Everybody loves a great escape – except those who don’t get out. Join us as we take a look at the best survival stories in Premier League history.
Oldham Athletic 1992-93
The inaugural Premier League season in 1992-93 saw Oldham Athletic participate in their second successive top-flight campaign after a successful 17th place return in 1991-92 following a 68-year absence.
In one of the most exciting final matchdays at the bottom of the table in Premier League history, Oldham survived on goal difference – just two goals ahead of Crystal Palace.
Coming into their 40th game of the 42-game season on Sunday 2nd May, Oldham were six points from safety and eight points off Crystal Palace, who’d just defeated Ipswich Town the day before, 3-1 at Selhurst Park.
In truth, Oldham’s revival had started in March 1992. Having won just seven of their 30 Premier League matches that season and sitting bottom of the league coming into that month, Oldham Athletic knew they needed a dramatic turnaround to stay in the competition for another season. They did just that, with the final month of 1992-93 being a perfect finish.
Their final three games were across an eight-day spell in May: away at Aston Villa (2nd), at home versus Liverpool (8th) before hosting Southampton (16th) in their final match. Oldham managed to win all three matches – the only time in their two-season Premier League stay that they won three in a row.
Ahead of the final matchday, the final relegation spot could have been taken by any one of four teams – Oldham Athletic, Crystal Palace, Ipswich Town or Sheffield United. Oldham won 4-3 against Southampton despite a Matt Le Tissier hat trick, while Crystal Palace lost 3-0 at Arsenal, meaning that Joe Royle’s side completed an unlikely great escape right at the end.
Crystal Palace ended the season with 49 points but were still relegated. This is the highest points tally by a relegated top-flight side in a season since the Premier League began.
Unfortunately for the Latics, they couldn’t repeat their feat in the following season and were relegated. Twenty-seven years later, they still haven’t managed a return.
West Bromwich Albion 2004-05
West Bromwich Albion staged an unlikely fight-back to survive in the 2004-05 Premier League season.
The Baggies were bottom on Christmas Day, one of only three teams in Premier League history to avoid relegation after being at the foot of the table at Christmas and the first to manage it in the competition.
Ahead of their local derby with Birmingham City on Sunday 6th March, WBA found themselves eight points from safety but with two games in hand – one of those being against the Blues. They went on to seal a 2-0 victory against them at the Hawthorns and turned their fortunes around.
From the start of that weekend onwards, West Brom won 16 points in the Premier League, a tally that only three teams bettered. Later that month, they secured a brilliant 4-1 away win at Charlton Athletic where top-scorer Robert Earnshaw bagged a 17-minute hat-trick as a substitute – one of only six players to achieve this in Premier League history – while his equaliser away at Old Trafford in the penultimate game meant that West Brom had a fighting chance of survival on the final day, despite still being bottom.
‘Survival Sunday’ saw all three teams in the relegation zone with a chance of survival and any one of four teams playing having a chance of being sent down to the Championship – West Brom, Crystal Palace, Southampton and Norwich City. This remains the only Premier League season in which no side had been relegated before the final matchday.
Bryan Robson’s side were the only one of these four teams to win on the final day, thanks to a 2-0 victory over Portsmouth. Second-half goals from Geoff Horsfield and Kieran Richardson led to pandemonium on the Hawthorns pitch at full-time, but the Baggies couldn’t replicate the feat the following season in 2005-06 and were relegated in 19th place.
WBA’s survival in 2004-05 will also be remembered for their points tally. With 34 points to their name, they collected the fewest points as well as winning the fewest number of games (six) to avoid relegation in Premier League history.
Coming into their match with Manchester City at Fratton Park on Saturday March 10, Portsmouth had endured a miserable Premier League season and it looked like their three-year stay in the top-flight would be coming to an end. With just four wins in 28 games, and as the lowest scoring side in the Premier League with 18 goals to their name, they found themselves eight points off West Bromwich Albion in 17th position.
