Football: Fallen giants beware the yo-yo effect

Norman Fox studies the contenders as race to reach the Premiership beckons
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The Independent Online
AND when they were up they were up. Well, perhaps only in nursery rhymes. Certainly not in the Premiership where the newly promoted clubs, Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough and Charlton Athletic, will soon be setting out to stay at the top of the hill. The burden of recent history will weigh so heavily on their shoulders that this season's challengers for promotion from the First Division could be forgiven for feeling pessimistic even before they begin their own long climb.

Since the Premiership began in 1992-93 only Newcastle United, West Ham United, Leicester City and Derby County have gone up from the First Division and established themselves among those who now feel cautiously safe from the annual yo-yo that sees the same clubs rise and fall between the top two divisions. Last season was the ultimate example of the struggle faced by the freshly promoted clubs, with Bolton, Barnsley, and Crystal Palace, who had won promotion only the previous season, all going back. Palace have moved between the First and Premier divisions five times.

Everything again points to seeing the relegated Premiership clubs, perhaps even including Palace, immediately challenge to recover their status among the elite, then begin their struggle all over again. After all, Bolton finished last season on identical points to Everton and they scored the same number of goals home and away. A couple more wins instead of too many draws and they could have finished comfortably in mid-table.

Bolton's manager, Colin Todd, will be under similar pressure to Middlesbrough's Bryan Robson last season when he simply had to get Boro back into the Premiership. The problem these days is that when a First Division club is promoted, starts thinking in Premiership terms, builds a new stadium and pays top wages, relegation becomes a nightmare. Having an organisation still geared to the Premiership is in some ways worse than having a rusting old ground, a bunch of YTS boys and loads of ambition.

The summer purchase of the the Danish midfield player Claus Jensen for pounds 1.6m gave the impression that Bolton can still find a bargain in the market-place. Perhaps they have been talking to Derby's Jim Smith who has shown that by trawling Europe for sensibly priced players it is possible to create a squad competent enough to survive in the Premiership.

While Barnsley's defiance in the final stages of last season was admirable, their position as a Premiership club had looked precarious even from the start of the season. Danny Wilson's departure this summer may well mean that they begin slowly before consolidating. Not that they should finally be left behind by the best of the promotion candidates: Bolton, Ipswich Town (with the severely critical Stewart Houston now first-team coach in liaison with George Burley), Sheffield United, Birmingham City, who were so close to reaching last season's play-offs and so far (nine points) ahead of the next nearest club, and, of course, Sunderland.

Finishing third then failing to win promotion through the play-offs on penalties against Charlton, albeit in one of the closest and most exciting club matches seen at Wembley, is as tough as it gets, but Peter Reid is one of the most resilient men in football and will almost certainly have the team back in contention this winter. Nevertheless, he was disappointed not to sign the Sheffield United defender David Holdsworth and bought Paul Butler from Bury.

To predict anything for Crystal Palace after their on and off the field antics last season when Attilio Lombardo eventually gave up being player- manager and Terry Venables came in, would be foolish. Venables is a clever tactical coach and will need to be if he is to knock into shape a defence that let in 71 goals and looked more nervous at home than away. The new chairman, Mark Goldberg, says Palace will be "acting in a far more professional manner this season". That should not be too difficult.

Dual responsibility for managing a team is not the preserve of Liverpool. Norwich have replaced Mike Walker with Bruce Rioch as manager with his former Everton team-mate the ex-Ipswich coach Bryan Hamilton as director of football. "It's time for clubs here to understand the way they do things on the Continent," Rioch said. Presumably that means he gets his boots dirty on the training pitch while Hamilton does the paperwork.

Lower down, Manchester City fans will be wondering how much deeper their club can sink after dropping into the Second Division where they could well be overtaken by Sammy McIlroy's Macclesfield on their quick ascent out of non-League football.

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