Luton Town lost their opening four games of the 2023-24 Premier League season, but finally won a point in game five with a 1-1 draw against Wolves at Kenilworth Road. With the Hatters avoiding another defeat, which clubs are left in the list of the worst starts to a Premier League season?
The Worst Starts in the Premier League
=1. Crystal Palace, 2017-18: 7 defeats
In the summer of 2017, Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish decided it was time for change. Big change.
Watching Palace under Tony Pulis, Neil Warnock, Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce for the preceding four years convinced him to appoint Frank de Boer.
“Maybe I was just a bit bored of watching us not have the ball,” he reflected in an interview with the club’s official website in 2020. “But when you have to get more points out of fewer games in the Premier League, it’s better if you can keep the ball, look after the ball.”
De Boer decided to overhaul the team’s entire philosophy overnight. To say it didn’t work would be an understatement.
Palace lost their first game of the season 3-0 at home to newly promoted Huddersfield, and went on to lose the next three without scoring – to Liverpool, Swansea and Burnley – before Parish changed his mind and sacked the Dutch legend. Parish went back to what he knew: pragmatic British managers. Roy Hodgson was appointed.
Eventually that decision proved a good one, but not before three more defeats without a single goal scored to make it a record-equalling run of seven straight losses at the start of a Premier League campaign.
What happened next?
Palace won their eighth game of the season, beating Antonio Conte’s out-of-sorts reigning champions, Chelsea, 2-1 at Selhurst Park, before turning their campaign around, climbing the table and ultimately finishing an impressive 11th.
=1. Portsmouth, 2009-10: 7 defeats
Level first (or bottom, depending on how you want to look at it) in terms of the worst start ever to a season in Premier League history is Paul Hart’s (and later Avram Grant’s) pretty baffling Portsmouth side of 2009-10.
Financial problems were starting to engulf the club in the summer, and even with bigger clubs coming in to sign Glen Johnson, Peter Crouch, Niko Kranjcar and Sylvain Distin, some players and members of staff were going unpaid by the start of October. What’s more, their problems off the pitch were matched on it.
Under the guidance of Hart, Portsmouth slumped to seven consecutive defeats in league games to kick off the 2009-10 campaign, as Fulham, Manchester City (who weren’t good yet), Bolton and Everton came to Fratton Park and took all three points, and they also lost on the road at Birmingham, Arsenal and Aston Villa.
After those seven games, they had no points, centre-back Younes Kaboul was their top scorer, with two goals, and they were already six points adrift of safety.
What happened next?
They won their eighth game, with on-loan midfielder Hassan Yebda handing them a 1-0 win at Wolves, but it didn’t spark a revival. Portsmouth occupied 20th position in the table from week two all the way through until the end of the season.
Under Grant, Portsmouth did make it all the way to the FA Cup final despite being the Premier League’s worst team, but they lost 1-0 to Chelsea. They have not been seen in the top flight since.
3. Norwich City, 2021-22: 6 defeats
Norwich have been in the Premier League three times in the last 10 seasons but never for more than one year in a row. On their most recent stay in the top flight, they never even hinted that they might stick around for more than a year.
Daniel Farke lost Emiliano Buendía to Aston Villa on the eve of the campaign, and wanted to keep the team’s style of play the same as that which had won them promotion the season before. They got picked off brutally in an admittedly tough start to the season, losing 3-0 at home to Liverpool, 5-0 at Manchester City, 2-1 at home to Leicester and 1-0 at Arsenal. There might have been hope of some respite when Watford came to town in mid September, but they lost that game 3-1, before being defeated 2-0 at Everton to make it six defeats to kick off the season.
What happened next?
Norwich avoided a seventh straight loss with an awe-inspiring goalless draw at Burnley, and then followed that up with another one at Brighton. Had they finally solved all of their defensive problems?
No. They lost their next game 7-0 at Chelsea and finished bottom of the table having conceded 84 goals – a total which remains the fifth-highest ever in a Premier League campaign, and the third most in a 38-game season. Back to the Championship they went.
=4. Sunderland, 2005-06: 5 defeats
Just before Sunderland embarked on a run of 10 consecutive seasons in the top flight between 2007 and 2017 – a run that included a good few mid-table finishes – they put in one of the worst survival challenges the Premier League has ever seen.
It kicked off with five straight defeats, which extended their run of 15 losses that ended their previous campaign in the top flight in 2002-03 to 20 straight matches – an all-time English top-flight record. Those five losses came against Charlton, Liverpool, Manchester City (before they were good), Wigan and Chelsea, with Sunderland scoring only twice in those games. The fact that three of those defeats came by a single goal provided some hope, but it proved very much misplaced.
What happened next?
Sunderland went three games unbeaten, drawing with West Brom and West Ham either side of a win over Middlesbrough, but then followed those games up with a run of nine straight defeats. They only won two more games all season, and ended up with the second-lowest points total by any team in the Premier League era, behind the infamous Derby County side of 2007-08.
=4. Southampton, 1998-99: 5 defeats
The 1998-99 season is best known for a dramatic, historic comeback on football’s biggest stage, but on the south coast of England, they had their own rather less dramatic and significantly less historic turnaround.
Dave Jones’ Southampton started the season with an awful run of results that in the modern game would surely have spelled the sack for their manager. As well as losing to Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle, Southampton also fell to a 2-1 home defeat to Nottingham Forest, who would go on to finish bottom of the table, and an embarrassing 5-0 loss at Premier League debutants Charlton, who also ended up relegated.
But Jones survived and it somehow proved to be a wise decision to keep him.
What happened next?
Southampton stopped the rot temporarily with a 1-1 draw against Spurs, but then fell to two more defeats, which left them with just one point from their first eight games of the season.
Then came the comeback of all 1998-99 comebacks (sorry Man Utd fans) as Southampton won 11 of their remaining 30 Premier League games and climbed the table to finish safely in 17th on 41 points.
=6. 10 teams: 4 defeats
There are 10 teams who have started a Premier League season with four straight defeats: Swindon Town in 1993-94, Aston Villa in 1997-98, Middlesbrough in 2001-02, West Ham in 2010-11, Southampton in 2012-13, Bournemouth in 2017-18, West Ham in 2018-19, Sheffield United and Fulham in 2020-21 and 2023-24’s Luton Town.
In the nine previous campaigns, four of those were relegated: Swindon, West Ham in 2010-11 and Sheffield United and Fulham a few seasons ago.
For many of those teams, their poor start to the season precipitated a change of fortunes. Villa finished as high as seventh in 1997-98, for example.
The Worst Starts in Top-Flight History
*FOOTBALL DIDN’T START IN 1992 KLAXON*
Yes, remember (you probably don’t) there actually was football before the Premier League era, and teams made even worse starts back in the olden days. Teams you wouldn’t have expected to, too.
Back in 1930-31, a certain Manchester United set a record that still stands today for the worst start ever to a top-flight campaign, losing their first 12 games. In that run, they conceded at least three times in 10 games and at least four times on seven occasions. They went on to concede 115 goals and finished bottom of the First Division – one of only five occasions in the club’s history that they have been relegated.
Second in this list, and the only other team to have done worse than the seven-game runs of Crystal Palace and Portsmouth mentioned above, is another surprise entry: Liverpool lost eight games at the start of the 1899-1900 season, though they went on to finish up the table in 10th.
Bolton’s class of 1902-03 began with seven straight defeats, while four other teams have started with six losses, and eight more teams have started a campaign with five losses.