Paul Newman: Comebacks and surprises abound in the lower divisions

The Football League Column
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The Independent Football

Football usually hands out its gongs at the end of the season but, as the year comes to a close, this is a good time to reflect on the last 12 months. With apologies to supporters of Newcastle United, West Bromwich Albion and Blackpool, whose achievements will be overlooked here following their promotion to the Premier League in the summer, the following are this column's awards for 2010.

Team of the year

Queen's Park Rangers and Leeds United are both strong contenders, but Norwich City take the prize. Paul Lambert, who succeeded Bryan Gunn as manager last season after a shocking 7-1 opening-day defeat at home to Colchester United, led Norwich to the League One title, which they won by nine points. The Canaries are now pushing for promotion again.

Manager of the year

Lambert, Neil Warnock at QPR and Leeds' Simon Grayson have all excelled, but Eddie Howe's achievements at Bournemouth win the day. Howe steered the Cherries away from the bottom of League Two and then led them to promotion, despite a transfer embargo. He has carried on the good work as his team now push for promotion from League One.

Cup performance of the year

Northampton Town's Carling Cup victory at Liverpool deserves a mention, but nobody bettered Leeds' 1-0 win at Manchester United in the third round of the FA Cup. In Sir Alex Ferguson's 23 years as manager, the Reds had never before lost in the third round or been knocked out by a team from a lower league.

Comeback of the year

Preston North End were losing 4-1 at Leeds after 39 minutes until John "The Beast" Parkin sparked a stunning recovery with a hat-trick. Darren Ferguson's team ran out 6-4 winners. It was the first occasion Preston had scored six goals away from home for 55 years and the first time ever that Leeds had conceded six in the league at Elland Road.

Fortress of the year

Nottingham Forest have played 21 Championship matches at the City Ground in 2010 and have yet to lose there. Their home record for the year reads: Won 15, drawn 6, lost 0, goals for 36, goals against 8. In April, Billy Davies's team equalled a club record of 12 successive home league wins, while Lloyd Sam's header for Leeds in August was the first league goal Forest had conceded at home for more than six months.

Most welcome point of the year

Stockport County ended a run of 12 League One defeats with a goalless draw at Carlisle United in January. It prompted a run that produced nine points from eight games, but the magic did not last: Gary Ablett's team took only two points from their final 14 matches of the season.

Managerial shock of the year

Perhaps his resignation 14 years ago at Manchester City after just 33 days should have prepared us, but Steve Coppell's decision to quit Bristol City after just one Championship game stunned almost everyone. He also announced he was retiring from football management.

Glad-you-didn't-leave-before-the-end award

Some Leyton Orient supporters might have been tempted to make an early exit when their team, down to 10 men after the dismissal of Terrell Forbes, trailed Droylsden 2-0 with 13 minutes of their FA Cup second-round replay remaining. However, two late goals took the match into extra time, whereupon Orient ran riot. Scott McGleish and Jonathan Téhoué both completed hat-tricks as the home team won 8-2. Both teams finished with only nine men after three more sendings-off.

Making up for lost time award

Having begun his career at Enfield, Paul Furlong did not make his league debut – for Coventry City – until two months before his 23rd birthday in 1991. Now aged 42,he made 38 appearances for Barnet last season and is now player-coach at Kettering.

Vote of (no) confidence of the year

"It is crucial we stick together, get behind the team and manager and give him a chance to turn things around," Milan Mandaric, then Leicester City's chairman, said. Three days later Paulo Sousa was sacked to be replaced within 48 hours by Sven Goran Eriksson.