Derby County suffered relegation from the English top-flight on 29th March 2008 – the earliest that a team have ever dropped down to the second tier from the Premier League since the inaugural season back in 1992-93. They have a shout as one of the worst Premier League teams, but who else makes that list?
Derby County in 2007-08
Derby County have long been referred to as the worst side in Premier League history after their infamous 2007-08 campaign saw them register a meagre 11 points – the fewest gained in a single season in the competition’s history. In fact, assuming three points for a win, Derby’s total of 11 points is the worst in English top-flight history. Hard to argue with that one.
The Rams had lost four of their first five games of the campaign (drawing the other), before securing a 1-0 win at home to Newcastle courtesy of a Kenny Miller strike. It was screened live on Setanta Sports in the UK and the camera operator missed it going into the back of the net live, unfortunate given it was to prove their only winning goal of the season. They failed to win their remaining 32 games of the season (D7 L25) – the longest winless run in Premier League history.
Neither Billy Davies nor Paul Jewell could stop the slide into the Championship, with no side ever losing more games in a Premier League season (29) and in a scramble to secure points they used a total of 36 players, a total only Middlesbrough in 2005-06 (37) and Fulham in 2013-14 (39) can beat. Sadly, none of those 36 players managed more than four goals individually in the Premier League – Kenny Miller was top scorer with four goals – while only Sunderland in 2005-06 have had their top-scoring player net fewer in a single season in the competition’s history (Tommy Miller on three goals).
Paul Jewell’s total of 24 games without a single win with Derby is the most a manager has ever overseen at a club without winning in the Premier League. He never managed again in the competition.
Swindon Town in 1993-94
Swindon Town’s only top-flight campaign was a memorable one, just maybe not for the right reasons. Led by manager John Gorman, Swindon’s squad was made up predominantly of British players, with just two foreign affiliated members in Luc Nijholt (Netherlands) and Jan Åge Fjørtoft (Norway). They did not get off to the best of starts, failing to win any of their first 15 Premier League games – the first top-flight side to do so since Sheffield United in 1990-91 (16 games).
After a gruelling 42-game campaign, the Robins ultimately finished rock bottom with just five wins to their name and shipping a staggering 100 goals – the most conceded in a single Premier League season.
Some might say it is an unfair statistic to put on them seeing as the Premier League had more games in its first three seasons, but even using goals conceded per game, Swindon’s rate stands at 2.38, which is the worst in a season in the competition’s history. It even beats the horror show that was Derby County in 2007-08.
At the other end, Swindon performed admirably, netting a total of 47 Premier League goals, which was a higher tally than seven other sides. Jan Åge Fjørtoft led the way for the Robins by scoring 12 times. Oddly, Fjørtoft failed to net in his first 20 Premier League games before bagging 12 in his final 16 appearances of the season, but it was not enough to keep Swindon in the league and they finished 13 points adrift from safety.
John Gorman used four different goalkeepers across the campaign, but with each stopper a sizeable number of goals were still shipped. In fact, all four of Swindon’s goalkeepers in 1993-94 conceded at least six goals – only two other sides have had as many ‘keepers concede six or more goals in a Premier League season (Newcastle in 1999-00 and Middlesbrough in 1996-97).
Huddersfield Town in 2018-19
In 2016-17, Huddersfield Town were promoted back to the top-flight of English football for the first time since 1971-72, but maybe there were signs during their promotion year that life in the Premier League would be hard going for the Terriers. En route to the Premier League, they became the first side in English league history to gain promotion having conceded more goals than they had scored in the regular season.
During the 2017-18 season, Huddersfield pulled off a shock by staying up and finishing four points above the drop zone. However, in doing so they failed to score in 21 games – a figure only Derby in 2007-08 (of course) have topped. Irrelevant maybe, as they lived to fight another season but with the warning lights certainly flashing, an important summer of recruitment was needed.
Nope. 2018-19 would prove to be a miserable season for the Terriers, finishing bottom of the league with just 16 points – the third-lowest total in a Premier League season. Their three wins came versus Fulham and Wolves in November and then finally against Wolves again in February. Only one side (yes, those pesky Rams again) have registered fewer wins in a season in Premier League history.
They were finally put out of their misery in March when relegation was confirmed with an unusually high six games remaining of the season – no side has been relegated with more games to spare in a season than Huddersfield in 2018-19.
Ipswich Town in 1994-95
Jumping back to the mid-nineties era now when goalkeeper jerseys were akin to a Jackson Pollock painting and Oasis’ Definitely Maybe reigned supreme in the album charts (for a week), football was about passion and not silly little machines. Ipswich Town were set to begin their third campaign in the Premier League, but little did they know, their time in the competition would slide away and a certain visit to Old Trafford would live forever.
Only Derby in 2007-08 (an ongoing theme here), have posted a worse goal difference in a single Premier League season than Ipswich in 1994-95. The Tractor Boys were scoring less than a goal a game, whilst conceding more than two per match, a sure-fire way to seal relegation. Despite a mid-season managerial change when John Lyall was replaced with George Burnley in December, they ended the term bottom of the table and 21 points from safety. Only four sides have finished a Premier League season further away from safety.
