Wednesday 19 March ~
Last night's results in the Championship all but resigned Scunthorpe and Colchester to third division football next year. Despite taking a fifth-minute lead Scunthorpe lost at Molineux, putting Wolves within a point of the play-offs, while in the last-ever floodlit game at Layer Road Colchester produced a good performance but lost 3-1 to Hull. This puts the latter four points clear of another unlikely name, Plymouth, in sixth place. League position is not the only similarity between these clubs – they also share an unwanted historical fact that doubles as a pub quiz answer.
Hull claims to be the largest town in Europe to have never witnessed top-flight football. With a similar population and identical top-division record Plymouth don't proclaim this fact quite so loudly, but together they are certainly the biggest English cities without a division one history. The explanations for this are quite different: Hull is a major rugby league town with two Superleague clubs, Hull FC and Hull Kingston Rovers, competing strongly against each other while Plymouth's geographical isolation as the Football League's most southern and western club has historically counted against them.
But times change and this season both are serious promotion contenders. Hull beat Southampton 5-0 last weekend and last night's win was impressive, taking them to three points off automatic promotion. Manager Phil Brown, now fully recovered from his calamitous stint in charge at Derby County, is currently trying to persuade Jay-Jay Okocha to stay for another season and the man who claimed divine intervention in his move to Hull has certainly raised the profile of the club both inside and outside the region.
Hungarian footballers have made an significant impact in the Championship since EU expansion in 2004. And Plymouth have signed important players from Ferencváros, Debreceni and Újpest. Last year's transfer window saw the arrival of defender and fan-favourite Krisztián Timár alongside talented midfielder Péter Halmosi. Both have been vital in Plymouth's successful season. This January Hungarian international György Sándor arrived at Home Park, initially on a loan deal with a view to a permanent move. So far, though, injury has restricted him to spectacular goals for the reserves. Last week's win over Bristol City knocked their opponents off the top and pushed Plymouth into sixth and their next game, at home to third-placed Watford on Saturday, is crucial. So if results continue in this fashion next season's Premier League may contain at least one new name from big towns at opposite ends of the country. Ed Upright