As May draws to a close the football season comes to an end. While it doesn’t seem so long ago since teams were kicking off basking in warm August sunshine another campaign has passed. While you’re possibly celebrating the fact your side has won a trophy or will find themselves playing at a higher level next year there’ll be plenty of fans who are coming to terms with relegation or disappointed at mid-table mediocrity.
Plenty has gone on during 2010/11 and this week I’m picking out some of the best moments for my final top 10 countdown of the season, packed with goals, drama, individual skill and great football. Enjoy.
10: Manchester celebrates double trophy success
May 14th 2011 will go down as a memorable day for Manchester’s two football teams. At lunchtime United won a record 19th domestic championship with a 1-1 draw away to Blackburn Rovers while later in the day City won their first trophy after 35 years of trying, defeating Stoke City 1-0 in the FA Cup Final at Wembley.
United’s success saw them ‘knock Liverpool off their perch’ as Sir Alex Ferguson famously said, overtaking their record of 18 league titles. Having gone 1-0 down to struggling Rovers, United fought back in the second half and won a penalty when Javier Hernandez was felled by Paul Robinson. Wayne Rooney stepped up in front of the expectant away following and he delievered, slotting the penalty home and with it writing United into the history books.
Meanwhile at Wembley City were looking to make history of their own by clinching the FA Cup. Not since their League Cup victory there in 1976 have they collected any silverware – in the meantime they’ve had to witness their city rivals win a whole host of European and domestic trophies. Armed with a bottomless pit of money, the Citizens now had a team which could challenge at the business end of the season and it was their class which prevailed against Stoke.
With the game at 0-0 and less than twenty minutes remaining, the ball broke for Yaya Toure just inside the penalty area and he made no mistake, belting a shot past Thomas Sorensen to the delight of the Mancunian support. City held out to win the cup and they’ll be looking to add many more to it during the next few years.
9: Gareth Bale’s San Siro treble
Tottenham Hotspur provided great entertainment during their debut Champions League campaign. Harry Redknapp’s men came through the qualifiers and into a group alongside FC Twente, Werder Bremen and holders Inter Milan. When facing the Italians away in October, Spurs were down to ten men within ten minutes after goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes was sent off, the resulting penalty was converted and it went from bad to worse as the Londoners found themselves 4-0 down at half-time.
Step forward Gareth Bale. After an indifferent start to his career at White Hart Lane, the 21-year-old Welshman established himself in the side last season and began 2010/11 in blistering form. He inspired an improbable comeback in the second half, tearing right-back Maicon to shreds with his running and scoring a hat-trick.
All three goals were scored from a similar position, from the left hand side of the penalty area. His first came after a 50 yard run down the left and clinical strike across Julio Cesar into the bottom corner. It remained 4-1 until the last two minutes as Bale struck again, this time leaving Javier Zanetti trailing and scored a near identical second goal. A minute later the comeback was nearly complete as Bale rifled in his third but eventually time ran out on Tottenham and they had to settle for a 4-3 defeat. Bale put in another outstanding performance in the return game weeks later as Tottenham won 3-1 at home.
8: Blackpool are ‘a breath of fresh air’ to the Premier League
It was a phrase so often used to describe the Tangerines but a very true one. Ian Holloway’s Blackpool arrived in the Premier League via the Championship playoffs and were instantly written off as no-hopers. A squad with players who’d mainly plyed their trade in the second tier or lower and a club struggling to even bring players in during pre-season made many people believe they would go down as the Premier League’s worst ever team.
Blackpool silenced the doubters initially on day 1 of the season, winning 4-1 at Wigan Athletic before going down 6-0 at Arsenal a week later. An impressive 2-1 win at Newcastle put them 4th after 4 games and in early October they pulled off an even better win, beating Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield. Scottish midfielder Charlie Adam was living up to his captain’s role with some outstanding performances and Ian Holloway’s side were entertaining, playing open attacking football. The manager was entertaining too, his brilliant reaction to the Wayne Rooney saga a highlight.
11th at the turn of the year, the Seasiders looked on course to avoid relegation but form soon deserted them. Whilst they stuck to their attacking principles, their defending let them down as they surrendered leads and dropped down the table. As the season drew to a close they earned a credible draw at Tottenham and beat Bolton 4-3 in a pulsating match, the last of the season at Bloomfield Road. On the final day they equalised and then went in front against Manchester United at Old Trafford, only to lose 4-2 and with it their Premier League adventure was over.
Blackpool came into the Premier League with a fresh approach rarely seen by promoted sides. Rather than shut up shop and defend they took games to their more illustrious opponents, matching them with attractive passing football. The likes of Charlie Adam, DJ Campbell, Gary Taylor-Fletcher and David Vaughan made the step up to Premier League football and came so very close to keeping the club up. Most neutrals will feel the league is a poorer place without them.
7: Barcelona 5 Real Madrid 0
Jose Mourinho was appointed Real Madrid coach in the summer of 2010 charged with the task of knocking Barcelona off their perch, hoping to end the Catalan side’s dominance domestically and in Europe. The two great rivals met several times this season but it’s the first encounter we’re focusing on, a La Liga game at the Nou Camp in November.
