won three games and only lost once away to Leeds United. Finishing clear of danger in 14th place, he became the youngest permanent manager in the Premier League when he was given the job permanently by Al-Fayed.

Many pundits tipped them to struggle but Fulham were flying in his first full season at the helm, finishing in a creditable ninth place in the Premier League table. The west Londoners won 3-1 away at Manchester United and the goals of Louis Saha had them shooting towards potential European football before he joined the Red Devils in the 2004 January transfer window.

Andy Cole, Claus Jensen and Tomasz Radzinski were among the new arrivals in the summer of 2004 but Fulham couldn’t build on the success achieved by Chris in his first season. They finished 13th in 2004-2005, despite thrashing Norwich City 6-0 on the final day of the season.

Under his tenure, Fulham became a tough customer to play on home soil. Liverpool FC, Chelsea and Arsenal all tasted defeat during his managerial spell with the club but away from home; they became far too easy to play against. They achieved just one away victory in both the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 campaigns. Before the end of the 2007 season, he was gone.

A seven-game winless run saw the club hover only four points above the relegation zone in April and beaten 3-1 at home on Easter Monday by Manchester City. The decision was taken to relieve Coleman of his duties and he was replaced by Northern Ireland boss Lawrie Sanchez.

A club statement read: “Chris has provided a fantastic service during his 10 years at the club, but as a team and organisation Fulham Football Club has goals to attain and success to achieve – and by no means can this be compromised.”

From the wilderness to Wales

For five years after his departure from Fulham, Coleman’s management career threatened to end up in the wilderness. He went abroad first to Spain to manage Real Sociedad in July 2007 but only stayed in the post for six months, resigning after disagreements with the club’s president over the vision and direction they were heading in. At the time, Sociedad were playing in the second-tier of Spanish football.

He then returned to England, replacing Iain Dowie as boss of Coventry City in February 2008. He only managed to win 34 of his 117 matches as manager of the Sky Blues and was sacked at the end of the 2009-2010 season after a disappointing 19th place finish in the Championship. In May 2011, it was back on his travels to AEL in Greece in a stint that lasted a meagre 12 games. His career in the management game looked to be in danger of slipping away until the national job with his country came up in the most tragic of circumstances.

In November 2011, the British football world was stunned by the sudden death of Wales’s first-team manager Gary Speed at the age of just 42. The Welsh team were experiencing an upturn in their fortunes and eventually, Coleman, who had won 32 caps for his country in his playing days, agreed to take the position two months after Speed’s untimely death.

His first game was an international friendly defeat in New Jersey to Mexico in May 2011. Things didn’t start well and he became the first Welsh manager to lose his first five matches with the nadir being a 6-1 away defeat in Serbia. This meant qualification for the 2014 World Cup finals was never likely but a 2-1 victory over Scotland in October 2012 was the galvanising effect required for his management.

Reaching eighth in the FIFA World Rankings three years later, Wales qualified for the 2016 European Championships – their first major tournament appearance since the 1958 World Cup finals. Led by Ashley Williams with heroic performances from the likes of Joe Allen, Sam Vokes, Aaron Ramsey and of course, Gareth Bale – Wales went further than anyone could have expected. They topped their group ahead of England before beating Northern Ireland and Belgium in the knockout rounds. A 2-0 defeat to eventual champions Portugal in the semi-finals was no disgrace. It had been a tournament to remember for Welsh football and put Coleman back on the radar of many clubs following his management here.

He stayed in the Wales post with the aim of getting them to their first World Cup finals in 50 years. Sadly, it didn’t work out. Serbia dominated their qualifying group and a shattering 1-0 home defeat in their final group game to Republic of Ireland meant they even missed out on a play-off spot. Coleman resigned a month later.

He took over at struggling Championship club Sunderland in November 2017 but couldn’t halt the Black Cats’ slide into League One. He was relieved of his duties just before the 2017-2018 season concluded due to a board takeover.

Coleman wasn’t out of the game for long. In June 2018, he moved to China, succeeding West Ham-bound Manuel Pellegrini as the manager of Hebei China Fortune. They finished sixth in the 2018 Chinese Super League and have Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Mascherano among their squad. However, after just five points from nine matches in the new season and an early exit from the Chinese FA Cup by Chongqing Lifan, Coleman left the club in May 2019.

