On Tuesday, Paul Heckingbottom became the first Premier League manager to lose his job this season, but the numbers suggest he did well to reach December.

When Sheffield United fans finally turned on Paul Heckingbottom on Saturday, it felt like the writing was on the wall.

They’d just seen their team thumped 5-0 at Turf Moor by fellow promoted side Burnley, who themselves had lost each of their previous seven matches across all competitions, scoring just four times in those games.

Even Heckingbottom’s response at full-time belied an acceptance that his time was up, defiantly insisting he’s proud of his work and that he couldn’t have done anything more.

“I bet [the fans] are nearly as angry as me,” he said. “But the one thing I can say is I can walk out of this stadium with my head held high. I know how hard I work for everyone at the club. I won’t change, I’ll make sure the staff do the same, and we continue to give everything we’ve got with what we’ve got. The fans are right to shout, to say that wasn’t good enough. I was almost singing along with them at one point.”

Clearly, Heckingbottom deserves enormous praise for getting Sheffield United back out of the Championship in the first place. Considering their financial turmoil, failure to earn promotion last season could have been a disaster in football terms.

But after another heavy defeat, the Sheffield United board acted on Tuesday, relieving Heckingbottom of his position with former boss Chris Wilder returning. His task? Perform a footballing miracle and keep them up, which the Opta supercomputer calculates a 5.9% chance of happening.

Some might praise the club for their patience; others will say it’s already too late with the Blades managing just one win and five points from their opening 14 Premier League matches this season.

Either way, it’s easy to see why the decision was made, with Sheffield United struggling immensely since winning promotion back to the top tier. There had been few signs of them getting to grips with the situation – a change in direction makes sense.

After all, Sheffield United’s record after 14 games is the second worst in Premier League history at this stage when you take into consideration points and goal difference. The Blades themselves were actually even worse off through 14 matches three years ago as they had only two points – no team has ever managed fewer after so many games – but their goal difference now of -28 is 11 worse than at the same stage in 2020-21.

They are just one of six teams to collect five points or fewer 14 matches into a Premier League season. Their only saving grace is that they’ve at least managed one victory – just like the Blades in 2020-21, Swindon Town in 1993-94 and QPR in 2012-13 had also failed to win once by this point.

Premier League worst starts through 14 games

Sheffield United’s terrible goal difference record is, of course, predominantly due to their huge number of goals conceded, which stands at 39 (including one own goal) ahead of Wednesday’s visit of Liverpool. Only Barnsley in 1997-98 have conceded more goals 14 matches into a Premier League campaign (40) – though perhaps a good omen for Sheffield United is that Barnsley then got a clean sheet against Liverpool in their next game.

You’ll get long odds for such an occurrence on Wednesday, though, particularly given Sheffield United have already conceded five or more goals in three different league games this term; 1975-76 was the last season they shipped 5+ goals more often (four).

Sheffield United xG against in Premier League 2023-24

But in the interest of balance, they’ve not just had problems keeping the ball out of their own net; they’re also the Premier League’s most goal-shy team with just 11 goals scored (and three of those were own goals). Those have come from 121 shots, which is also the fewest in the top flight this term.

Sheffield United xG for in the Premier League 2023-24

Nevertheless, the fact Heckingbottom is the first Premier League manager to lose his job this season does fit into a wider narrative of patience during the first few months of the season. Heckingbottom has appeared to be under pressure for a while, though the likes of Erik ten Hag, Andoni Iraola, Vincent Kompany and Roy Hodgson have all otherwise held on to their jobs – so far – through difficult spells.

Only in five previous Premier League seasons had no managers left their positions by 5 December, and the most recent of those – 2020-21 – had the caveat of it starting later than normal because of the coronavirus pandemic. The other four campaigns were 2014-15, 2010-11, 1995-96 and the inaugural 1992-93 season.

In fact, 1992-93 still holds the record for the latest first Premier League managerial change of a season, as Ian Porterfield left Chelsea on 15 February, 1993. As we all know, waiting so long wasn’t a virtue that particularly caught on, and the fact Heckingbottom is the first to go this deep into the 2023-24 campaign is all the more surprising given the precedent set by the past two seasons.

There had been six managerial changes by this point in each of 2021-22 and 2022-23, with Scott Parker not even making it out of August at Bournemouth last season.

When considering the example of Parker, it actually makes the fact Heckingbottom lasted this long quite remarkable. Bournemouth ditched him on the back of a 9-0 defeat to Liverpool; Heckingbottom clung on for more than two months after losing 8-0 at home to Newcastle United on 24 September.

Sheffield United can’t really be accused of not giving Heckingbottom a chance in that respect. Whether Wilder – the man they sacked in March 2021 en route to Premier League relegation – is the manager to dig them out of the hole is much less certain.

First Manager to Depart in Each Premier League Season

1992-93: Ian Porterfield (Chelsea) – Left on 15 February 1993
1993-94: Peter Reid (Manchester City) – Left on 26 August 1993
1994-95: Osvaldo Ardiles (Tottenham Hotspur) – Left on 1 November 1994
1995-96: Roy McFarland (Bolton Wanderers) – Left on 2 January 1996
1996-97: Howard Wilkinson (Leeds United) – Left on 9 September 1996
1997-98: David Pleat (Sheffield Wednesday) – Left on 3 November 1997
1998-99: Kenny Dalglish (Newcastle United) – Left on 27 August 1998
1999-00: Ruud Gullit (Newcastle United) – Left on 28 August 1999
2000-01: Gianluca Vialli (Chelsea) – Left on September 2000
2001-02: Peter Taylor (Leicester City) – Left on 30 September 2001
2002-03: Peter Reid (Sunderland) – Left on 7 October 2002
2003-04: Glenn Hoddle (Tottenham Hotspur) – Left on 21 September 2003
2004-05: Paul Sturrock (Southampton) – Left on 23 August 2004
2005-06: Alain Perrin (Portsmouth) – Left on 24 November 2005
2006-07: Iain Dowie (Charlton Athletic) – Left on 13 November 2006
2007-08: José Mourinho (Chelsea) – Left on 19 September 2007
2008-09: Alan Curbishley (West Ham United) – Left on 3 September 2008
2009-10: Paul Hart (Portsmouth) – Left on 24 November 2009
2010-11: Chris Hughton (Newcastle United) – Left on 6 December 2010
2011-12: Steve Bruce (Sunderland) – Left on 30 November 2011
2012-13: Roberto Di Matteo (Chelsea) – Left on 21 November 2012
2013-14: Paolo Di Canio (Sunderland) – Left on 22 September 2013
2014-15: Neil Warnock (Crystal Palace) – Left on 27 December 2014
2015-16: Dick Advocaat (Sunderland) – Left on 4 October 2015
2016-17: Francesco Guidolin (Swansea City) – Left on 3 October 2016
2017-18: Frank de Boer (Crystal Palace) – Left on 11 September 2017
2018-19: Slaviša Jokanovic (Fulham) – Left on 14 November 2018
2019-20: Javier Gracia (Watford) – Left on 7 September 2019
2020-21: Slaven Bilic (West Bromwich Albion) – Left on 16 December 2020
2021-22: Xisco Muñoz (Watford) – Left on 3 October 2021
2022-23: Scott Parker (Bournemouth) – Left on 30 August 2022
2023-24: Paul Heckingbottom (Sheffield United) – Left on 5 December 2023

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