Months earlier Mourinho’s Inter Milan team knocked Barcelona out of the Champions League, a moment the Special One celebrated by sprinting onto the turf at the final whistle. However it was an unhappy return this time for Jose as his side were taken to the cleaners, Pep Guardiola’s team handing out a 5-0 thrashing with goals from Xavi, Pedro, Jeffren and two from David Villa. Boasting some of the world’s finest players capable of producing scintillating football, Barca are arguably the best club side around and this match proved why.
6: AFC Wimbledon are promoted to the Football League
The rise of AFC Wimbledon is an incredible story. The club were founded in 2002 after the FA sanctioned the move of Wimbledon FC to Milton Keynes and disgruntled fans, believing the MK Dons no longer represented Wimbledon’s legacy, decided to re-establish their football club from scratch.
Holding trials on Wimbledon Common, the club got together a team, coaching staff, a ground and began playing in the Premier Division of the Combined Counties League. Since then they have been promoted five times in eight seasons, going 78 league games unbeaten at one point – a record for English senior football.
In 2009-10 their first season in the Blue Square Premier saw them finish 8th and this season they finished 2nd behind runaway champions Crawley Town, entering the play-offs. They hammered Fleetwood Town 8-1 over two legs to meet Luton Town in the final at Manchester City’s Eastlands stadium. The game was a tense affair with a disallowed goal and both sides hitting the woodwork but the scores remained 0-0 after extra-time and the game went to penalties.
Top scorer Danny Kedwell smashed home the winning spot kick for the Dons after goalkeeper Seb Brown saved two Luton penalties, Wimbledon fans and players were overjoyed at the final whistle as they completed a fantastic journey from the lower reaches of non-league to the Football League in just nine seasons. Wimbledon FC were promoted to the league in 1977 and by 1986 were a top-flight team, could history be repeating itself?
5: Alex McLeish steers Birmingham City to cup glory
Who says the Carling Cup is meaningless nowadays? This season’s final saw Arsenal, in the hunt for their first trophy since 2005, face Birmingham City, looking for their first major cup win since lifting the League Cup in 1963. Birmingham were considered underdogs and the match was billed as a perfect opportunity for Arsene Wenger and his young side to finally claim a piece of silverware.
Birmingham took the lead on 28 minutes, Roger Johnson flicking a corner onto the head of Nicola Zigic, who nodded the ball past Wojciech Sczcesny. 11 minutes later Arsenal were level, Jack Wilshere’s shot hitting the bar and soon after Robin van Persie volleyed Andriy Arshavin’s cross acrobatically into the bottom corner.
The scores remained 1-1 until the 89th minute. A long ball from Blues goalie Ben Foster was nodded on by Zigic and looked to be heading straight to Sczcesny. However Gunners defender Laurent Koscielny tried to play the ball, causing a mix up with his goalkeeper and the ball to bobble to Birmingham substitute Obafemi Martins, who rolled it into an empty net.
There was not enough time for Arsenal to get a goal back and Birmingham held on to win the trophy and with it a place in the Europa League next season. Unfortunately for them their league form went downhill after this match and they ultimately were relegated to the Championship on the last day of the season.
4: Norwich City secure back-to-back promotions to the Premier League
Norwich City have had a remarkable 2 years. Relegated to League One in 2009, their first game back in the third tier since 1960 ended in a 7-1 home reversal at the hands of Colchester United, managed by former Celtic and Borussia Dortmund player Paul Lambert. Canaries boss Bryan Gunn was ousted six days after that thrashing with Lambert taking the job.
The Scot oversaw an upturn in fortunes and led his side to an immediate return to the Championship by winning the league, going 16 games unbeaten (with 14 wins) at one stage of the season. Captain Grant Holt netted 30 times during the promotion campaign and continued his goalscoring form in the second tier as Norwich adapted to Championship football comfortably. Lambert kept together the nucleus of the side so successful the season before and brought in the likes of Simeon Jackson, Andrew Surman, John Ruddy and David Fox to add to the squad. The Canaries were consistantly in the top 6 throughout the season and in the closing weeks of the season embarked on a run of form which saw them into the top 2, including demolishing great rivals Ipswich Town 5-1 at Portman Road.
Grant Holt hit 21 goals in the league and Simeon Jackson, after a slow start to his Norwich career, found his scoring boots and netted the only goal of a 1-0 victory at Portsmouth in the penultimate game of the season – the goal that sealed Norwich’s return to the Premier League after six seasons away. Canaries fans celebrated wildly at the final whistle as did Lambert and his coaching staff, Norwich becoming the first side since Manchester City in 2000 to complete back-to-back promotions into the top flight.
3: Newcastle United 4 Arsenal 4
In early February Arsenal were flying – sat second in the league with aspirations of winning the FA Cup, Champions League, League Cup and Premiership to boot. They travelled to St. James’ Park to face Newcastle, the hosts mid-table after adapting quickly to life back in the Premier League.
