Sports Writer, Alex Davis, provides a countdown of his top five surprises from the latest football season.
5. Liverpool’s hangover
The 2013/14 Premier League season saw Liverpool finish second in the table for the first time in five years and accrue their second highest points tally since the 1987-88 season. It seemed that after years in the wilderness, the Reds were finally on the path back to success. Much of this progress was undoubtedly owed to Luis Suarez who netted 31 times in 37 games in all competitions. When his much protracted transfer away from Anfield to Barcelona was completed, it was accepted that Liverpool would struggle to fill the attacking gap left by the striker. However, the reality was even harsher. Even a change in formation which sparked a minor revival failed to lift the gloom surrounding Steven Gerrard’s final season at Liverpool. A trophy-less 6th placed league finish, cultivated out of poor performances lacking in attacking intent, was a far-cry from the previous season and has to go down as one of the surprises of the season.
4. Alex Neil’s Norwich resurgence
Lying in 7th place in the Championship table with 37 points in 24 games, one would be forgiven for thinking that Norwich’s dismissal of manager Neil Adams was perhaps a little harsh. Indeed when the club appointed Hamilton Academicals boss Alex Neil, many in the footballing world were feeling slightly bemused. The Scotsman, whose modest playing career included teams such as Barnsley and Mansfield, had been making waves north of the border.
His debut as manager saw a 2-1 away win at future champions AFC Bournemouth and Norwich grew in confidence. Under Neil, Norwich accrued 49 points in their remaining 22 games and ended the season in 3rd place. They beat rivals Ipswich in the Play-off semi-finals before brushing aside Middlesbrough in the final to seal promotion to the Premier League. A remarkable finish to a remarkable second half of Norwich’s season, capping off a fantastic job by the young manager.
3. Wigan Athletic
No season in football is ever complete without its shock relegations. This year Wigan Athletic were the team to find themselves surprising us for all the wrong reasons. Two years ago Wigan were FA Cup champions; this summer they’re facing the prospect of life in England’s third tier.
Everything was in place for the Latics to kick on, however a season of busy transfer activity resulted in disaster for the Lancashire outfit. Big players such as Ben Watson, Jordi Gomez and Callum McManaman were sold and replaced by the inexperience of James Tavernier, Emyr Huws and Adam Forshaw, amongst others. However the Latics struggled from the off and no amount of managerial changes could save them from their fate: a huge surprise to see F.A Cup winners plummet to League One in two years.
2. Harry Kane
21-year-old Harry Kane has had a quite remarkable season. 32 goals in one season is fantastic by anyone’s standards but even more so when you consider that he only nailed down a regular starting spot in the Spurs team in November. The striker impressed so much that he gave Roy Hodgson no option but to call him up for the national team. Having only scored four goals in the whole of the 2013/14 season and having started the 2014/15 season behind Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor in the Tottenham attacking pecking order, Kane’s rise to stardom has truly been phenomenal. Alongside Christian Eriksen’s brilliance, he was unquestionably the brightest spark of an otherwise dull season for Tottenham and it will be fascinating to see if he can recreate his form next season.
1. Chelsea v Bradford
No season surprise list is complete without mention of the oldest cup competition – the FA Cup.
However, the pick of the bunch came in the 4th round at Stamford Bridge as Premier League table-toppers Chelsea geared up to face the relative minnows of League One Bradford City. Gary Cahill and Ramires gave the Londoners a comfortable two-nil lead and even when John Stead pulled one back in the 41st minute, everyone expected this to be a routine Chelsea victory.
The pragmatic Jose Mourinho would surely not let his team lose from this position. The game seemed to be running to script with Chelsea seemingly seeing the game out. However, with just 15 minutes to go Felipe Morais equalised and further goals from Andy Halliday and John Stead sent the travelling Yorkshire faithful into pandemonium. The game ended 4-2 to the League One side – a truly remarkable feat.
Perhaps the biggest FA Cup shock ever and proof if any was needed that the competition is still alive and kicking.