However, a remarkable run of form in their final 10 games, which saw them win record six wins, two draws and 20 points meant that Pompey would survive with a game remaining. Just a year earlier, West Brom had saved themselves with a 2-0 home win against Portsmouth, but they were sent down following Pompey’s 2-1 win at Wigan Athletic.
Frenchman Alain Perrin was sacked after 13 games of the season and replaced by Harry Redknapp, who’d only left the club 13 months previously. Redknapp instilled some much-needed confidence, helped by the signings of Benjani Mwaruwari and Andrés D’Alessandro in January.
Their great run started with that memorable 2-1 victory against Manchester City, in which Pedro Mendes scored both goals including a stunning injury-time winner. That strike remains the latest match-winning goal in Portsmouth’s Premier League history.
This Portsmouth fightback was all about character. Four of their final 10 games in 2005-06 saw them come from behind to secure points, with two wins and two draws from losing positions. These eight points were more than any other Premier League team won from behind in this period.
After 2005-06, Portsmouth went on to enjoy four successive seasons in the Premier League before finally succumbing to relegation – but they did win the FA Cup in 2007-08 and enjoy a season of UEFA Cup football in 2008-09. If they hadn’t have survived in 2004-05, it’s unlikely either of those would have happened.
West Ham United 2006-07
The 2006-07 Premier League season saw West Ham United turnaround a 10-point deficit with just nine games remaining to secure their survival on the final matchday.
The Hammers picked up more points in their final nine games (21) than they did in their opening 29 matches of the season (20), completing arguably the greatest turnaround in Premier League history with a 1-0 victory away at Manchester United on the final day of the season.
In August, West Ham produced one of the shocks of the 2006-07 campaign with the double signing of Argentinian internationals Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano.
Whilst Mascherano failed to make an impact at the Boleyn Ground with only five appearances and 235 minutes of Premier League action, compatriot Tevez was to keep The Hammers up with a brilliant run of form – but only after a woeful start to life in England.
Tevez didn’t score or assist a goal in any of his first 16 appearances for West Ham in the Premier League. However, it all clicked in a London derby against Tottenham on 4th March. He had a hand in all three of the Hammers’ goals that day (one goal, two assists) and although they went on to lose 4-3 following a Paul Stalteri injury-time goal, it gave Alan Curbishley’s side some belief.
Tevez had a hand in a league-high 10 goals in his final 10 appearances of the 2006-07 campaign (seven goals, three assists), including the only goal in a 1-0 win at Old Trafford to secure safety on the final day. His partnership with Bobby Zamora (five goals, one assist in the final 10 games) meant that the pair scored 71% of West Ham’s goals from March onwards – a great time to finally click.
20 minutes from relegation. That’s how close Fulham were to losing their Premier League status in 2007-08.
With Birmingham leading 2-1 at home to Liverpool and Fulham losing 2-0 at Manchester City, it looked like the South-West London club would be ending their seven-year stay in the Premier League. However, a Yossi Benayoun goal for Liverpool at St. Andrew’s coupled with an astonishing comeback win for Fulham meant that they survived another day – and they never looked back.
Two goals from Diomansy Kamara in addition to a strike from Danny Murphy in the final 20 minutes at the Etihad Stadium gave Fulham a chance of survival with two games left in the 2007-08 campaign, but still three points from safety.
Roy Hodgson’s side then went on to defeat fellow relegation-threatened side Birmingham City 2-0 at Craven Cottage in a huge six-pointer, before a great 1-0 final day win away at Portsmouth saw Fulham survive on goal difference at the expense of Reading.
Relegation was unfortunate for Reading, as they won 10 games that season, which was more than any of the other sides in the bottom five positions. In a 38-game Premier League season, the Royals’ effort in 2007-08 is one of only nine occasions that a team has won as many as 10 games and still been relegated.
