29 May 2010

Cups, Ups and Downs 2009/10

What's changing for Northern Ireland players' clubs for 2010/11 season, who has a medal in their pocket or a manager facing a rocket?

EUROPE
UEFA Champions League Finalists: Bayern Munich (GER) 0-2 Inter Milan (ITA)
UEFA Europa League Final: Fulham (ENG) 1-2 (aet) Atletico Madrid (SPA)

With all British interest in the UEFA Champions League evaporating fairly early, it was to the re-branded UEFA Europa League that we looked for some local interest - Fulham's march to the final including some excellent defensive performances from Aaron Hughes and Chris Baird. A potential all-English final was ruled-out when Liverpool lost on away goals in the semi-final and it was their conquerors Atletico Madrid that sneaked the final in extra-time from a determined Fulham.

ENGLAND
FA Cup Finalists: Chelsea 1-0 Portsmouth
League Cup Final: Manchester United 2-1 Aston Villa
League Trophy Final: Southampton 4-1 Carlisle United

The first medals of the season were handed out in the League (Carling) Cup as Jonny Evans' Manchester United controversially defeated the Martin O'Neill managed Aston Villa 2-1 at Wembley. In the Football League (Johnstone's Paint) Trophy Southampton defeated Carlisle United (who had Tony Kane as an unused substitute) 4-1. The FA Cup final was won by Chelsea who defeated Portsmouth, those two having defeated Villa and Spurs respectively at the semi-final stage.

Premier League Champions: Chelsea
Champions League Qualifiers: Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur
Europa League Qualifiers: Manchester City, Aston Villa and Liverpool

The Premier League title race was claimed by Chelsea from Manchester United by a single point on the final day of the season leaving United's Jonny Evans as runner-up. The other Champions League spots have been claimed by Arsenal and Spurs who saw off a tough challenge from Man City, Aston Villa and Liverpool. These three will fill the places in the Europa League (the FA Cup place being based on league finishing as Chelsea will be in the Champions League and Portsmouth will be ineligible for UEFA competition due to their financial problems). First to be relegated were financially stricken Portsmouth who were joined by Burnley (with Michael Duff and Martin Paterson among their regular players) with two matches to go. The other relegation place, went to Hull City (currently under the temporary charge of Iain Dowie).

Championship Winners: Newcastle United
Championship Runners-Up: West Bromwich Albion
Play-Off Qualifiers: Nottingham Forest, Cardiff City, Leicester City and Blackpool
Relegated: Peterborough United, Plymouth Argyle and Sheffield Wednesday

The two automatic promotion spots in the Championship have already been claimed by two clubs who are bouncing straight back to the Premier League, champions Newcastle (where Shane Ferguson is on the fringes of the firstteam squad) and runners-up West Brom (for whom Chris Brunt finished as top goalscorer). The play-off lottery befell Nottingham Forest, Cardiff City (with a squad including Warren Feeney, Tony Capaldi and the young Josh Magennis), Leicester City (for whom Ryan McGivern has been playing on loan from Man City and they could bring the young Billy Kee up too) and Blackpool. Blackpool where the surprise winners, defeating Cardiff in a ding-dong decider at Wembley. At the other end Peterborough United and Damien Johnson's Plymouth Argyle have been relegated. The final relegation place was taken by Sheffield Wednesday who, fate decreed, played Crystal Palace in the winner takes all final match of the season - a 2-2 draw saw the Owls relegated. Safety arrived late for Scunthorpe United (with NI midfielders Grant McCann and Michael O'Connor) and Watford (who had Craig Cathcart on loan from Man United early in the season and also have under-21 players Lee Hodson and Michael Bryan on their books).

League One Winners: Norwich City
Runners-Up (promoted): Leeds United
Play-Off Qualifiers: Millwall, Charlton Athletic, Swindon Town, Huddersfield Town
Relegated: Stockport, Southend United Wycombe and Gillingham

League One has been won by Norwich City for whom Paul McVeigh has been a bit-part player. The other automatic spot went to early-season pace-setters Leeds United (who briefly had Tony Capaldi on loan from Cardiff earlier in the season) in a dramatic last day on which Millwall, Swindon Town (managed by Danny Wilson), Charlton Athletic or even Huddersfield Town could have also been promoted. Instead those teams filled the play-off places, with Millwall defeating Swindon in the play-off final. At the wrong end of the table Stockport County (who still own Peter Thompson, currently on loan at Linfield) and Southend United were the first to go down with Wycombe Wanderers joining them before the last day of the season. Gillingham (with former NI U21 'keeper Alan Julian as well as ex-youth international Adam Miller) were relegated in a last day dogfight in which six other teams were also involved.

League Two Winners: Notts County
Automatically Promoted: Rochdale and Bournemouth
Play-Off Qualifiers: Morecambe, Rotherham, Aldershot, Dagenham & Redbridge
Relegated: Darlington and Grimsby Town

Football Conference Champions: Stevenage Borough
Play-Off Qualifiers: Luton Town, Oxford United, Rushden & Diamonds and York City
FA Trophy Final: Barrow 2-1 (aet) Stevenage Borough

The three automatic League Two promotion spots have been taken by champions Notts County, Rochdale (with Rory McArdle) and Josh McQuoid's Bournemouth. Morecambe, managed by Sammy McIlroy, qualified for the play-offs following a late-season surge, though they crashed out in the semi-finals 0-6, 2-1 to Dagenham & Redbridge. Relegated from the Football League are Darlington and Grimsby Town. Qualified for the Football Conference play-offs are Adam Chapman, Mickey Corcoran and Michael Ingham of Oxford, Rushden & Diamonds and York City respectively. York lost to Oxford in the decider at Wembley. Also at Wembley, Lee McEvilly scored in Barrow's FA Trophy final win over Stevenage.

