Birmingham City and Sheffield Wednesday are both preparing for Saturday’s fifth round FA Cup tie at St Andrews, with both sides facing contrasting fortunes.
City have established themselves as a respected Premier League outfit and the Blues are also facing Arsenal in the League Cup final next weekend.
Sheffield Wednesday, however, are in the middle of a disappointing season where mid-table mediocrity seems certain, despite the recent managerial appointment of Gary Megson.
Both teams also started the 2001-2002 Nationwide Division One season with contrasting expectations.
Expectations were high at St Andrews, for instance, with manager Trevor Francis being expecting to deliver promotion for the Midlands outfit.
They had suffered three consecutive play-off semi-final defeats, under Francis, and an appearance in the 2001 League Cup final only heightened expectations.
Francis made changes to the squad, but these were minimal. Right-back Jon Bass was released, whilst highly-rated Huddersfield Town goalkeeper Nico Vaesen and experienced Watford forward Tommy Mooney both joined the Blues during the summer.
Francis’ side started well, despite an 3-1 opening day defeat at the hands of Wimbledon.
They failed to win their next five games, which included an embarrassing 6-0 defeat at Manchester City in the League Cup, and Francis was sacked in October.
This was despite winning his final match in charge, a 3-1 win against Barnsley.
It was suggested by some that disagreements with managing director Karen Brady was behind Francis’ sacking, as the Blues were only five points adrift from third place despite the poor run of results.
Sheffield Wednesday also made a disappointing start to the season, despite the lower expectations at Hillsborough.
Peter Shreeves was retained as manager, after last season’s impressive run of eight wins in 14 matches to drive the Owls clear of relegation trouble.
A relegation battle was still seen as a possibility – despite the permanent signings of former Wimbledon striker Efan Ekoku, centre-back Danny Maddix from QPR and promising midfielder Paul McLaren from Luton Town – after the release of high-earners Wim Jonk, Gilles de Bilde, Ritchie Humphreys and Petter Rudi.
The season started badly at Hillsborough with a 2-0 home defeat to Burnley on the first day of the season, and things got progressively worse as they only won one of their first 13 league games, which included a 11 match winless run.
Shreeves, like Francis, left his managerial position in October, just two days after Francis’ departure from Birmingham City.
Changes are made
When the two sides met in December 2001, they both had appointed new managers.
The club’s form, however, was very inconsistent – despite a 5-0 thrashing over rock-bottom club Stockport County and an excellent 4-0 home win against Watford – so the Owls were still struggling in the league.
It took longer for Birmingham City to appoint their new manager, after Division One high-flyers Crystal Palace placed a temporary injunction on manager Steve Bruce, which would have forced him to serve a nine-month leaving notice, to prevent him from leaving Selhurst Park.
Bruce still joined St Andrews as their manager in December, despite the Eagles’ best efforts to stop him joining their promotion rivals.
The Boxing Day clash was only Bruce’s third game in charge, which started well for the Blues after Stan Lazaridis’ 25-yard shot just went over the bar after just 90 seconds into the game.
The home side still dominated the game after this, as Kevin Pressman had to save Curtis Woodhouse’s early shot on goal and Mooney’s long-range effort went wide of goal.
The Owls were still competitive in the early stages of the match, though, when Maddix headed Gerald Sibon’s free-kick and goalkeeper Ian Bennett was forced to make a superb save.
Left-back Martin Grainger also had to be at his best to clear the ball away from danger. Ekoku also had a chance to put Wednesday in front, after being set up by Simon Donnelly, but Darren Purse exerted enough pressure for Ekoku to shoot wide.
The away side applied further pressure throughout the second-half, after Jon McCarthy volleyed a short-range shot over after Lazaridis’ cross.
Bennett made another impressive save from Gerald Sibon, whilst Steve Haslam and Ekoku were just as wasteful in front of goal for the Owls.
Birmingham City then went on the counter-attack, after Bennett saved an effort from Haslam, when Mooney flicked the ball on for Horsfield, who raced into the box and cut inside two defenders before slotting the ball past Pressman to give Blues the lead.
Trond Egil Soltvedt, meanwhile, had three chances to equalise for the Owls but was thwarted by a resilient defence and an in-form Bennett, who did well to save his chipped shot.
Mooney should have doubled the Blues’ lead during injury time but, despite his volley from 20-yards going just one yard wide from goal, the one goal was enough to secure Birmingham a valuable three points.
The rest of the season
Steve Bruce had already made his mark as manager, before this game, by signing Irish right-back Jeff Kenna from Blackburn Rovers and he improved the squad over the coming months with the signings of Stern John from Nottingham Forest, Sheffield United’s Paul Devlin, Celtic’s Oliver Tebily, Steve Vickers from Middlesbrough and Blackburn Rovers’ Damien Johnson.
Marcelo, David Burrows and Martin O’Connor, however, left the club to reduce an ever-increasing wage-bill.
These signings were valuable for Birmingham as, in March, the club went on 13 match unbeaten-run to gain promotion via the play-offs. The club defeated Millwall 2-1 on aggregate during the play-offs semi-finals and they defeated Norwich City in the final on penalties, after a 1-1 draw.
The Blues only lost four of Bruce’s first 26 league games in charge and they carried on that fine form in the Premier League, as they finished the 2002-2003 season in a comfortable 13th place.
Wednesday, however, struggled for the rest of the season, despite the million-pound singing of Finnish striker Shefki Kuqi from Stockport County.
Burrows also joined the club after Yorath’s arrival, as well as Blackburn Rovers centre-back Marlon Broomes and experienced Scottish forward Kevin Gallacher from Preston North End.
They only won three of their last 11 league games, despite an outstanding run to the League Cup semi-final, as they found themselves just one place from the relegation zone on the final day of the season.
For Sheffield Wednesday to be relegated, though, they had to lose against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Crewe Alexander had to defeat fellow strugglers Rotherham United by at least ten goals.
This never happened, as the Owls secured a 2-2 draw, despite Crewe’s 2-0 win. The Owls finished the 2001-2002 season in 20th place and just one point above the drop-zone.
The next season, however, was even more disappointing as Yorath left the club in October 2002, after winning only one of his last nine league games in charge.
The club were relegated from Division One at the end of the 2002-2003 season, despite Chris Turner’s arrival as manager, and the two club’s contrasting fortunes remain to this day.
Sheffield Wednesday 0 – 1 Birmingham City scorer (26/12/2001)
Geoff Horsfield (77)
Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman, Westwood, Broomes, Maddix, Geary, Donnelly (McLaren, 56), Soltvedt, Haslam, Djordjic (Bovin, 68), Sibon, Ekoku (Crane, 83)
Substitutes not used: Stringer, Harkness.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett, Kenna, Purse, Vickers, Grainger, McCarthy (Johnson, 71), O’Connor, Woodhouse, Lazaridis (Hughes, 51), Horsfield, Mooney
Substitutes not used: Vaesen, Marcelo, Burrows.
Attendance at Hillsborough: 24,335
Referee: Jeff Winter (Middlesbrough)