Seasonal Stories: Portsmouth (2003-2004)

Lucky 13

In 2003-2004, Portsmouth made their Premier League debut after storming to the First Division title in the previous season. Former West Ham United manager Harry Redknapp was the man behind the revival at Fratton Park, ably supported by ex-Derby County boss Jim Smith.

Portsmouth made an incredible start, staying unbeaten in their first five matches and topping the table briefly in mid-August. A catalogue of injuries in mid-season threatened to derail the campaign but a South Coast Derby victory over Southampton in March was the catalyst for a brilliant run towards the end of the season. Pompey finished in a creditable 13th and ahead of some bigger established sides too.

Squad: Shaka Hislop, Pavel Srnicek (Left in February 2004), Harald Wapenaar, Linvoy Primus, Boris Zivkovic (Left in January 2004), Dejan Stefanovic, Hayden Foxe, Arjan de Zeeuw, Sebastien Schemmel, Richard Duffy, John Curtis, Petri Pasanen, Kevin Harper, Tim Sherwood, Nigel Quashie, Amdy Faye, Matt Taylor, Carl Robinson, Steve Stone, Richard Hughes, Gary O’Neil, Alexey Smertin, Patrik Berger, Eyal Berkovic, Vincent Pericard, Svetoslav Todorov, Deon Burton, Ivica Mornar, Lomana Lualua, Teddy Sheringham, Yakubu, Jason Roberts (Left in January 2004)

Early experience pays off

In pre-season, Portsmouth ensured that they would have some useful experience amongst their ranks. First to arrive was former Czech international Patrik Berger, whose contract had expired at Liverpool FC. Berger was also joined by Teddy Sheringham who was in a similar predicament after his second stint at Tottenham Hotspur had come to an end. Neither cost any money and Redknapp wasted no time in getting both added by the end of June.

Further experience arrived from abroad. Boris Zivkovic was another free capture transfer from the Bundesliga. He’d helped Bayer 04 Leverkusen reach the UEFA Champions League final in 2002. Also arriving before the big kick-off was Amdy Faye for an estimated £1.5 million from Auxerre and ex-Sheffield Wednesday defender Dejan Stefanovic from Vitesse Arnhem for £1.85 million. Portsmouth had done some smart business in the summer transfer window.

However, one of their talismanic figures from the previous season wouldn’t be sticking around. Despite captaining the side to their First Division title success, Paul Merson left in July, returning to the second-tier with Walsall. The main reason was to move closer to his family who were based in the Midlands. When paying tribute to his departing captain, Redknapp admitted: “He doesn’t feel he can play in the Premier now and I think he knows himself better than anybody. He said he played in the Premier League two years ago and found it difficult, so he certainly didn’t think it was going to be easier now.”

Portsmouth made a brilliant start to their maiden Premier League campaign and only their second top-flight experience in the last 45 years. They kicked off the campaign with a Saturday lunchtime kick-off at home to Aston Villa. Sheringham opened the scoring before half-time and Berger finished off a flowing team move to double the lead just after the hour mark. Gareth Barry did score a late consolation from the penalty spot but was sent off before full-time and Pompey had their first win on opening day.

The form continued in their next home match, where Sheringham truly rolled back the years. The veteran forward scored a second half hat-trick against Bolton Wanderers and the first treble of the 2003-2004 season. The 4-0 victory took Portsmouth briefly to the top of the table for 24 hours. Three away draws made it an excellent opening and one of those points gained was at Highbury. Sheringham again scoring to keep his rich vein of form going and Arsenal’s equaliser in the 1-1 draw was through a disputed penalty where Robert Pires went down under the challenge of Arjan de Zeeuw even though it looked like the Frenchman had tripped himself up. Thierry Henry converted the spot-kick and Redknapp was not amused. Nevertheless, it was a very encouraging start.