Arsenal got off to a flier, Theo Walcott netting after just 44 seconds then Johan Djourou and Robin van Persie made it 3-0 to the visitors after 10 minutes. Van Persie then nodded home a fourth for the Gunners on 26 minutes as some furious home fans began exiting the stadium – they would regret doing so.
In the second half Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby saw red for pushing Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan but with less than 25 minutes to go the score was still 4-0. Newcastle won a penalty in the 68th minute which was netted by Barton, Leon Best had a goal disallowed for the Toon before scoring from close range after getting the better of Gael Clichy.
The Newcastle fans who’d chosen to stay were now willing their team on passionately and Alan Pardew’s side made it 4-3 – Barton converting a second penalty after Laurent Koscielny was adjudged to have fouled Mike Williamson when challenging for an aerial ball. Mounting pressure from the home side eventually proved too much for Arsenal and after they failed to clear a free-kick, the ball fell to Cheik Tiote and he smashed a 20 yard volley past Wojciech Sczcesny to complete an amazing comeback and send St. James’ Park into raptures. One of the games of the season without question.
2: The Champions League Final at Wembley
It was the final the world wanted to see, Europe’s premier club competition being fought out between Manchester United and Barcelona. Wembley hosted the game for the first time in 19 years and prior to kick-off looked as if it was built for such occasions.
The game was a great spectacle, after a bright start from Sir Alex Ferguson’s men it was Barcelona who began to take hold and got their reward as Pedro collected Xavi’s excellent outside of the foot pass and clinically stuck it past Edwin van der Sar for 1-0. On 34 minutes though United were level, Wayne Rooney finishing off a fine move with applom, rifling a shot high beyond Victor Valdes.
Barcelona were favourites prior to the game and in the second half began to show their class as Messi, Xavi and Iniesta dictated matters. Messi got his first goal on English soil ten minutes after the restart, his 53rd strike of an amazing season for the Argentine. Pep Guardiola’s side continued to dominate and Manchester United could not keep the ball for very long, Barca’s pressing game paying off. Fifteen minutes later Barcelona netted a third, David Villa curling the ball home 20 yards from goal, an outstanding strike which capped off a memorable evening for the Catalan side. This was their fourth win in the competition and few would bet against them adding to it in the near future.
1: Survival Sunday
With the title race wrapped up the weekend before, attention turned to the bottom of the Premier League for it’s final day and it did not disappoint. Five teams were fighting to remain in the top flight, hoping to not be one of the two sides accompanying already-relegated West Ham into the Championship. Blackburn (40 points,) Wolves (40 pts) and Birmingham (39 pts) sat outside the drop zone while Blackpool and Wigan (both on 39 pts) were in the bottom two on goal difference.
Blackburn were away at Wolves with the winners guaranteeing survival and it was the visitors who had the better of the first half, storming into a 3-0 lead. Blackpool went behind to Manchester United at Old Trafford before equalising through Charlie Adam’s set-piece potency as he fired home a free-kick from 25 yards. Birmingham and Wigan were drawing 0-0 at Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City respectively so at half-time it was Blackburn, Blackpool and Birmingham who were on course to stay up.
In the second-half Spurs went in front over Birmingham while Blackpool took the lead against the Champions but were soon pegged back. Jamie O’Hara’s strike at Molineux made it 3-1 but despite goal difference being so tight it did not make a difference. Within five minutes things began looking ominous for Wolves as Wigan took the lead at Stoke with Hugo Rodallega’s header and Birmingham equalised at White Hart Lane through Craig Gardner.
Blackpool began to crumble as Ian Evatt’s own goal and Michael Owen’s cool finish saw them go 4-2 down. With nerves jangling at grounds round the country, fans were listening to radios and monitoring phones to keep tabs on events, none more so than at Molineux where Wolves needed a goal to haul themselves out of the bottom three on goals scored. With four minutes of normal time to go they got that goal and it was a peach. Wayne Hennessey’s long kick was flicked on by Steven Fletcher to Stephen Hunt and the Irishman cut in from the right and curled an effort into the far top corner of the net as Wolves fans celebrated salvation wildly.
A goal at White Hart Lane could still change things though – when it came it spelled the end for Birmingham as Roman Pavulychenko’s rasping drive flew in off the bar to seal a 2-1 win for the hosts. The scores around the grounds remained the same as Wigan won back-to-back games for the first time in two years to ensure survival, Blackburn and Wolves celebrated their safety as Birmingham and Blackpool were relegated. A great day for the neutral but a sheer rollercoaster for followers of the teams involved.
So that was 2010/11. It hardly seems that long ago since the World Cup but already another football season has been and gone. There’s been some brilliant goals, upsets, great comebacks and fine entertainment throughout. As we now face a couple of weeks without football we can look back on nine months which gave us deserving European Champions, underdogs winning trophies, Ian Holloway’s colourful press conferences and a final Premier League matchday to remember. I’m looking forward to next season already.