SCOTLAND
SPL Champions: Rangers
Champions League Qualifiers: Rangers and Celtic
Europa League Qualifiers: Dundee United, Hibernian and Motherwell
Relegated: Falkirk
Division One Champions (promoted): Inverness Caledonian Thistle

As usual it was a fight between Rangers and Celtic for the SPL, with the Gers being confirmed as champions bringing consecutive titles for Steve Davis and Kyle Lafferty, but not for Andy Little who won't have played enough games to qualify for a medal. Celtic, under their temporary manager Neil Lennon, have claimed the second Champions League spot possibly giving Niall McGinn and Pat McCourt another chance to shine on the European stage. Outside of the Old Firm, Dundee United were third by a distance wrapping-up a European place early. The second Europa League has gone to Hibernian with Stephen Craigan's Motherwell taking the third spot due to Dundee United winning the Scottish Cup. The race to avoid the single SPL relegation spot came down to the final match as Falkirk (featuring Brian McLean) faced Kilmarnock (where Jimmy Nicholl is the assistant-manager) in the final match of the season in what was effectively a relegation play-off. The 0-0 draw favoured Killie and sent Falkirk down and they will be replaced by First Division champions, Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

Scottish Cup Finalists: Dundee United 3-0 Ross County
Scottish League Cup Final: Rangers 1-0 St Mirren
Challenge Cup Final: Dundee 3-2 Inverness Caledonian Thistle

The (Active Nation) Scottish Cup saw a few upsets bringing former Under-21 keeper, Michael McGovern at surprise final spot with First Division Ross County. In the final the Staggies faced Dundee United who ran out convincing 3-0 winners. The Scottish League (Co-Operative Insurance) Cup has already been claimed by Rangers with Steve Davis playing against St Mirren despite having "a bug". The Challenge Cup was won by Dundee who defeated Inverness 3-2 in the final.

NORTHERN IRELAND
IFA Premiership Champions: Linfield
IFA Championsip Winners: Loughgall (not promoted)
Promoted/Relegation Play-Off: Institute 0-1 (agg) Donegal Celtic

Irish Cup Finalists: Linfield 2-1 Portadown
Irish League Cup Final: Glentoran 2-2 (4-1 pens) Coleraine
Setanta Sports Cup Finalists: Bohemians 1-0 St Patrick's Athletic
Co. Antrim Shield Final: Crusaders 3-2 (aet) Linfield
North-West Cup Final: Coleraine 3-3 (pens) Limavady United
Mid-Ulster Cup Final: Glenavon 3-2 Loughgall
Champions League Qualifiers: Linfield
Europa League Qualifiers: Cliftonville, Glentoran and Portadown (via Irish Cup)

Linfield (captained by Noel Bailie, who made his 1,000th club appearance against Crusaders in April, and with Alan Blayney, Michael Gault, Robbie Garrett and the on loan duo of Peter Thompson and Chris Casement among their squad) have regained the IFA Carling Premiership title they lost to Glentoran last season. Europa League places will go to the second and third place teams, now confirmed as Cliftonville and Glentoran, with just the order to be confirmed. Coleraine's Rory Patterson seems all-but assured of the top scorer crown.
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The bottom two in the Premiership have been confirmed as Institute and Lisburn Distillery(managed by Tommy Wright and with the ever-green Glenn Ferguson leading the line). Distillery's remarkable late-season form saw them escape the wooden spoon and, by virtue of the licenses held by the top IFA Ladbrokes.com Championship 1 sides, the lottery of a prmotion/relegation play-off. Loughgall finished as Champions but it is runners-up Donegal Celtic (who have ex-NI international Peter Kennedy among their squad) who were the only side who could be promoted, and they duly were, defeating Institute 1-0 on aggregate in the relegation/promotion play-off.

In the Irish Cup final Linfield defeated Portadown (with Kebin Braniff, Wes Boyle, Richard Clarke and David Miskelly among their team) 2-1. Glentoran (featuring Keith Gillespie, Gary Hamilton, captained by former NI U21 international Colin Nixon and also featuring Johnny Taylor, Richard Clarke) have already claimed the Irish League (Co-Operative Insurance) Cup, having defeated a Coleraine team, which included Rory Patterson, Stephen Carson and ex-U21-er Kyle McVey, in the final on penalties. The last Irish League team to exit the Setanta Sports Cup were Linfield who lost to Bohemians in the semi-final. The Co. Antrim Shield was claimed by Crusaders, with Colin Coates and Martin Donnelly among their team that defeated Linfield in the January final. Patterson was among the scorers as Coleraine claimed the North West Cup by defeating Limavady on penalties in the final and the Mid Ulster Cup final was won by Glenavon, who defeated Loughgall and Mourneview.

WALES
Welsh Premier League Champions: The New Saints
Welsh Cup Final: Bangor City 3-2 Port Talbot Town
Welsh League Cup Final: The New Saints 3-1 Rhyl
Champions League Qualifier: The New Saints
Europa League Qualifiers: Llanelli, Port Talbot Town and Bangor City (vis Welsh Cup)

The Principality Building Society Welsh Premier League was won by TNS who had ex NI U-21 cap Conall Murtagh on their books, though he spent much of the season on loan to Aberystwyth Town. He did return to the TNS team in time for the Loosemore's League Cup final victory over Rhyl. The Welsh Cup was won by Bangor City.

As at end of play 29th May 2010.

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