Wednesday, December 17, 2003
The yo-yo effect?
It's merely three weeks since Leeds United seemed doomed to life in the Nationwide League.
But Eddie Gray's policy of 'out with the new and in with the old' has transformed them from easy pickings into an effective unit once again. Seven points out of a possible nine, taken from teams placed in the top five, has lifted morale at Elland Road and changed the perception among the footballing public.
No longer are they classed as a soft touch. With Peter Reid's no-mark foreigners, whose lack of desire on the pitch was clear, they would almost certainly have crashed at the hands of Charlton Athletic, Chelsea and Fulham.
The Leeds revival, in turn, causes a ripple effect through the remainder of the Premiership's 'also rans'. And, before the table takes shape over the festive period, it appears increasingly ominous for those sides who earned the right to play in the top flight last May.
It used to be the case that promotion would almost inevitably lead to relegation, but over recent seasons the Nationwide newboys have been taking a stand.
Not since the 1997/98 season have all three promoted sides suffered an immediate return to the First Division - Crystal Palace, Barnsley and, on a frantic final day, Bolton Wanderers suffered that fate. Five years on, we look set to see a return to the traditional yo-yo values of the Premiership.
Wolves, tipped by many as having the best chance of avoiding an immediate return, are already five points adrift of the safety zone with the worst goal difference in the division. They are certain to be at the foot of the table on Christmas Day - a sure fire indicator that relegation beckons.
For all the efforts of Colin Cameron, Alex Rae and Paul Ince, Wolves have been unable to live with most teams in the Premiership. Despite showing improvement from a horror start, in which they conceded 17 goals in their opening six fixtures, their chances of survival are slim.
Boss Dave Jones has become an ever more forlorn figure with each passing week. With their summer signings proving fruitless, their fate is effectively sealed already.
But if the alarm bells should be ringing at any one club right now, it's Portsmouth. After sailing to the top of the table with a five-game unbeaten run, Pompey's campaign has come off the rails dramatically.
Harry Redknapp's side have not won since they thrashed Leeds United 6-1 on November 8, and have recorded only two victories since August 26.
The Portsmouth boss has suffered with injuries and has stated his desire to strengthen when the transfer window opens again in two weeks' time. The loss of top scorer Svetoslav Todorov before the campaign started was a huge blow, and as such they have had to rely on the creaking bones of Teddy Sheringham.
Pompey's slide down the table should be a stark warning to all those that have enjoyed a sprightly start. The division remains so tight - Leeds are now only seven points behind Liverpool - that to go a month without a win can leave a side in trouble at the other end of the table.
With one win in the last seven games and, bar the six against Leeds, just the one goal scored it's looking bleak. Once a promoted team gets in a rut it's often difficult to escape from, just as the Fratton Park club are discovering now.
That just leaves Micky Adams' Leicester City, the team that perhaps now stands the best chance of staying in the Premiership for a second term.
Boosted by the goals of Paul Dickov and the evergreen Les Ferdinand, not to mention the creative talents of one-time Turkey international Muzzy Izzet, Leicester have managed to keep their heads above water so far. The only sides to outscore them reside in the top five - but just Wolves and Leeds have leaked more goals.
Even so, the Foxes are only out of the relegation places on goal difference from Portsmouth.
Just how much they will regret the second half capitulation at Wolves two months ago will not be known until May. But throwing away three points against one of your relegation rivals is a cardinal sin.
If any of those three sides are to survive, it means one of the Premiership old guard will have to slip-up. Perennial bookies' favourites Bolton and Charton sit proudly in the top half of the table and, while they will remain aware of that 'slide factor', must feel they are well on their way to the magic 40 points barrier.
The same can be said of Fulham, given little chance under the stewardship of rookie boss Chris Coleman. They remain fourth in the table and have far too much quality in the final third to be concerned.
With Eddie Gray reverting to the Champions League heroes of yesteryear to get the club back on track, everything is suddenly looking up in West Yorkshire. If they continue to fight, just as they did in the last-gasp victory over Fulham, the Leeds fans and prospective new owners will be able to breathe that little bit easier.
Aston Villa and Everton, too, have had disappointing starts. But they have players who can win games, in the likes of Juan Pablo Angel and one Wayne Rooney, who did just that at Portsmouth at the weekend, even if they may be lacking in the centre of the park. The same can be said of Tottenham while Manchester City's rearguard will cause them most concern.
Middlesbrough will simply bore into submission.
Experience counts for a lot in this division, and while Leicester, Portsmouth and Wolves may have a number of wise old heads within their ranks an all-round lack of quality will ultimately prove to be their downfall.
What goes up, must come down.
Any thoughts? Then you can email Dale Johnson.