Relegation: One Year On
4th May 2008: Stoke City 0-0 Leicester.
A point wasn't good enough. Southampton had beaten Sheffield United at home under caretaker manager Nigel Pearson, whilst Sheffield Wednesday trounced Norwich 4-1 to confirm their survival. Leicester City had been relegated to English football's third tier for the first time in the club's 124-year history.
At the same time, the final day draw had confirmed Stoke's promotion to the Premiership for the first time in the club's history.
I can remember exactly how I felt that day. None of us had experienced anything like it before, with the prospect of League One football being difficult to bare. We had achieved the unthinkable under Ian Holloway, the man we thought could not only save us from relegation, but turn us into a strong Championship side as he had done at Plymouth Argyle.
The club's worst day in its history had finally arrived. After years of successful Premiership football, we were now faced with the prospects of witnessing the likes of Hereford, Cheltenham and Leyton Orient visit the Walkers. We'd hit rock bottom.
Naturally, chairman Milan Mandaric was severely unimpressed, and Holloway was duly sacked after a dismal 9 wins in 32 matches in charge. The Leicester City managerial merry-go-round had taken a new spin, as Leicester were faced with their 6th manager under the Mandaric era.
Nigel Pearson was appointed in June, after Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe had decided not to renew his contract, despite rescuing the Saints from relegation. Had Mandaric got it right? I was unsure to say the least. Five long years of getting it horribly wrong had provided me with a horrible sense of pessimism in relation to new managers.
As the new League One season began with a game at home to MK Dons, I still had that attitude, with the previous struggles of Nottingham Forest and Leeds vivid in the mind. The result? A 2-0 victory, a brace from Matty Fryatt sealing the three points. This was the same Matty Fryatt who had previously scored a dismal 3 goals in our Championship season, a player who I would have happily sold in the summer. The Pearson regime was well underway.
Some 45 games later and we're league champions. A record breaking season consisting of 27 wins, a highest final points tally and the brilliant 23-match unbeaten run in the league amongst others meant that we were back to the Championship at the first time of asking. I for one certainly didn't believe it would be possible.
We'd certainly struck lucky with Pearson: Southampton's loss was our superior gain, as showed by their crushing relegation to League One this season. Not only this, but our media hungry chairman had finally kept his mouth closed and let the manager, well, manage.
If you're a Norwich or a Charlton fan reading this right now, it's possible. League One is not the daunting prospect it first seems, it's what you make of it as a fan. Don't abandon your teams for it, embrace it. There are some fantastic away days to be had, and god forbid you might actually find yourself winning some games.
The memories of one year ago will never leave us. The scenes of Stoke City supporters invading the pitch to goad us will always leave that bitter taste, but our return has certainly provided a tonic for the pain.
Whether or not relegation has been a blessing in disguise for us remains to be seen, but it certainly hasn't hurt. Even me, the eternal pessimist, believes we can stake some kind of competition in the Championship...
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