Monday 31 March ~
The points deduction has a long history in English league football. From September 1890, when Sunderland were docked two points for fielding goalkeeper Ned Doig before his move from Arbroath was fully approved, to the administrative chaos of the 1973-74 season where no fewer than three clubs, Scunthorpe, Preston and Newport, all suffered deductions. More recently Middlesbrough lost three points for failing to fulfil a fixture at Blackburn in December 1996 due to what was claimed to be an illness crisis. Following this weekend's game between Sheffield Wednesday and Stoke clubs at the top and bottom of the Championship are watching carefully to see whether a points deduction will affect issues at both ends of the division.
At the top, Stoke City are stuttering, like most of their promotion rivals. Having won only one of their last seven games they were denied three points at Hillsborough when Franck Songo'o's 20-yard shot equalised for Sheffield Wednesday in the 81st minute. Unfortunately Songo'o was one of six loan players on the Wednesday teamsheet when only five are allowed. While the 1-1 draw knocked Stoke off the top and took Wednesday to within one point of safety with two games in hand, there has yet to be official judgement on the disregarding of the loanee regulations.
Understandably, seeing a hard-earned point against a team at the top then put in jeopardy by an administrative mistake has made Wednesday fans angry as well as apprehensive. On the other hand, stirrings from Stoke about an unprecedented two-point award seem to be more out of hope than any real conviction. The football club have declined to comment until the issue has been considered by the League.
The authorities are looking into the matter today. There is some precedent – Leeds were fined £2,000 in December 2006 for exactly the same breach. In that case, however, Leeds had lost their match, 2-1 to Burnley, whereas on Saturday one of the players in question made a decisive contribution towards his team's point. If that should make a difference and Wednesday go down by a point, it could go into the record books as the most costly cock-up yet made by a club official. Ed Upright