The fates of Championship clubs Portsmouth and Coventry City have today been sealed as both sides’ failure to win their penultimate matches of the season resulted in their relegation from the second tier, while the rest of the division’s bottom-half clubs can breathe a collective sigh of relief at the confirmation of their safety, with all three relegated teams’ fate now rubber-stamped.
Portsmouth were doomed following their 2-1 defeat to mid-table Derby County at Fratton Park this afternoon, proving that games against clubs with “nothing to play for” are a dangerous proposition for any team. Derby had taken a first-half lead through Jake Buxton, but Luke Varney’s equaliser sixteen minutes from time looked likely to secure a draw for Pompey. However, just four minutes later a Steve Davies penalty condemned Michael Appleton’s men to League One football next season.
The club’s supporters will be disappointed to have been relegated today but it will not come as a shock – Portsmouth’s survival had begun to look increasingly unlikely as the weeks progressed. Indeed, only a late, controversial 5-4 win at Doncaster Rovers last week kept the slim chances of survival alive – without the vital three points gleaned at the expense of Doncaster, who were relegated as a result of the loss, Pompey would have entertained Derby today with their fate already sealed. A further 2-1 success against Crystal Palace in midweek may have had some optimists dreaming of the greatest “Great Escape” of all, but realistically these wins were simply delaying the inevitable.
With midfielder David Norris and defender Greg Halford the club’s top scorers this season, netting just eight and seven goals respectively, it is not hard to see why Portsmouth have been struggling. However, the club had actually been looking like staying up until mid-February, when a ten-point deduction for entering administration once more plunged Pompey from the relative comfort of 18th place to the midst of a relegation dogfight. Portsmouth’s financial troubles had once again begun to overshadow events on the pitch, with Russian owner Vladimir Antonov being arrested in November for alleged asset stripping.
It is a far cry from the FA Cup final reached in 2010, when only a solitary strike from Didier Drogba handed the trophy to Chelsea. The Portsmouth team that day included such talents as David James, Aruna Dindane and Kevin-Prince Boateng – this season the club has relied on a host of free transfers and inexperienced academy products in an attempt to slash transfer fees and wage bills. Pompey’s plight shows just how fast a club can plummet from one end of the English league hierarchy to the other.
Coventry City’s disappointing defeat to already-relegated Doncaster confirmed the Sky Blues’ exit from the league they have occupied since dropping out of the Premier League in 2001. Tellingly, today’s 2-0 loss barely mattered – even a win against the demoralized Dons wouldn’t have saved Coventry’s bacon.
Unlike Portsmouth, the club’s relegation battle has lasted for the duration of the season. Just one win in Coventry’s first ten Championship fixtures made survival unlikely, and by mid-February the club was in 22nd place, six points adrift of safety. Supporters may point to a chaotic season in the boardroom as a reason for their team’s demise: 2011-12 has seen failed buy-outs, directors standing down and former chairman Ken Dulieu even resigning from a new role after just 18 days. This may well have distracted the players, but large winless streaks have done as much damage. Following the dismal start to the season, Coventry suffered eleven games without a win between October and December, and the club has so far failed to register a win in April.
Although fellow strugglers Bristol City, Nottingham Forest and Barnsley will all be relieved to have preserved their Championship status for another season, the truth is that the gap between them and the three relegated clubs never looked likely to be breached. Seven points separate Barnsley and Portsmouth, neighbours in the table in 21st and 22nd respectively, while bottom club Doncaster are eleven points adrift of safety.
Rovers had overachieved to remain in the Championship for as long as they did – they only won promotion from the Conference in 2002-03, but fans of Portsmouth and Coventry will feel that relegation to the third tier is a disaster for clubs of their stature. It could be years before they return.