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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
tv
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil