The Great Escape

Welcome back to our look at the great relegation battle in the First Division in 1976-77.

When we left it, eight clubs were separated by just four points. These were the days of two points for a win, no final day when all clubs kicked off together, and cup replays. This resulted in fixture pile-up for some clubs. Here is the second part which takes us up to the final two weeks of the season.

Here is the table as it stood after Part One

16Stoke City37-1730
18Derby County36-929
19Coventry City35-1328
21West Ham36-2327
22Bristol City35-1126

Tuesday 26th April 1977

Coventry City2:0Derby County
Leeds United1:1West Ham United
QPR0:1Bristol City

Midweek allowed some of the sides to play their games in hand. Four teams were in action against sides in a similar predicament.

Bristol City travelled to QPR. They had last won away from home back in mid-November when they beat Tottenham. A Tom Ritchie goal gave them a precious 1-0 win. Their third away win of the season and all of them in London (QPR, Tottenham, Arsenal). It was a vital win as defeat would’ve left them in a very difficult position.

How important that win was for Bristol City was highlighted further when Coventry City beat Derby County. Mick Coop scored from the penalty spot in the first half, then Mick Ferguson completed the win with a goal in the second. It ended a run of thirteen without victory, and with Stoke and West Ham to meet next there was renewed hope at Highfield Road.

Joe Jordan scored his tenth goal of the season for Leeds United and Pop Robson scored his ninth for West Ham, as the two shared a 1-1 draw at Elland Road. West Ham moved level on points with Tottenham and two from safety.

15Stoke City37-1732
17Derby County37-1130
18Coventry City38-1130
21West Ham37-2329
22Bristol City36-1028

Saturday 30th April 1977

Coventry City5:2Stoke City
Derby County4:0Manchester City
Leeds United2:0Bristol City
Manchester United1:0QPR
Middlesbro1:1West Ham
Tottenham3:1Aston Villa
West Brom2:3Sunderland

What is it they say about buses? Wait for one then two come along? Well, Coventry City fans had endured thirteen matches without a win. They then broke their run by beating fellow battlers, Derby County a week ago. Now they were up against a side locked on the same points as them, Stoke City. What do they do? Thumped them 5-2 that’s what. They were 4-1 up at the break. Ian Wallace was in his first season at Highfield Road, having made the trip down from Dumbarton. Six goals in nineteen appearances probably wasn’t what anyone had hoped for, but he found his shooting boots at the right time. A hat-trick against Peter Shilton is not to be sniffed at. Barry Powell and John Beck grabbed the other goals. Interestingly enough, it was only the third time they’d scored more than two goals in a game all season, and in each other instance was the only other time Beck had found the net. Spooky eh?

You feel a little sorry for John Ruggiero. He scored twice, his first goals for Stoke, but never got anywhere near the headlines.

Tottenham fans had been getting more and more nervous as the season raced to a finish. But a run of five games without a win was ended when goals from Glen Hoddle, Chris Jones and Peter Taylor saw them beat Aston Villa, 3-1. John Deehan had scored for Villa who were fifth at the time.

There were just two games left for the North London club. Ninth-placed Leicester City and Manchester City, who were flying high in second. Desperate times.

Below Spurs, Bristol City had pulled off a vital win at QPR in the week. But their luck ran out as they travelled up to Elland Road and were beaten 0-2 by Leeds United. Gwynn Thomas scored for the home side on his first start for the club. Eddie Gray doubled their lead.

City now had just five games to go, with Liverpool, Manchester United and Leeds, again, to negotiate.

West Ham drew 1-1 for the third successive game when they were up in Middlesbrough. Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson scored his eleventh of the season, his second of the week and the ninth time he was their only goalscorer in a match. They were earning points, but would it be enough?

QPR lost at Old Trafford. Lou Macari scoring the only goal of the game. That was now three successive defeats for a club who, this time last year, were top of the league.

Sunderland began the day one place above the drop zone, but only by virtue of goal difference. They were unbeaten in six, but still in trouble. They were up against West Brom, the side they’d beaten to win the Second Division the season before. The Baggies were up in seventh and dreaming of Europe. Things took a turn for the worst as Sunderland nicked the points in an impressive away win. Laurie Cunningham and David Cross had scored for the home side in the first half. Tony Towers had scored twice for Sunderland, one from the spot, to leave it level at the break. Bob Lee scored the winner for Sunderland and they had a crucial two points.

Derby County were sixth from bottom but only one point above the relegation zone at the start of the day. They were up against Manchester City, who were up in second place. They’d won their last three matches and lost once, to leaders Liverpool, in their last seven. Derby were without a win for five matches, but on this day the form book was thrown completely out of the window.

Derby were title winners two seasons before, and mainly thanks to goals from Kevin Hector. Hector had only found the net three times all season but scored in this match to help them on their way. Archie Gemmill scored his first of the season and things were really going Derby’s way. Peter Daniel and a Gerry Daly penalty gave them a stunning 4-0 win. Very timely.

Things were extremely tight. Between Derby in fifteenth and Tottenham in twentieth were six clubs separated by just one point. But games in hand were clearly going to be crucial, although with teams having to play many matches in a short period, who knew whether tiredness would begin to tell?

15Derby County38-732
16Coventry City37-832
17Stoke City38-2032
21West Ham38-2330
22Bristol City37-1228

Tuesday 3rd May and Wednesday 4th May

Arsenal0:0Derby County
West Ham United2:0Coventry City

Derby County’s win over Manchester City at the weekend saw them bouncing as they turned up at Highbury. They were able to pick up another point taking them three points ahead of the drop zone. Arsenal just won three in a row and six out of their last seven, so a draw was a good result.

Coventry too, were in good spirits as they turned up at Upton Park. Back-to-back victories over Stoke and Derby had seen them climb away from danger. They were up against another side battling for First Division existence, West Ham. The Hammers won 2-0 with Bryan Robson scoring for the third successive game. Geoff Pike scored from the spot and the win took them out of the bottom three for the first time since the end of March. West Ham’s run was impressive for a side in trouble. They’d lost just once in their previous ten matches since Ipswich beat them 1-4 to send them into the relegation zone.

West Ham’s victory highlighted how precarious a position Tottenham were in. Bristol City too, although they had games in hand. But the relief at Upton Park was palpable.

15Derby County39-733
16Coventry City38-1032
17Stoke City38-2032
18West Ham39-2132
22Bristol City37-1228

There were just two weeks of the season to go. But there were still plenty of fixtures to be played out. Bristol City look to be in trouble at the foot of the table, but they still have five games to go. Above them, seven clubs were separated by just two points. Tottenham have only two games to go and look to be in the worst position. QPR are on the same points but need to fit in six games before the season ends.

It was all getting a little nervy.

Join us for Part Three when we take you towards the final fixtures.