Wigan Athletic 2011-12
With nine games left to go in the 2011-12 season, Wigan Athletic’s status as a Premier League club looked precarious. The Latics sat bottom of the league, and with five of the top seven sides still to play (three of them away) it seemed a foregone conclusion that Wigan’s seven-year stint in the Premier League would come to an end.
Up to this point it had been a tough season for Wigan, the low point of which was an eight-match losing run between September and November – their longest winless run in Premier League history.
After that barren spell, Wigan showed a flicker of a recovery by losing just once in their next six matches, including wins against Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion and back-to-back hard-fought draws against Chelsea and Liverpool. The arrival of the New Year brought no joy to them however, as they started 2012 with four consecutive losses. Things looked desperate.
But it was from late March onwards when Wigan completely transformed. There were wins against Liverpool and Stoke City before a cruel 2–1 defeat against Chelsea, where both Blues’ goals were shown to be offside on TV replays. After that Chelsea defeat, a disconsolate Roberto Martinez bemoaned the “cruelty of football” – his side sat 19th and were set to host apparent champions-elect Manchester United next.
That game was to be the spark Wigan needed to survive, with Shaun Maloney’s fine strike enough to see Wigan win their first – and only – Premier League match against The Red Devils. It was a win that moved them out of the bottom three for the first time since October. Inspired by the historic victory, Wigan followed it up with their first-ever away win against Arsenal and then chalked up their biggest win in Premier League history a few matches later, a 4–0 thrashing of Newcastle United. Wigan’s April performances were enough to earn manager Roberto Martinez his first Manager of the Month award.
In the last two games of the season, Wigan downed fellow relegation candidates Blackburn and Wolves – both of whom were relegated – to confirm their stay in the Premier League.
Wigan recorded seven wins in their last nine matches that season, picking up more points than any other side in the league during that time.
The following season was a double-edged sword for the Latics, with Premier League relegation paired with a miraculous FA Cup win, as Wigan became the only team to experience those two extremes in the same season.
After West Brom in 2004-05, Sunderland in 2013-14 became only the second side in Premier League history to avoid relegation having been bottom of the table at Christmas.
The Black Cats 2013-14 season was the definition of ‘peaking at the right time’, as they spent just 42 days outside the relegation zone throughout the season, exiting the bottom three for the final time on 27th April following a 4-0 home win against Cardiff in matchday 35. This ensured that they spent the final 15 days of the season with their head above water and in relative comfort, before a 14th place finish. In fact, Sunderland’s 226 days spent in the relegation zone is the third-highest total for a side not to be relegated in Premier League history.
Their start to the campaign was anything but comfortable, as they began with an eight-game winless run (D1 L7). Halfway through that run, the club parted ways with manager Paolo Di Canio, before Gus Poyet replaced caretaker manager Kevin Ball at the start of October. The alarm bells must have been truly ringing after Poyet’s first game in charge ended in an emphatic 4-0 defeat at Swansea. It left the Black Cats with one point from their first eight Premier League games – the joint-worst ever start to a Premier League season.
Sunderland’s Achilles heel this season was their propensity for wild bouts of inconsistency. From mid-December to early February, it looked like Poyet had steadied the ship. In that time, his side only lost once in nine matches and a 3-0 win at rivals Newcastle on 1st February, propelled them to 14th in the table. Just when things looked good, they spiralled into another barren spell, losing eight of their next nine. On April 16, with six games remaining, Poyet’s side sat rock-bottom, seven points from safety.
The club’s great escape began with a draw away at eventual champions Manchester City, followed by a run of four wins, including remarkable away performances at Chelsea and Manchester United. Sunderland’s victory at Stamford Bridge saw them end José Mourinho’s run of 77-straight home games unbeaten.
The Black Cats’ survival was confirmed by a 2–0 victory over West Brom on the penultimate matchday of the season.
Key to their end of season success was the form of striker partnership Connor Wickham and Fabio Borini. From 14th April until the end of the season, no player was involved in more goals than Wickham, and teammate Borini was not far behind. The pair certainly picked their moment to peak – all of Wickham’s goals this season came in these final six games, while Borini scored four of his seven in this time.
