From Newcastle and Leeds to Liverpool and Tottenham: The best teams to never win the league

The best team in the country don't always win the league title and a number of great sides have come close to winning it all before letting it slip down the years

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The Independent Football

Queens Park Rangers 1975-76

The closest QPR have come to winning the title was under Dave Sexton in 1976. They pushed Bob Paisley’s Liverpool all the way in the league playing exciting football that made them the public’s choice to win the league that year. Stan Bowles was the star and the captain was a young Gerry Francis in midfield.

They finished their games before Liverpool, who had to get a result at Wolverhampton Wanderers in their last match to take the title.

With 15 minutes left Rangers were going to win it, before a late Liverpool surge won them that game 3-1, taking the league with them. QPR have never got so close since.

Ipswich Town 1980-1982

The greatest achievement of Sir Bobby Robson’s long managerial career was his 13-year spell in charge of Ipswich Town in which he turned a small provincial club into a force in English and European football, a feat not far off what Brian Clough did at Nottingham Forest.

The climax came in 1981 and 1982 when Robson guided Ipswich to two agonising second place finishes in the league, four points behind Aston Villa in 1981 and the same margin behind Bob Paisley’s Liverpool in 1982.

They did however win the FA Cup in 1978 and the UEFA Cup in 1981, beating AZ Alkmaar over two legs, to ensure that their greatest ever team did not go down in history empty-handed. 

Bobby Robson guided Ipswich to two second place finishes (Getty)

West Ham United 1985-86

West Ham’s greatest ever league finish was third in 1985-86, when John Lyall’s team was just beaten by Liverpool to the title and by Everton for second place.

Built on a solid core of Phil Parkes, Tony Gale and Alvin Martin, the goals mainly came from Frank McAvennie and Tony Cottee.

Heysel meant that this team could never test themselves in the UEFA Cup, and eventually McAvennie and Cottee were sold in the following years. Lyall was acrimoniously sacked in 1989.

West Ham never realised their potential despite a talented side (Getty)

Newcastle United 1995-1997

Back in the early years of the Premier League, Newcastle constructed one of the most compelling failed title charges ever seen. Kevin Keegan’s entertaining team took a 12-point lead over Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United by January. They had Les Ferdinand and Peter Beardsley, with quality in midfield in David Ginola, Rob Lee and Keith Gillespie. It was all looking so good, especially when they signed David Batty and Faustino Asprilla, but the wheels started to come off in the spring.

They lost at home to United in March and things went downhill from there. When Keegan launched into his famous “I would love it” rant, United were on the brink of the title. They had to go to Middlesbrough and get something, but they did, and the league was theirs.

That summer Newcastle signed Alan Shearer for £15million but the 1996-97 season was not the same. Keegan resigned, was replaced by Kenny Dalglish, and Newcastle finished second but never with the same challenge to United. Their wait for a Premier League title continues.

Kevin Keegan failed to deliver a league title (Getty)

Chelsea 1997-1999

Chelsea’s challenge did not start with Roman Abramovich. The team of the late 1990s was very successful, winning five major trophies starting with the 1997 FA Cup, but never managing to win the league. After finishing fourth in 1997-98, while winning the League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup, they put in a much stronger title push in 1998-99.

While Gianluca Vialli was player-manager, Chelsea’s true star was another Italian, Gianfranco Zola. They had class and experience in Marcel Desailly, Gus Poyet, Franck Lebouef and future manager Roberto di Matteo.

It was not quite enough and Chelsea could not keep pace with Manchester United’s treble winners, finishing third. They won the 2000 FA Cup too but Vialli was sacked later that year. Chelsea needed a new owner and new manager to finally win the title.

Chelsea pushed United all the way but couldn't overhaul them (Getty)

Leeds United 2000-02

David O’Leary inherited a talented young Leeds United team and was always given backing to improve it. They finished third, but a long way behind Manchester United, in the 1999-2000 season.

They reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup but were eliminated in tragic circumstances by Galatasaray, as two Leeds fans were killed in Istanbul. The next season Leeds were in the Champions League and they got all the way to the semi-finals, powered by the energy of Harry Kewell, Lee Bowyer and Alan Smith.

They held Valencia 0-0 at home but lost 3-0 to them at the Mestalla. They finished fourth in the Premier League and things started to unravel from there.

Leeds' prodigiously talented generation never realised their potential (Getty)

Liverpool 2013-14

Fernando Torres and Rafa Benitez had pushed Liverpool close in 2008-09 but five years later they produced one of the most thrilling title challenges of recent seasons, only to fall at the final hurdles. There was plenty to like about this entertaining Liverpool side but it fundamentally boiled down to the brilliance of one man, Luis Suarez. He finished the season with 31 league goals, both individual awards, and a £65million move to Barcelona.

Suarez was the inspiration, creating and taking chances out of nowhere, not least in famous wins at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane and 5-1 against Arsenal at home. From February onwards, Liverpool won 11 straight games and with three games left they were two wins and one draw from the title.

But they lost to Chelsea, drew at Crystal Palace, and Manchester City stole in ahead of them. Liverpool had to make do with 84 points and 101 goals instead.


Liverpool's title hopes went up in smoke (Getty)

Tottenham 2015-17

Tottenham Hotspur were the best footballing team in the country in 2015-16, only to lose out to Leicester City’s one-in-a-million run to the title. They eventually stumbled into third but came back even stronger the next season.

Fuelled by the emotional power of the last season at White Hart Lane, and inspired by the brilliance of Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli, Spurs reached new levels beyond what they could have imagined the previous season.

With two games left, Spurs are on 80 points, the highest total in their history. They currently have 24 league wins, and the last time they beat that was 1960-61, when played 42 league games and won the Double. And yet because of Chelsea’s brilliant run, Spurs were left stranded in second. It is their highest league finish since 1962-63. But it is not what they wanted or what they felt their efforts deserved.