Liverpool, Leeds United and Newcastle United outfits all feature as we look back at seven cult teams from the 2000s.
Earlier this year we looked back at some of the best cult teams from the 1990s, and now it’s the turn of the younger siblings.
These sides all enjoyed an element of success, but like all the best things in life, they also had their fair share of flaws too…
Ipswich Town – 2001
The biggest expectation upon Ipswich in 2000 was simply a swift return to Division One, from where they had just come. George Burley spent £4.7million on his newly-promoted side, bringing in just five new recruits. Most of that money went on Hermann Hreidarsson and the other quartet managed just nine appearances between them.
Built around a young core of Richard Wright, Titus Bramble and James Scowcroft, combined with the experience of Jim Magilton, the only Tractor Boy in his 30s, Town exceeded those expectations by sitting two places above the drop zone with five games gone, albeit having yielded just one win. Then the Tractor Boys hit the accelerator.
A 2-1 win at Champions League semi-finalists Leeds was the catalyst for a run of 10 games that featured only one defeat and seven wins. That streak saw Burley’s boys climb up to third – and it was no fleeting visit.
Marcus Stewart’s goals – he finished on 19, behind only Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink in the Golden Boot, two clear of Thierry Henry – kept Ipswich in third for 12 of the 20 matchdays up to three games from the end of the season.
A win, draw and a defeat in the remaining fixtures say Town fall to fifth, just four points off second-placed Arsenal and three from a Champions League spot. Burley was named Manager of the Year but Town suffered a severe bout of second-season syndrome, suffering relegation the following year.
Leeds United – 2001
David O’Leary’s ‘babies’ came of age throughout the course of the 2000-01 season, with the likes of Alan Smith, Paul Robinson, Rio Ferdinand (a mightily expensive ‘baby’, it must be said), Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate helping Leeds reach their first European Cup semi-final since 1975.
The first half of the season saw this inexperienced side – Dominic Matteo was considered a veteran at 26 – stumble in the Premier League while taking on the likes of Barcelona, AC MIlan, Besiktas and Lazio in the Champions League. But a run of 16 games featuring only one defeat after Christmas saw United power up from the bottom half to a top-four finish.
O’Leary’s boys also got to grips with simultaneous continental and domestic fronts, forcing their way to the last four in Europe, where they were eventually beaten by Valencia. It was a highly creditable finish but fans were unaware that the board had spluffed the mortgage on further Champions League participation, which they missed by a single point.
Newcastle United – 2003
Sir Bobby Robson had taken the Toon from a couple of bottom half finishes in his first seasons at St James’ Park to the top four in 2002. With an exciting side, featuring the experience of Alan Shearer, Shay Given and Aaron Hughes supplemented by the pace and exuberance of Craig Bellamy, Kieron Dyer and Laurent Robert, the Magpies were ready for an assault on the Champions League.
After a slow start to the Premier League campaign – they won one in five – Newcastle lost one in 14 to position themselves in a title race alongside Manchester United and Arsenal. It was a similar story in the Champions League, when they overturned three consecutive defeats with three wins over Juventus, Dynamo Kiev and Feyenoord in injury time to reach the second stage.
The Toon faded in April, however, with the Champions League dream already ended by Barcelona, Besiktas and Inter Milan, they suffered three defeats, including a 6-2 demolition at the hands of Man Utd and Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Bolton Wanderers – 2005
By now, Bolton fans more normally accustomed to watching the likes of Mike Whitlow and Simon Charlton were getting used to cheering on European legends like Jay Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff.
Sam Allardyce and his innovative backroom team were selling the Lancashire side as a Manchester-based, well-paid stepping stone or retirement home and the pitch worked perfectly to tempt other stars like Ivan Campo, Fernando Hierro and Vincent Candela to the north of England.
After reaching the League Cup final the previous season while achieving their first top-flight top-half finish for 45 years, the Trotters were even more impressive in 2004-05. El Hadji Diouf had been dragged away from BFF Steven Gerrard at Liverpool and the Senegal star netted 12 goals as Wanderers finished level on points with the Reds and three points off the Champions League spots.
It was enough, though, to earn Allardyce’s men a first-ever European spot. They reached the UEFA Cup last 32 and last 16 over three seasons but with Allardyce looking to take the club to the next level, the board did not share his ambition and their incredible work unravelled after Big Sam’s exit.
Liverpool – 2001
Not only did Gerard Houllier’s side win the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup, they also claimed the Team of the Year award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
They were expected to secure a Champions League spot, which they did on the final day of the season, but their Premier League campaign became almost irrelevent in contrast to their cup exploits.
The first trophy arrived in March, when Birmingham were finally beaten on penalties In the League Cup final. The Reds were back in Cardiff a couple of months later for the FA Cup final, which was settled by a brace from Michael Owen, when the prodigious striker could still run and finish. Arsenal will claim Stephane Henchoz’s handball on the line that was missed by the officials had a bearing on the outcome too…
The excitement in Cardiff, however, had nothing on what was to come in Dortmund. It took until extra-time for Liverpool to finally shake off nine-man Alaves, who gifted the Reds the third trophy of the season with a golden own-goal.
Middlesbrough – 2006
Boro’s run to the UEFA Cup final has plenty to answer for. It was guiding the Teesiders to Eindhoven that probably sealed the England job for Steve McClaren.
Their 15-match run to the final took in knockout-round victories over Roma, Stuttgart, Basel and Steaua Bucharest, but that’s not half the story. In the quarter-final, Boro found themselves 3-0 down on aggregate early in the second leg. But Mark Viduka’s brace, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s strike and Massmo Maccarone’s injury-time winner ensured Boro got the four goals they needed to reach the last four in only their second-ever European campaign.
Boro had not learned their lesson in time for the semi-final against Steaua. They brought only a one-goal deficit back to The Riverside but this time conceded twice early on, meaning once again they needed four goals. Again, they found them; again it was Maccarone who grabbed the winner; again in the final minute.
After the quarter and semi-final drama, the final was a severe anti-climax. Boro barely turned up as they were thrashed 4-0 by Sevilla. Few Boro fans remember that Eindhoven embarrassment though no one will ever forget the two stunning Riverside recoveries.
Portsmouth – 2008
Harry Redknapp guided Pompey to their most successful season in 58 years. He must have told you about it?
At one point in 2007-08, they were in the hunt for a Champions League spot. It was hardly a team built on a shoestring, however. Glen Johnson, David Nugent, Sulley Muntari, Lassana Diarra and, in January, Jermain Defoe were all bought for big money – big, at least, for Pompey.
Their Premier League challenge tailed off, leading to an eighth-place finish – still their highest finish since 1955. But all eyes by then were on the FA Cup, especially after they navigated their way past Manchester United in the quarter-final, leaving only West Brom and Cardiff to get past.
The final, the second to be played at the new Wembley, was completely forgettable for anyone other than Pompey fans. They celebrated their first trophy for over half a century but it came at a cost. The Pompey board had overspent and following Redknapp’s departure for Tottenham early the following season, the club started to unravel quickly.