THE frantic, non-stop Championship is coming to that point in the season.
The point where automatic promotion spots are fought tooth and nail to earn, and where those just below battle for a shot at the play-off.
For Aussie fans, there are some great stories unfolding, with Mile Jedinak helping Aston Villa put themselves right in the mix to return to the big show, while Bailey Wright is captaining Bristol City to a potential top seven finish.
But further down, there is a Socceroo who could be set for an unwanted piece of history in English football.
In the history of the Premier League era, only two teams have ever suffered double relegation – dropping from the top division to the Championship and then to League One in successive seasons.
This season, there could be two more who suffer this fate, with Sunderland and Hull City both locked in desperate relegation battles.
And in the middle of the park for Hull is Socceroo Jackson Irvine, who he joined from Burton Albion in the off-season in the hope he could help them earn a return at the first opportunity.
Instead, the Tigers are stuck on 32 points, with a vital win over Sheffield United putting them just two points above Birmingham who occupy the final relegation place. Next up for Hull: Barnsley, the team in 21st spot, just one point below the Tigers in their relegation scrap.
Should Hull go down, they would be the first team to suffer double relegation who had not previously finished bottom of the Premier League.
There would also be a hugely unwanted piece of history for Sunderland, who are dead last in the Championship and four points adrift of safetyhaving dropped into the second tier after similarly finishing dead last in the Premier League in 2017.
THE TWO TEAMS WITH DREADED HISTORY
That’s because Sunderland risk being the first team to do the double drop, while also finishing last in the Premier League and then last in the Championship the following season.
In 1994, Swindon Town finished 22nd in the top flight, copping 100 goals in the process (the next worst defence was just 68 conceded) but then finished 21st the following season.
The most recent club to also do the double drop is Wolverhampton Wolves, who picked up just 25 points in 2011-12 to finish 20th.
The following season, Wolves then finished 23rd in the Championship to drop down to League One. Incredibly, Wolves earned automatic promotion back to the Championship the following season and now look set to win the Championship to return to the Premier League under new coach Nuno Espirito Santo and a collection of Portuguese stars signed by super-agent Jorge Mendes.
CHAMPIONSHIP RELEGATION RACE STANDINGS
18. Reading – played 33; 34 points, -7 goal difference
19. Bolton – played 34; 34pts, -22
20. Hull City – played 33; 32pts, -6
21. Barnsley – played 33; 31pts, -14
22. Birmingham – played 34; 30pts, -29
23. Burton – played 34; 29pts, -34
24. Sunderland – played 34; 27 pts, -24
AUSSIE FOCUS – IRVINE’S PREDICAMENT
Irvine has been a regular feature for Hull after he switched from Burton, off the back of his 10-goal haul in his debut season in England.
Continuing in his midfield role, where he sometimes plays off the striker and sometimes takes up more of a midfield destroyer role, it did take time for Irvine to break into the Hull team.
The Aussie has played 23 of Hull’s 33 games, starting 18 times – having seen the latter part of 2017 broken up with Socceroos commitments in crucial World Cup qualifiers.
Irvine has started 14 out of Hull’s last 16 matches in all competitions, coming off the bench in the other two plus has started all of their previous seven matches. He even managed to assist their winner against Sheffield United with a neat flick in the box.
It’s during this spell of consistent football that Irvine has “come into his own”. The former Celtic midfielder was praised by the Hull Daily Mail’s William Jackson, who “looks a different player [and has] slipped into the No.10 role [to] show why City paid the money they did in the summer for him.”
That assessment was in January, but with games coming at a rapid rate, Irvine will have to continue to be at his best to help Hull move up the ladder.
“I said four or five weeks ago that every game was a Cup final and that still applies,” the 24-year-old told the Yorkshire Post.
“This will be our fourth away game in a row and then we have a couple at home. Friday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday is a tough schedule but we have to adapt. We have a good squad here with depth. “
Irvine added: “Just when you look around the dressing room and see the strength of the squad, it gives that little lift and belief.
“These next few weeks will define our season.”
OTHER FAMOUS FOOTBALL LEAGUE FREE-FALLS
Should Hull and Sunderland suffer the humiliation of a double relegation, they will have to look only to these three clubs to see how far things can turn sour in a short space of time.
LUTON TOWN – 2007 to 2009
In 2007, Luton Town dropped out of the Championship which set off a course of action that saw them drop out of the Football League all together inside three years.
When playing in League One in 2007-08, Luton went into administration and therefore were handed a 10 point deduction which meant they then finished last of the third tier league and dropped down to League Two.
Luton’s financial woes got even worse in the 2008-09 season, deducted 30 points for going into administration again. Their actual points haul of 56 would have seen them finish mid-table. Instead, the Hatters finished 24th and dropped down into the Conference National league.
Although the club did have a chance to celebrate in 2009, winning the Football League Trophy, it would take them five years to return to professional football in League Two.
This season, in League Two, Luton are continuing their slow rise back up the ranks and are on top – five points clear of the next team as they seek to return to League One.
WOLVERHAMPTON WOLVES – 1983 to 1985
Wolves have not only suffered double relegation – as they did by dropping from the Premier League to League One in successive seasons – they also suffered triple relegation.
A series of boardroom errors, including to demolish and rebuild their stadium, left the club in a huge financial mire in the mid-1980s.
Having won the League Cup in 1980 to play European football, just three years later Wolves finished 22nd and dropped down to Division Two the following season.
Things didn’t get any better after that, with 23rd and 22nd placed finishes following immediately after which saw the club languish in Division Four.
Luckily, the club steadied, finishing fourth in Division Four before then earning double promotion with Division Four and Division Three league titles in successive seasons.
BRISTOL CITY – 1980 to 1983
Remember when Roy Hodgson was Bristol City manager?
A short four month stint as head coach came during a period where the club plummeted from Division One to Division Four in three years, and led the now Crystal Palace manager to lament the club’s mismanagement.
“Bristol City was nothing short of a disaster,” Hodgson told The BBC.
“We had only been there for a matter of weeks before the banks started to pull the rug from underneath the club. My job when I eventually took over, as caretaker manager, was quite simply to carry on in the aftermath of all the players leaving the club and just fulfilling the fixtures.”
In 1980, Hodgson joined the club as assistant manager. They would end that Division One season in 20th place and dropped to Division Two.
Hodgson continued as assistant coach as Bristol then finished 21st and dropped again.
It was while they were in Division Three that Hodgson was caretaker from January to April 1982. During that time, the club were bought out by a new consortium and eight of their highest paid players terminated their contracts at the last minute to help save the club from administration.
It didn’t help matters much, with Bristol finishing 23rd and dropping to Division Four.
Currently, captained by Socceroo Bailey Wright, Bristol are back in the Championship and are in the mix for a promotion play-off spot.