Terry Duffelen
Thu 1 May 2008

The Fallen Mighty in a Fight To The Death

The bottom of the Championship is a dark and murky place. For any club in the second tier there is always the knowledge that one good season, no matter how small you are, can lead to a play-off place and possibly the Premier League, even if its only one dismal humiliating season.

Its pretty unpleasant at the bottom of the Premier League too. However, if you are relegated, you can always console yourself with the, mostly misguided in recent years, belief that you can be back one year hence as though nothing had happened. Relegation from the Championship, however feels more like oblivion.

That is not to say that League 1 is a bad league. However, I'm pretty certain that supporters of teams who usually occupy the top two divisions of the professional game, it is a place they are desperate to avoid. It doesn't have that promise of glory and as Leeds and Forest will testify it's a very hard league to get out of once you are there.

This season, the Championship enters its final round of fixtures on a knife-edge at both ends of the table. This year, no less than four ex-Premier League mainstays are teetering on the edge as the relegation trap door swings open this Sunday. Some People Are On The Pitch takes a brief look at this quartet of the damned.

Coventry City
Relegated from EPL: 2001
Highest ever league position since the War: 6th (1970)
Highest honour: FA Cup Winners 1987 (Gary Mabbutt and all that)

The Sky Blues have struggled financially since their relegation. In fact they were saved from administration and a ten point deduction earlier this year after being bought out by former player Ray Ransom and the controversial hedge fund firm SISU Capital. In theory, relegation need not be disastrous and new manager Chris Coleman will be hoping for an injection of funds from the new owners when the transfer window opens at the end of the season.

Coventry will travel to Charlton for the final day. They haven't lost at The Valley since 1966. The problem is that almost all of those games have resulted in a draw which may still send them down on goal difference.

Sheffield Wednesday
Relegated from EPL: 2000
Highest ever league position since the War: 2nd (1961)
Highest honour: English Champions 1903, 1904, 1929, 1930. FA Cup winners 1896, 1907, 1935

More steeped in history than an Eric Hobsbawm lecture, Wednesday's post-war story is one of rapid decline and meteoric rise. The club are no strangers to the third tier but with their supporter base and the size of their stadium it's a matter of constant bafflement that a club of this size should have endured such a dismal run. Investment is the key and should the club ever sort that out, they may yet return to the Premier League.

Wednesday's prospects were boosted hugely after their away win against Leicester last week. On Sunday they face Norwich who will be playing in flip-flops ready for the summer. They can be caught by both Leicester and Southampton if they don't win which I think they will.

Leicester City
Relegated from EPL: 2002
Highest ever league position since the War: 4th (1962)
Highest honour: League Cup Winners 1964, 1997, 2000

Two-time League Cup winners during the Martin O'Neill years, City could easily be given the "team of the (late) 90's" tag. When O'Neill left, the Foxes were blighted by a foul concoction of relegation, administration and Peter Taylor (although not in that order).

The club was taken over by former Pompey owner Milan Mandaric who has finally settled on outspoken bumpkin Ian Holloway and his cab driver politics as manager. No one is quite sure how Holloway will react should Leicester go down. One thing we do know, though, is that it will probably be quite funny. City have never played outside the top two divisions of English Football so for all we know the World could end on Sunday if they are relegated.

Leicester can afford to lose if Southampton follow suit. Which is just as well as they have to go to Stoke who need a win to gain promotion to the Premier League.

Southampton
Relegated from EPL: 2005
Highest ever league position since the War: 2nd (1984)
Highest honour: FA Cup Winners 1976 (Bobby Stokes and all that)

The 2003 FA Cup runners-up are another club with mounting money woes. To coin a phrase from daytime TV adverts they've "…got more going out than coming in". Former chairman Rupert Lowe is coming over the hill and may take back the club he was forced out of. Failing that, it has been suggested that Southampton may go into administration if they are relegated. Such is the financial cost of failure.

On Sunday, Southampton host Sheffield United who have an outside chance of the play-offs. The Blades are unbeaten in five, drawing only once in that time. It looks bleak for the Saints.

In all likelihood, Leicester's game with Stoke will be live on Sky - at least it should be because there is something at stake for both teams. However, Sky's choice of live Championship games seems to be based on the size of the audience rather than potential for drama and unfortunately the two are not always connected. If you can plonk yourself in front of Jeff Stelling, Five Live or an open Internet connection for the afternoon, it should be a gripping finale to a truly bonkers season. For myself, it's Burnley at home for a place in the play-offs but let's not get into that now. I don't think my bowels are up to it.

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