Ian Hart: Unpredictability is only going to continue

Berkhamsted went down to a late winner
Berkhamsted went down to a late winner
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Just when you thought the Championship couldn’t get any more unpredictable, Newcastle lose an apparent ‘home banker’ 3-1 to Fulham on Saturday. Only for the Cottagers to then miss out on getting into the play-off places on Tuesday by conceding a 94th-minute equaliser at home to relegation-fighting Blackburn Rovers.

They are both timely reminders to all those Albion supporters that are already planning next season’s Premier League excursions that there are still 27 points to play for and no team, regardless of their league position, will simply roll over at this stage of the campaign.

Then again, and I’m old enough to remember the last time the Albion hallowed the stadiums of domestic football, the Seagulls are within touching distance of the Premier League. I just know that it’s never plain sailing with the club and don’t rule out a few more results coming out of left field.

This Saturday, the Albion have another intriguing teatime TV clash at Elland Road, another football ground steeped in tradition, against play-off chasing Leeds United. Not that long ago a club in turmoil, the arrival of head coach Garry Monk has seen the team climb the table and they are a lot of people’s tips to come out victorious at Wembley Stadium when the play-off process begins at the end of the 46 league game season.

For my part, despite the Blackburn setback, I think Fulham, playing some very attractive football, could yet be the surprise package. They could arrive in that play-off zone in top form, just at the right time. It wasn’t that long ago that the Albion effectively ‘stole’ all three points at Craven Cottage, but I’m sure a lot of shrewd punters are taking advantage of the current odds you can get on Fulham playing in the top flight next year.

As for the Albion’s trip to Yorkshire, anything other than a defeat will be a positive result. Dare I say it and I don’t like predicting Albion reverses, even a defeat wouldn’t be the end of the world. There would still be 24 points to play for, including 12 at fortress Amex, the satnav isn’t quite programmed for Stamford Bridge yet but it knows where it is!

The FA Cup, for many years a pale shadow of its former self, has received a much-needed shot in the arm at the semi-final stage.

I first watched the cup final, in colour (!), in 1971, when Arsenal won the league and cup double courtesy of an inconic extra-time goal from Charlie George.

Back then, the match kicked off at 3pm, was on both ITV and BBC, whose coverage began around 9.30am, and was watched by the kind of audiences the likes of Eastenders and Corrie can only dream about these days.

I appreciate that’s now nearly 50 years ago, but the advent of the superclubs, foreign players, huge wages and live TV saturation, has diluted the apparent importance of what I still believe is the greatest cup competition in the world. However, fast forward to this year’s competition and even, anorak-like, trawling over previous years, I’m struggling to remember a stronger line-up in the semi-finals in my time of watching the competition.

Will all due respect to Liverpool, we’ve almost certainly ended up with the four teams that will occupy the top four Premier League positions at the end of season.

Couple that with the fact Chelsea are effectively Champions-elect, it is the last real possibility for silverware for both Spurs and Arsenal, and almost certainly Manchester City.

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