TABLE ON 15th September 2003

POS TABLE P W D L F A GD PTS
1 Arsenal 5 4 1 0 11 3 +8 13
2 Manchester United 5 4 0 1 9 2 +7 12
3 Manchester City 5 3 1 1 12 6 +6 10
4 Chelsea 4 3 1 0 10 6 +4 10
5 PORTSMOUTH 5 2 3 0 8 3 +5 9
6 Southampton 5 2 3 0 5 2 +3 9

Slipping down the table

Portsmouth’s first defeat in their Premier League history came a week later when they were beaten 2-1 by Blackburn Rovers on home soil. At Fratton Park, they were formidable and not many sides enjoyed great success on the south coast throughout the season. In fact, they lost only five home matches all season and out of the teams that struggled all campaign, only Leicester City and Everton left with all three points.

Home form saw a couple of major scalps along the way. Liverpool FC visited Fratton Park in mid-October and left with a 1-0 defeat against their name. Against his former club, Berger scored the only goal of the game after four minutes. Three weeks later, Leeds United were destroyed 6-1 in a result that saw Peter Reid lose his job as Leeds boss. The win still remains Portsmouth’s biggest margin of victory in their Premier League history. Gary O’Neil scored twice on the day and he was one of the most consistent performers in the squad all season.

It was a different story away from home with a familiar tale of no points and no goals to show for their efforts. Redknapp and his team endured pointless and goalless trips to Birmingham City, Newcastle United, Manchester United and Chelsea.

When Southampton cruised to a 3-0 victory in the first South Coast Derby match of the season just before Christmas, Portsmouth had dropped into the bottom three after a run of one win in eight games. The early season optimism had somewhat got sour. With a growing injury list, fresh faces were added to the ranks in the January transfer window.

Still no away joy

Boxing Day did bring some light relief. A second half double from Berger helped Pompey to a 2-0 home victory against an out-of-form Tottenham Hotspur side. The opening of the January window gave the experienced Portsmouth manager the opportunity to refresh and reenergise his side.

Creative midfielder Eyal Berkovic was the first addition, coming in after he’d fallen out of favour with Kevin Keegan at Manchester City. Berkovic was one of six additions in a busy window. Also arriving were Lomana Lualua on-loan from Newcastle United, defender John Curtis on a free transfer from Leicester City and Croatian international forward Ivica Mornar for £400,000 from Anderlecht.

Exiting the club was Zivkovic. The Croatian had featured 18 times in the Premier League but a public spat with Redknapp led to the defender being released. A return ticket to the Bundesliga awaited him, as he joined VfB Stuttgart who were still competing in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds.

However, there was still no away joy. Portsmouth put in one of their best away displays of the campaign at White Hart Lane in early February against Tottenham. They equalised three times on the afternoon with new signings Berkovic, Lualua and Mornar all finding the back of the net. However, Gus Poyet’s 89th minute strike gave Spurs a fortunate 4-3 victory. By 20th March, Portsmouth were in desperate trouble. Just one win in 2004 in the Premier League left them in the bottom three with 10 games to play and two points adrift of safety. Victory was paramount in their next fixture against bitter rivals Southampton.

South Coast Derby revenge

On an afternoon in mixed conditions with sunshine and hailstorms, Portsmouth simply had to win the second South Coast Derby of the season. It was only Paul Sturrock’s second match as Southampton manager and he ended up on the losing side. Steve Stone’s cross found Yakubu and the Nigerian settled a scrappy contest in the 68th minute in Pompey’s favour. The 1-0 win was the lift-off needed for a fantastic end to the season.

A week later, the away hoodoo was finally broken. Yakubu, who would finish as the club’s top scorer in the league with 16 goals, struck the decisive goal in the 82nd minute for a 2-1 win on the road at Blackburn Rovers. It was a massive victory for the travelling faithful and took Portsmouth out of the bottom three for the first time since mid-January. They wouldn’t fall into it again for the remainder of the season.

In fact, Portsmouth lost only one of their last 10 fixtures and that was on the penultimate weekend away at already relegated Leicester City. Survival had already been clinched a week earlier by a 1-1 home draw with Fulham, whilst other results condemned the Foxes and Wolverhampton Wanderers. One of the season’s main highlights was a home victory over outgoing champions Manchester United. Stone scored his only goal of the season in the 1-0 win. Out of the division’s final top 10 – only Chelsea and Charlton Athletic claimed all three points on their visits to Fratton Park.

