Outside the Box: Blackpool on big dipper as Villa rule once again in the Midlands

The final week of the season is the worst possible time to drop to your lowest position of the campaign, which was the fate of three Premier League clubs.

Arsenal, briefly top of the table in December, slid down to fourth after winning one of their last seven games. Bolton, in the top half since September, spoilt their campaign by losing the last five games and finishing 14th.

Blackpool, having defied the odds by staying out of the bottom three until mid-April, hit their lowest point of 19th just when it mattered most, at 5.50pm last Sunday. Stoke were also big dippers, dropping from eighth to 13th in the final fortnight after failing to shrug off their FA Cup final hangover.

On the positive side, Aston Villa rallied to shoot up four places to ninth on the final day and maintained their record of finishing as top Midlands club for the eighth season running.

In other local jousts, Everton were one place behind Liverpool for the third time in four years, and have been above them only once since 1987. Newcastle were odds-on to finish above Sunderland when they led West Bromwich 3-0, only to allow Albion a draw; Sunderland, winners at West Ham, pipped them by a point.

On such narrow margins do hours of close-season taunting by rival fans depend.

Gunners are goners

Talking of Arsenal, having rebuked the media for their lack of faith this season, Arsène Wenger may finally be prepared to admit that far from exceeding expectations, his team underperformed.

Throughout the campaign, Wenger insisted they were doing far better than anyone forecast. Yet a survey of pre-season predictions published in this column two months ago revealed that three-quarters of the newspaper and website tipsters had Arsenal in the top three, and the rest had them fourth, where they finished.

United babes take the biscuit

A bad season for Sheffield United ended with much credit when their youngsters reached the FA Youth Cup final against Manchester United, watched by a remarkable 29,977 in the home leg and then 6,000 travelling fans at Old Trafford, where the attendance was 23,000.

If a 4-1 defeat in the second leg was tough on the Blades, history suggests it could have been worse: in the first-ever Youth Cup in 1952, a Manchester United side including Duncan Edwards won a second-round tie against Nantwich Town 23-0, then beat Wolves 7-1 in the first leg of the final. They went on to win the trophy in its first five seasons, and this year's success was their 10th.

The other oddity of that first season was the identity of Wolves' semi-final opponents – the Huntley & Palmers works team, whose lunchtime kickabouts must have been impressive. The young biscuitmen beat Bristol City in the quarter-finals before being devoured by Wolves over two legs, 5-0 and 6-0.

Early brace for Barzalona

If racing enthusiast Sir Alex Ferguson was seeking some pre-match diversion yesterday, he might have noted with some alarm that the boyish-looking French jockey Mickael Barzalona won the first two races at Newmarket, on Maywood and Laajooj. Was it an omen?

May the Fort be with you

And finally, a belated climax to the Highland League season is due on Tuesday, when our old friends from Fort William eventually wrap up their campaign with a much-postponed game at home to Nairn County.

A third win of the season would allow them to finish ahead of Strathspey Thistle and for the second season running avoid finishing rock bottom. A sunny summer to them and all our readers.

s.tongue@independent.co.uk; www.twitter.com/@stevetongue

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