This year will see May come and go without the Premier League’s traditional final-day relegation dogfight.
Though others are more than worthy of mention, there are two such days that certainly stand out as the most prominent inside the first 15 years of the Premier League’s existence, but which gives us the bigger goosebumps?
Stein saves Ipswich – 7 May 1994
In the end, this one came down to three teams: Ipswich, Everton and Sheffield United, one of which would drop into the Football League.
Notably, both of the latter teams are in contention to seal a UEFA Europa League berth via the league. Prior to the break, Sheffield United were among the favourites for the top six in the Premier League betting outright markets, but it was all very different for that duo 26 years ago.
Most of the early drama on the final day of 1993/94 took place at Goodison Park, with Everton conceding two goals to Wimbledon in farcical fashion. Everton pulled one back from the spot, to go in just 2-1 down (and relegated as the second-bottom club) at half-time.
By contrast, Sheffield United led 1-0 at Chelsea and sat three places above the drop zone. It had been a reasonably comfortable day for the Blades, but from their vantage point, the second half proved just how unforgiving football can be.
Everton ultimately rallied and fulfilled their end of the bargain, with a tremendous volley from Barry Horne and a fluke goal by Graham Stuart winning it for the Toffees. That left Ipswich (drawing 0-0 at Blackburn) and Sheffield United (now drawing 2-2) as the two teams threatened.
That was enough for the Blades to stay up, but they were mistakenly under the impression that Ipswich were winning. In turn, United went all-out attack and were duly hit with a winning goal from Chelsea’s Mark Stein.
Ipswich held out to draw, sending United into the abyss, where they would remain for twelve long years. In 2007, Sheffield United would again face final day agony, with West Ham striker Carlos Tevez’ winning goal at Old Trafford proving the death knell.
Christmas curse smashed – 15 May 2005
For the first time ever, no team in the bottom four was guaranteed survival or relegation going into the final weekend – thus, in practice, only one of four threatened teams (Norwich, Southampton, Crystal Palace and West Brom) would survive. Norwich merely had to win at Fulham to stay up, but that plan was soon scuppered by Fulham’s onslaught of goals.
Southampton took an early lead at home to Manchester United, putting them above the dotted line. United soon wrested back control, and come the second half, it was really between West Brom and Crystal Palace. After the break, West Brom raced into a 2-0 lead at home to a half-motivated Portsmouth.
Sadly for them, it looked as though their efforts would be in vain, with Palace leading 2-1 at Charlton as the 2004/05 season headed into the final ten minutes of its lifespan. Enter Jonathan Fortune, whose late goal made him the toast of Sandwell, ensuring West Bromwich’s survival.
In staying up, West Bromwich also became the first team to survive after being bottom of the league on Christmas Day.
Which is the greatest escape?
There were technically six teams with no cast-iron guarantee of top-flight status or relegation in 1994, whereas there were only four in such a situation back in 2005. The decisive goal was also scored much later in the 1994 relegation battle.
The 1994 survival fight also came close to bookending forty years of top-tier action for Everton, who had been champions just seven years previously. For some, that alone is enough to see 1994 take the crown as the greatest final-day survival battle of the Premier League era.