The Rundown

Magnificent Seven: Final day relegation dramas

The Rundown

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Tussles for the title are all well and good, but for true teeth-gritting excitement we'll take a good relegation battle every time.

Here's our pick of seven of the most extraordinary final day dramas from across Europe's leagues:

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City shoot themselves in the foot - Premier League, 1995/96

Manchester City knew very simply what they needed to do to stay upon the last day of the season: better Southampton's result.

Within minutes it looked as if they'd blown their chance as they fell two goals down against Liverpool at Maine Road, with one of them coming when Steve Lomas found the back of his own net.

City clawed their way back into the match, however, with Kit Symons equalising after 78 minutes - at which point somebody in the crowd told City manager Alan Ball that Southampton were losing to Wimbledon.

With City apparently on course to stay up, Ball shouted out to Lomas to run down the clock by the corner flag, which he duly did. Unfortunately for Ball, the joker in the crowd had got his facts wrong: Southampton were actually drawing 0-0, and by the time Lomas was instructed to get on with play it was too late. City went down on goal difference.

Nantes ride their luck to keep their top flight status - Ligue 1, 2004/05

The final day of the season was expected to bring one inevitable result: the historic relegation of Nantes.

The club were in their 42nd consecutive season in the topflight, a spell which had seen them pick up eight French titles and play some of the best football ever seen in France.

Yet after a terrible season, the club were 19th as they faced Metz, and having picked up just two points in their previous four games, appeared to have no real of survival.

Metz dominated the match but wasted chance after chance, and a header by Mamadou Diallo put Nantes ahead at the end of the first half.

Castres, Nantes main rivals for the drop, seemingly had a much simpler task: all they had to do was beat Istres, the worst team in the division by a huge margin (and a club that has never been in the French top flight before or since). Yet Istres were somehow inspired by the occasion of their last hurrah in Ligue 1, scoring three goals in a match for the only time all year as they eked out a 3-2 victory.

Nantes were still not safe, however, as they needed Strasbourg to beat Bastia - and with six minutes left the score was still 0-0.

But Strasbourg knocked in two late goals while Nantes somehow held on to their narrow lead to avoid relegation, sparking a pitch invasion and subsequent celebrations that were as big, if not bigger, than those that had accompanied their Ligue 1 championship title four years previously.

The 12-way play-off struggle, Serie A, 2004/05

The final day of this astonishing season saw 12 of the 20 teams in the Italian top flight at risk of taking one of the final two relegation spots.

Even Roma - who finished second a year later - were at risk of going down before they ground out a draw against Chievo, while Brescia were hammered 3-0 at Fiorentina to make sure that they joined Atalanta in being relegated.

That victory also saved Fiorentina on goal difference as they finished ahead of Parma and Bologna, who could not be separated and were sent into a play-off against each other.
Parma had gone through an astonishing season, even playing their reserve team in Europe in order to fight relegation (having said that, those reserves somehow made the semi-final).

Yet they were on the back foot in the two-legged play-off, with the referee during their final day 3-3 draw with Lecce having booked six players who all just happened to be one card away from suspension. The referee in question, Massimo De Santis, was later banned from officiating for his role in the Calcipoli match fixing scandal.

With the six players missing, Parma lost the first leg at home, but beat Bologna 2-0 in the second leg to save their Serie A status thanks to an outrageous fluke goal that ricocheted in off Alberto Gilardino's knee.

Frankfurt save themselves with 45 minutes of genius - Bundesliga, 1998/99

At the top of the table Bayern Munich dominated so much that they secured the championship with three matches to spare - but at the other end of the table the German league saw one of its closest ever finishes.

The final day of the season saw five teams all trying to avoid joining Borussia Monchengladbach and Bochum in dropping down a division: Frankfurt, Rostock, Stuttgart, Nuremburg and Freiburg.
Rostock avoided the drop by edging a five-goal thriller against Bochum, while Stuttgart ground out a 1-0 win against Bremen to stay safe.

That meant one of Frankfurt, Nuremberg and Freiburg had to go down - and with the latter two teams playing each other Nuremberg (who started the day in 12th spot) were favourites to stay up.
Freiburg managed a surprise 2-1 victory to upset the odds - yet Frankfurt were still almost guaranteed to go down as they had a woefully inferior goal difference to Nuremberg at kick-off (-14 compared to -9) and had scored the same number of goals.

