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SPORT

LOOKING BACK OVER A FASCINATING SEASON, HAMMERSMITH & FULHAM’S TRIO OF PREMIER LEAGUE TEAMS CAN ALL TAKE HEART... FOR DIFFERENT REASONS. MARKS OUT OF 10 FROM tim harrison

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scaping the drop to the Championship on goal difference was too close for comfort for the Hoops, but stands as manager Mark Hughes’ greatest achievement in a season which at one time promised so much. West London is ours, crowed the Loftus Road hordes after the 1-0 win against Chelsea in October – the match overshadowed by the allegation of racism by John Terry against

Anton Ferdinand. But it proved a flash in the pan, although it did much to wipe away the painful memories of the 6-0 drubbing suffered by the Rs at Craven Cottage weeks earlier. Rangers simply couldn’t get their season properly started, and when Neil Warnock was sacked in January – despite his efforts in gaining the Hoops Premier League status – little changed. FA Cup defeat to Chelsea really hurt, while a bleak February produced three defeats (including Fulham completing the double) and a draw. Everything suddenly came good in the nick of time in March when Jamie Mackie, left, got the winner in one of the most extraordinary turnarounds of the season. Losing 2-0 at home to Liverpool, Sean Derry clawed a goal back in the 77th minute before Djibril Cisse levelled with two minutes remaining. Then Mackie popped up in stoppage time to achieve a most unlikely victory. It proved the springboard Hughes needed. Wins against Arsenal, Swansea and Spurs made the 6-1 defeat by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge slightly easier to bear. But the result which mattered most was the ground-out late victory against Stoke City. While the Hoops played a major part in the last-day drama as Manchester City clinched the Premier League trophy right at the death, it was that win against Stoke that eventually made the crucial difference between survival and the drop. Mark Hughes, expressing his disappointment at captain Joey Barton’s antics which led to a red card and long ban, pledged that the Hoops would never again flirt with relegation under his tenure. It was a bullish end-of-term statement, but it gives fans real hope of mid-table security in 2012/13, backed by Tony Fernandes’ dreams and cash.

SEASON RATING

5/10

Rangers’ striker Jamie Mackie proved to be an unlikely saviour for the team – at least twice!

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HAT a season. Right up to the wire it hovered between disappointment and utter ecstasy, but two trophies – including the holy grail of the Champions League cup – ultimately made it the Blues’ greatest year ever. As usual, the intended saviour in the manager’s seat didn’t work out. Andre Villas-Boas’ sacking propelled unlikely hero Roberto Di Matteo into the spotlight, and he responded magnificently, turning round European first-leg disappointment in Naples into overall victory at Stamford Bridge, and setting the scene for a simply remarkable run in the toughest tournament on the planet. Clinching victory, on penalties, in a surreal final in Munich set up delirious scenes at the open-top bus parade around Fulham’s streets, with the FA Cup and Champions League trophies being waved triumphantly to the baying masses. And yet it was a season that in league terms disappointed. By finishing sixth, Chelsea were dependant on winning the Champions League final to secure top-flight European football next season. It was the Blues’ lowest finish in the Roman Abramovich era,

underlining the need to rebuild. AVB’s tentative first moves at reconstruction were abandoned when Di Matteo swept in and, effectively, re-established the factory settings, giving John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Petr Cech (below) exemption from rotation. Season’s high points included the 4-1 defeat of hard-to-beat Swansea, a 3-0 away win at Newcastle and the defeat at Stamford Bridge of eventual titlewinners Manchester City. Low points included losing to QPR, being beaten at home to Liverpool and – surprisingly – tamely rolling over when Aston Villa visited the Bridge for the last game of 2011. Yet any criticism seems pointless when set against the majesty of the FA Cup win, against Liverpool, and the European adventure. The moment that Blues fans will remember as long as they live was the aggregate win at the Nou Camp against Barcelona – a victory achieved despite being 2-0 down and having Terry sent off. The early course of the 2012/13 season now hinges on JT’s trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on July 9.

SEASON RATING

9/10

Petr Cech cheers the Blues’ Champions League final win

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