Tuesday 25 October 2016

Leicester beware: Here are five teams who failed to break into the Premier League's elite in the 90s

Published 16/04/2016 | 14:50

In the early 1990s five teams broke the iron grip elite clubs had in England. Read how they did it and why they could not sustain their brilliance.

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Finished: 2nd

Ron Atkinson (manager)

Paul McGrath and myself had a bet before a ball was kicked that we'd win the league, for what I remember was an astronomical price. Sadly we fell short towards the end but we gave Manchester United an almighty fright and it was only the final weeks where we ran out of steam.

We had McGrath, arguably the best centre-half the Premier League has ever seen, and two strikers in Dalian Atkinson and Dean Saunders who were the best forwards that season by a mile. Then we had good professionals like Earl Barrett, who Ryan Giggs said was one of the hardest opponents he ever faced, Shaun Teale and Ray Houghton.


We just had a good team ethic and understanding and we were so close to winning the title. For me, there were two big turning points - we lost Atkinson for a few months after a training ground injury and if that hadn't happened I think we'd have been a lot closer.

The other moment was when we drew against Coventry in an awful game and then came off the pitch to discover United were losing to Sheffield Wednesday.

But that was the game United scored twice in injury time and it knocked the stuffing out of us. The following year we weren't as consistent but still won the League Cup. It was a magical season and even now there are regrets that we couldn't go all the way.


Finished: 3rd

Chris Sutton (striker)

We were a side much like Leicester in many ways - one that was fancied to get relegated at the start of that season. But we started the campaign really well and we began to grow in confidence. We couldn't believe the ride we were on.  Could we have won the league? I don't think so.

When it got to March we were in with a chance, but when you look at that United team with the players they had: Eric Cantona, Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce, Roy Keane, they were a juggernaut and just blew us away.

Maybe we didn't have the belief that we could beat that United team. Manchester United had the knowledge of how to win games. Mike Walker was smart. He inherited a side with experience. There were good players at the club - I was one of the younger ones - but we had talent.

The problem was we had a negative goal difference and I think that's where the issue lay. We were good to watch but we lacked that steel. If you compare it to the Blackburn squad with which I won the title a couple of years after, Kenny Dalglish brought in the likes of Alan Shearer, Tim Sherwood, David Batty and Paul Warhurst.

With those kinds of characters we really knew we were going to push. That level of player in terms of nous was key for me. At Norwich, we didn't really have the character to see it through but it's different for Leicester - there's no real pressure being applied by the bigger sides, the Chelseas, Citys and Uniteds.

Leicester have adapted this season and although they can score goals, at the back they're solid. They will feel supremely confident now.


Finished: 1st

Tony Gale (defender)

One of the main things that helped us at Blackburn was that we were extremely organised, and we had a great coach in Kenny Dalglish who had done it all before.

We had Ray Harford as defensive coach and he was excellent. We also had the best strikers in the league and the best striker partnership in the league in Shearer and Sutton.

The achievements of Spurs and Leicester this season are greater because we spent a lot of money, but let' s remember that Blackburn were only promoted two seasons before.


The turning point for us was Eric Cantona being banned for United for kicking the fan at Crystal Palace: he probably cost them the league that season.

Some bad refereeing decisions spurred us on as well. United did the double over us that season, but key refereeing decisions cost us: Henning Berg got a ridiculous red card when we were 1-0 up and we lost the game 4-2.

Also at Old Trafford when we lost 1-0, Tim Sherwood had a perfectly legitimate goal chalked off, and we would have got a 1-1 draw there.

But Dalglish was great. He told us that the refs wouldn't stop us, and created that siege mentality that can help so much. It's remarkable really, because we lost to United twice, so we pulled back a 12-point swing. Of course, we almost lost the title on the very final day as we lost at Liverpool. Ironically, my old club West Ham won it for us by drawing with United - I got some help from my old friends that day.


Finished: 3rd

Mark Crossley (goalkeeper)

Momentum is everything in football and that was something we had in abundance at Nottingham Forest that season.

It's very similar to Leicester, we had a belief running through the team after getting promoted and it seemed to make us stronger every game.

We ran United and Blackburn close for most of the season and even now no newly promoted club has achieved a higher place in the Premier League than us in third. Like Leicester, we had a very settled squad and the only major addition was Bryan Roy, who formed a brilliant partnership with Stan Collymore.


On his day Stan could be unplayable and we knew we could beat any team in the league if the two of them were on form. We exceeded our own expectations and beat United away, we could clearly handle it and were right up there until the end.

Unfortunately we had to sell Stan to Liverpool in the summer but it was always inevitable because he'd been such a success in the top league. Bryan probably wasn't the same player without Stan and it affected us massively, because I'm a big believer that continuity is everything.

Leicester will face the same problem this summer - the secret is out on players such as Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante and they might struggle to keep hold of them. It's the price of success, unfortunately.


Finished: 2nd

Steve Howey (defender)

The big thing with us was that we did not fear anyone, no matter who we played, Manchester United or anyone, we didn’t care. We were Newcastle United and we played with our chests out. When we looked at each other we knew we were better than the team we were facing.

Kevin Keegan was fantastic at making us believe we could beat anyone and we were. There was so much momentum behind us, it felt like we had the entire city urging us on. It was an incredible feeling.

The other thing that was so special about that Newcastle team was we had wonderful team spirit. We socialised with each other all the time. We used to go out every Monday night for a meal and a few drinks and everyone would be there. There were no cliques, we all got on off the pitch as well as on it.

We lost to Manchester United twice that season, including a key game at St James’ Park in February, but we absolutely battered them. We were the better side on the night, but we just couldn’t find a way past Peter Schmeichel in goal. It was one of those games.

People say we lost the title because we couldn’t defend and maybe we were a little too open. We never settled for one goal, but that was why we were so dangerous.  Teams couldn’t cope with us because we just attacked and attacked.

We spent virtually the entire game in the opposition half. We didn’t have very many defence-minded players, but attack was our defence. We only conceded two more goals than Manchester United that season, people forget that.

In the end, I suppose I do think we could have done things a little differently. There were times when, maybe, we should have defended what we had got when we took the lead, or even when we were going to get a point away from home, but that just wasn’t us. We wanted to entertain, not just win.

We never really worked on defending in training. Kevin brought Mark Lawrenson in to work with the defenders and we complained all the time. We gave the coaching staff so much stick, they gave up and we trained with the rest of the group again.

I’ve heard people say we threw the title away, but you have to remember Manchester United were superb after Christmas, winning 19 out of 21 games, so we didn’t throw it away, they just went on an unbelievable run and we didn’t get that little bit of luck you need.


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