Frankfurt were surely doomed, it seemed - particularly when they reached half-time drawing 0-0 with Kaiserslatuen.

The next 45 minutes went down in German football history: Frankfurt stormed their opponents, banging in five goals as they beat Kaiserslauten 5-1.

The result left them level on points with Nuremburg, while their margin of victory (and Nuremberg's defeat) levelled their goal differences at -10 apiece, bringing goals scored into the equation and keeping Frankfurt in the Bundesliga.

Baggies miracle as Eagles crash land - Premier League, 2004/05

West Brom were the least likely candidates to stay up on the final day of the season, with Norwich in pole position to stay up and both Southampton and Crystal Palace ahead of the Baggies when the matches kicked off.

Norwich were the first to fluff their lines, however, as they started leaking goal after goal in what ended up as a 6-0 thrashing by Fulham - their worst result of the season at the worst possible moment.

Southampton also lost the plot - then again, with their opponents that day being Manchester United it was perhaps no surprise that their 27-year stay in the top flight came to an end with a 2-1 defeat.

That left Crystal Palace and West Brom to fight it out, and the Eagles went 2-1 up against Charlton thanks to a goal from substitute Dougie Freedman and an Andy Johnson penalty with 18 minutes left.

Palace had dominated throughout and looked like cruising towards safety despite the fact that West Brom were winning against Portsmouth - that is until they gave away a silly free kick in the 82nd minute which Jonathan Fortune nodded in to level the scores at 2-2.

The match finished that way, leaving West Brom in the Premier League and leaving the Eagles with the unenviable record of failing to survive a Premier League season in four attempts.

Goalkeeper's miracle goal saves Carlisle - English Third Division, 1998/99

Carlisle looked to be losing their football league status as their must-win match against Plymouth Argyle on the last day of the season ticked into injury time with the scores locked level at 1-1.

One man refused to give up, however, and when Carlisle won a corner the club's emergency-loan goalkeeper Jimmy Glass charged up the pitch in desperation.

Incredibly, after a classic lower-league goalmouth scramble, the journeyman found himself in the perfect spot to bang home a winner from five yards out, keeping the club's 71-year unbroken run in the football league intact and sending Scarborough down instead.

The goal remains one of the most memorable last-gasp escape acts in sport and sparked an enormous and instantaneous pitch invasion.

Glass never played another match for Carlisle, and as his football career fizzled out he ended up retiring at the age of 27 to become an IT salesman. He now runs a taxi firm in Dorset.

But he'll always have that one golden moment, and he'll never have to pay for a drink in Cumbria as long as he lives.

Everton keep top flight run intact - Premier League, 1993/94

Any two from five clubs could have gone down on the final day of the season, but only the Toffees were hoping to hang on to a record of staying in the top flight since the early 1950s.

They enjoyed home advantage on the final day of the season, but had a tough clash against a Wimbledon side on their way to a sixth-place league finish. Everton also knew that even a win might well not be enough, thanks to their appalling goal difference, while a draw would have been next to useless.

All those subtleties looked to be made irrelevant when Dean Holdsworth's penalty in the third minute squeezed past Neville Southall's outstretched glove into the bottom corner.

And when a horrific defensive mix-up ended with Gary Ablett slicing an attempted clearance into his own net 17 minutes later, it seemed that Everton would surely be on their way down.

Everton pulled one back just before half-time, but with 20 minutes left they still trailed 2-1, and it should have been worse when Graham Stuart appeared to handle the ball on the line.

But with Wimbledon still protesting for the clear penalty, the hosts broke upfield and released Barry Horne, who fired a 30-yard scorcher in off the post - his first goal of the season.

And Stuart was the hero as he added another with 10 minutes to go, albeit in less-than-fine style this time with a mis-kicked drive that somehow bobbled past Hans Segers.

The Toffees hung on grimly, booting the ball into the stands at every opportunity to run down the clock, while down at Stamford Bridge Chelsea did their bit for Everton by beating Sheffield United to ensure that the Merseyside club stayed up.

Everton are still yet to be relegated, and are now closing in on making it 60 uninterrupted years in the top flight.

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