From staring down the barrel of Premier League relegation on 14th April, only Manchester City (16) and Arsenal (15) picked up more points than Sunderland’s 13 on their way to the club’s greatest escape.
Leicester City 2014-15
After winning the Championship title the previous season, Leicester City were back in the Premier League after a ten-year absence.
The Foxes started the campaign strongly, with battling draws against Everton and Arsenal, as well as a memorable 5-3 comeback victory against Manchester United – an occasion that remains the only time in Premier League history that United have led a game by at least two goals and lost.
Rather than building on that bright start, however, Nigel Pearson’s side embarked on a miserable run of 13 games without a win, losing 11 of those. Despite a minor uptick in results over the New Year period, The Foxes remained marooned at the bottom of the table for four-and-a-half months between late November and mid-April.
Like an ostrich’s head in the sand, Nigel Pearson’s men looked dead and buried after a 4-3 defeat to Tottenham. This was a game that they’d fought back from 2-0 down to level the scores but eventually lost, leaving them seven points adrift of safety at the bottom of the table with nine games to play.
It was from here that their survival mission began. A late Andy King goal sealed a 2-1 win at home to West Ham, ending a run of eight games without a win. That was followed by another thriller, with Jamie Vardy’s injury-time winner securing a 3-2 win at West Brom.
Those results were the catalyst for Leicester’s end of season sprint, as they went on to win five of their last seven matches, including a 5-1 celebratory thrashing of relegated QPR on the final day.
Leicester took more points (22) than any other Premier League side in the final nine games of the season. Only Manchester City (21) scored more goals than The Foxes over this period.
In total, Leicester City spent a record 140 days at the foot of the table without going down – a Premier League record.
The Foxes were criticised for their decision to replace Pearson as manager with Claudio Ranieri in the summer of 2015. But their decision proved to be one of the best ever made in Premier League history, with nobody predicting the miraculous story that would unfold in the following season.
Aston Villa 2019-20
Aston Villa’s return to the top-flight brought plenty of anticipation and excitement. Not least because the side’s billionaire owners decided to splash the cash in the summer transfer window, breaking the club’s transfer record to sign striker Wesley from Club Brugge for a cool £22m.
Villa went big as they looked to cement their Premier League status for the long term. Other notable acquisitions to arrive during the £140m frenzy were Tyrone Mings from Bournemouth (£20m), Douglas Luiz from Manchester City (£15m) and Matt Target from Southampton (£13.95m).
But Villa learnt the hard way that throwing money around doesn’t buy immediate success. They started the season poorly by chalking up just one win in their first seven matches, as Dean Smith’s side took their time to gel.
The Villain’s never really managed to extricate themselves from the bottom five spots in the table. Indeed, they finished a matchday outside the bottom five just once, a 2-1 home win against Brighton on 19th October sending them briefly to the dizzying heights of 11th. Dean Smith’s side were simply not able to string good performances together and sealed consecutive victories just once all season.
That inconsistency, coupled with a woeful run of two points from 10 matches either side of the coronavirus-enforced break, left Villa with a mountain to climb.
But climb it they did. A 2-0 win against Crystal Palace gave them that much-needed spark. A draw with Everton followed by a memorable home win against Arsenal meant that the last two relegation spots would be decided on the final day.
It was typical that it was Jack Grealish, Villa’s captain and star player, who stepped up to secure the point his side needed to survive. Grealish was undoubtedly crucial in Villa’s survival bid. His eight goals and six assists were both team highs, and the midfielder often provided that extra bit of quality needed to unlock defences – only Kevin De Bruyne created more chances than Grealish in the 2019-20 season.
With such heavy investment in the summer, many would have been expecting Villa to do better than scraping out of trouble. But given their precarious league position entering Project Restart, their survival will be seen as a mighty success. Holding on to Grealish during the post-season transfer window was arguably an even greater one.
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