Paul Newman: History points to Rangers reversing their recent decline

The Football League Column: Seven of the last 10 Football League champions led the table at Christmas

Fans of Queen's Park Rangers worried over their loss of form – Neil Warnock's Championship leaders have won only three of their last 11 matches – might give themselves some Christmas cheer if they look back at the table as it stood 12 months ago. While the consensus is that this is the country's most competitive and unpredictable division, recent evidence suggests that final finishing positions can generally be forecast even before the season has reached the halfway mark.

Look back at the Championship table after last year's Boxing Day programme and you will find the two automatically promoted teams, Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion, already filling the top two spots, while Sheffield Wednesday, Plymouth Argyle and Peterborough United were lying in the bottom three places, which was where they would finish five months later.

Nottingham Forest, Cardiff City and Leicester City were already sitting in third, fourth and fifth places, with the final play-off slot the only position of significance to change hands by the end of the season – seventh-placed Blackpool replacing sixth-placed Swansea City.

Seven of the last 10 Football League champions – Fulham (2001), Portsmouth (2003), Norwich City (2004), Reading (2006), West Bromwich Albion (2008), Wolverhampton Wanderers (2009) and Newcastle (2010) – led the table at Christmas. Birmingham dropped a place but still won automatic promotion in 2007.

QPR, currently three points clear of second-placed Leeds with a game in hand, will be hoping, nevertheless, to avoid the fates of Burnley and Ipswich Town, the only clubs in the last 10 years to fail to win promotion despite topping the table on Boxing Day.

A 5-1 defeat away to a Paulo Wanchope-inspired Manchester City in the last match of December 2001 put Burnley on the slippery slope. Having won 15 of their first 24 matches, Stan Ternent's team won only six of their last 22 and did not even make the play-offs.

Three seasons later, Joe Royle's Ipswich led the table until mid-February, only to be elbowed out of second by Wigan Athletic after winning just one of their last five matches. West Ham beat them in the play-offs.

The most spectacular surge towards a Football League title in recent years came from Sunderland, who were in 11th place on Boxing Day 2006. Beginning with a New Year's Day victory at Leicester City, Roy Keane's champions won 16 of their last 20 matches, having begun the season with four straight defeats. West Brom, in fifth place on Boxing Day 2001, are the only other automatically promoted team in the last 10 years who were not in the top three by Christmas.

Over the last 10 years Crystal Palace have made the most progress since Christmas to win promotion via the play-offs. A 1-0 defeat at home to Millwall on Boxing Day 2003 left Palace 20th, but Iain Dowie's team propelled into a sixth-place finish before beating Sunderland and then West Ham to reach the top flight. Palace threatened to do it again four years later, but after finishing fifth, having been 23rd in mid-November, they lost to Bristol City in the play-offs. What George Burley would give for a similar revival this year with his team currently sitting in 22nd place.

Palace underlined their credentials as the Championship's most unpredictable team in the second half of the season when they slipped from sixth on Boxing Day in 2008 to 15th at the end of the campaign. Coventry, nevertheless, suffered an even steeper fall from grace in 2003, dropping from sixth to 20th after winning only one of their last 21 matches.

The bad news for those propping up the table is that every side occupying 24th place at Christmas since the turn of the century has been relegated. Preston North End are currently bottom but Darren Ferguson's team will swap places with Scunthorpe United if they win at Glanford Park on Boxing Day.

How high up the table do you have to be to feel confident of avoiding relegation? Walsall went 13th with their Boxing Day victory over Cardiff in 2003 only to finish 22nd. Indeed, they are the only club relegated in the last 10 years who were not in the bottom seven at Christmas.

Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Sport
Alexis Sanchez missed a penalty before scoring the opening goal with a header at the back post
footballArsenal vs QPR match report
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
i100
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all