Portsmouth and in particular, Yakubu finished the season in the grand manner at home to Middlesbrough. The forward scored four goals and Sheringham concluded his one-season stay with an 80th minute goal in the 5-1 win over Boro. Portsmouth finished in 13th and ahead of four clubs on much bigger budgets in Tottenham Hotspur, Blackburn Rovers, Manchester City and Everton.

It had been a very successful debut season in the Premier League for Portsmouth and a reminder of how good a manager Harry Redknapp was.

FINAL 2003-2004 TABLE – 11th to 16th  

POS TABLE P W D L F A GD PTS
11 Middlesbrough 38 13 9 16 44 52 -8 48
12 Southampton 38 12 11 15 44 45 -1 47
13 PORTSMOUTH 38 12 9 17 47 54 -7 45
14 Tottenham Hotspur 38 13 6 19 47 57 -10 45
15 Blackburn Rovers 38 12 8 18 51 59 -8 44
16 Manchester City 38 9 14 15 55 54 +1 41

Premier League Files: Claus Jensen

Premier League Career: Charlton Athletic (2000-2004), Fulham (2004-2007)

Claus Jensen spent over a decade playing in England and had seven seasons playing in the Premier League solely in the capital. The midfielder, who had a strong eye for goal played for four seasons at Charlton Athletic, playing a big role in their best-ever Premier League finish of seventh in 2003-2004. He also spent three years playing for Fulham.

On the international stage, Jensen won 47 caps for Denmark, scoring eight goals. He played for the Danes at the 2002 World Cup finals and the European Championships in 2004, reaching the quarter-finals in the latter.

Jensen made his breakthrough in Denmark, playing for Næstved BK in November 1995. Næstved BK were relegated at the end of his first season in senior football but he earned himself a move to Lyngby in the summer of 1996, joining Dennis Rommedahl at the club. Rommedahl would play alongside Jensen for Denmark too and would ironically turn out to be his replacement at Charlton in 2004.

After 14 league goals in 62 appearances, Jensen left the Danish club game behind in July 1998, joining Bolton Wanderers who were attempting to rebuild after their Premier League relegation a few months earlier. Bolton paid £1.8 million for his services and Jensen became an immediate regular in their midfield, only missing six league games across two seasons. In that time, Bolton made the play-off final but lost to Watford and therefore, missed out on an immediate return to the top-flight. Claus also reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup before the Trotters lost on penalties to Aston Villa.

In July 2000, he moved down south to Charlton Athletic for £4 million. Charlton were looking for a bit of playmaking quality on their return to the top-flight and he became a very popular figure, featuring in every single game in 2000-2001, scoring five goals as Charlton finished in a very impressive ninth position in the table. His best season at Charlton and in the Premier League was in 2002-2003. Jensen scored six times in 35 appearances, including a couple of impressive goals against Manchester United although both goals came in losing causes against the Red Devils.

One of his last main acts for Charlton was being involved in the most dramatic finish to any Premier League game in the 2003-2004 season. Charlton were at home to Blackburn Rovers and had let a two-goal lead slip which had seen Rovers goalkeeper Brad Friedel scoring the equaliser! Seconds later, Friedel had conceded a late winner thanks to one of Jensen’s trademark long-range specials.

It was slightly surprising to see Charlton sell him to London rivals Fulham for just £1.25 million in July 2004. Claus spent three years in west London but was unable to replicate his form from his Charlton days. Across three seasons, he made just 35 appearances, scoring four goals. When Lawrie Sanchez replaced Chris Coleman as Cottagers manager in April 2007, his long-ball tactical approach didn’t suit Jensen’s game so it wasn’t much of a shock to see Jensen not included in Sanchez’s Fulham plans going forwards. He was released days after the 2006-2007 season concluded and in August 2007, elected to retire from the game due to the niggling injury problems he had suffered with throughout his time at Craven Cottage.

He returned to Denmark after retiring and is now a match analyst and commentator for Danish TV on their Premier League coverage.