The Wanderers curse of years ending in 3
THE international break may have come just at the right time for Wanderers as manager Dougie Freedman looks to disect his team’s winless start to the Championship season.
Saturday’s 4-1 derby humiliation at Blackburn Rovers made it five league matches without victory and left the Whites bottom of the second tier for the first time in 20 years.
Back in August 1993, a 3-0 defeat at Charlton left Bruce Rioch’s team propping up the old Division One after three winless matches at the start of the season following their promotion four months earlier.
But, unlike his current Scottish compatriot, Rioch was far from displeased with the way his team had played in those three opening matches against Grimsby Town, Stoke City and Charlton.
Speaking after the 3-0 loss that flattered the south Londoners, Rioch said: “It was a surprise to see that we were bottom of the table.
“With the way we have played at Grimsby, against Stoke and even at Charlton, it is disappointing to see where we are.”
Fortunately for Rioch and co they were not rock bottom for long – three days in fact before a John McGinlay goal secured a 1-0 home win against Oxford to shoot the Whites up into mid-table.
McGinlay would go on to score 33 goals that season and equal the post-war record held jointly by Nat Lofthouse and Andy Walker.
And while it was not the challenge at the top end of the table Rioch desired, they overcame that shaky start to life back in the second tier with a 14th-place finish.
This weekend was the first time Wanderers have found themsleves bottom of any division since New Year’s Eve in 2011, when a 1-1 home draw with Wolves in the Premier League saw them slip to the basement for the fifth time in a season that would ultimately end in relegation.
In the top flight in 2007-08, they also experienced life at rock bottom twice in a start that saw them lose their first three matches and record just one victory in 13 matches before a famous 1-0 home win against Manchester United in November kick-started the campaign.
But not for 20 seasons have they been 24th spot in the second tier.Freedman will be hoping for a lot higher than the final mid-table position in 1993-94, but first his team has to break their duck.
Five matches without a win now represents the worst start to a season in almost 30 years.
The last time Wanderers failed to record a victory for so long at the beginning of a season came in 1984-85, when John McGovern’s side started slightly worse with just one point from the first 15 available.
However, it ended in spectacular fashion when they put Plymouth Argyle to the sword at Burnden Park in their sixth match – Tony Caldwell’s hat-trick the highlight of a 7-2 hammering.
How Freedman would love a similar outcome on home turf against Leeds in Wanderers’ sixth outing 29 years on.
Maybe, though, Whites fans should have expected an indifferent start this season with the year ending in “3”.
In 2003-04, Wanderers started sluggishly under Sam Allardyce when four winless outings included consecutive away defeats at Manchester United and Portsmouth.
A decade earlier it had been that bad start for Ricoh’s Whites that left them bottom of the First Division.
In 1963-64, they lost all their first five matches against Birmingham, West Brom, Arsenal and Everton home and away before securing a first point in a goalless home draw with Leicester.
Wanderers did not win until the seventh match – again in style with a 6-0 home drubbing of Ipswich Town.
In 1943-44, the Whites lost their first four games in Football League North, home and away against Lancashire rivals Burnley and Blackburn, while, 20 years before that, the 1923-24 season began without a win in the first three matches.
While not always being the case throughout the long history of Wanderers, it seems there is something about the ‘3-4’ combination and a poor start.
However, only one of those campaigns – 1963-64 – ended badly with relegation from Division One.
Whites boss Freedman will hope this season does not follow that same path half a century on.