Only in their 1963-64 top-flight campaign (121) have Ipswich shipped more goals in a single league season than they did in 1994-95 (93). In fact, 10% of those goals conceded came in their 9-0 shellacking against Manchester United at Old Trafford, when Andy Cole ran riot in an outstanding performance. Cole fired home five goals that day which was the most by a Man Utd player in a game since George Best bagged six versus Northampton in the FA Cup in February 1970.
Ipswich’s relegation was finally confirmed in mid-April and their tally of six games left when relegation was sealed still stands as a joint-record in the competition’s history.
The average age of Ipswich’s starting XI was the oldest in the division that season (28y 168d) and manager George Burley had a rebuilding job on his hands following relegation, the Tractor Boys would eventually return to the top-flight under the Scot for the 2000-01 campaign.
Sunderland in 2002-03
The 2002-03 campaign saw The Premiership on ITV continue as the competition’s flagship highlights package show, with U2’s unmistakable Beautiful Day continuing as the song of choice for the opening credits. However, for Sunderland, this season would not have many beautiful days in store.
Sunderland began by failing to score in their first two games – the first time they had done so in a top-flight campaign since another relegation in 1976-77. Manager Peter Reid would be given just nine games into the Premier League season before being sacked, with the Black Cats sitting in 17th place (W2 D2 L5) and scoring just four goals. What could not have been foreseen after sacking Reid was that the Black Cats would win just two more league games all season.
Howard Wilkinson would be installed as the new man at the helm, a left-field appointment considering the former Leeds favourite had been out of club management for six years. Similarly, to his predecessor, Wilkinson won two of his first nine Premier League games in 2002-03 (W2 D3 L4), a marginal improvement but not enough to turn the tide of relegation.
Briefly it appeared their fortunes might be on the up after a 2-1 home win against Liverpool, but Sunderland failed to win any of their final 11 games under Wilkinson, and he was dismissed with the club rock bottom of the division and seven points adrift from safety.
A particular lowlight during Wilkinson’s tenure was the 3-1 home defeat to Charlton in which Sunderland scored three own-goals (Michael Proctor with two in addition to Stephen Wright), a feat that has only been matched by one other side – Sunderland themselves in October 2014 against Southampton. A fitting throwback.
Mick McCarthy was the next manager tasked with implementing a masterplan to help the club beat the drop, even if the odds were heavily against them at this point. Instead of arresting their poor run of form, McCarthy would only compound matters, with Sunderland losing 15 consecutive matches between January and the end of the season – the longest ever losing run within a single Premier League campaign.
Sunderland failed to score in 20 league fixtures in 2002-03 and their tally of 21 goals scored is the second-lowest within a single season in Premier League history behind the not-so rampant Rams of 2007-08 and Sheffield United in 2020-21 (20).
The club would stick by Mick McCarthy and the former Republic of Ireland manager would begin a rebuilding job to return Sunderland to the top-flight. It took them two seasons but in 2004-05, the Black Cats were successfully promoted as champions under McCarthy.
Sunderland in 2005-06
The 2005-06 season would feature only four players from the infamous 2002-03 term, with Stephen Wright, George McCartney, Kevin Kyle, and Julio Arca the lucky survivors along with big Mick himself. Continuing the linking theme, this season started much like 2002-03 had ended, in tormenting fashion.
Sunderland lost their opening five matches, which was the first time they had started a top-flight season with five defeats. In fact, across the final 15 games of 2002-03 and the first five of 2005-06, Sunderland’s losing streak of 20 Premier League games in a row is longest-such run in English top-flight history.
Sunderland’s 2005-06 campaign proved to be worse than their previous appearance in the Premier League, finishing bottom with just 15 points – the second lowest total in a season since the competition began in 1992. No Premier League side has ever lost more games in a single season than Sunderland in this campaign (29), while their tally of three wins is the club’s lowest in a top-flight term.
Mick McCarthy was relieved of his duties in March 2006 and Kevin Ball was tasked with overseeing the final 10 games, winning once in the process, at home to Fulham (D2 L7).
If ever a stat best summed up the beleaguered Black Cats, no Premier League side lost more home games between the 2002-03 and 2005-06 seasons than Sunderland (28), this despite the club being in the second tier for two campaigns in this period (2003-04 and 2004-05).
Sheffield United in 2020-21
After 12 seasons out of the English top-flight, Sheffield United returned to the Premier League and made a splash. The 2019-20 campaign saw them finish ninth – their best finish in the top division since 1991-92. 2020-21 was a different story.
The infamous “second-season syndrome” struck again, with Sheffield United enduring a miserable follow-up season. In fact, they became the first team to finish as high as ninth in the Premier League and be relegated the following season since Birmingham City (ninth in 2009-10, relegated in 2010-11).
Following a defeat to Wolves on 17th April, the Blades were relegated with six games remaining – equalling a Premier League record for the earliest relegation in terms of matches left to play. At that point, they’d won only four of their 32 matches, but following relegation, they picked up three more in their final six matches. This meant that they ended up winning more games than 18th place Fulham (5) and 19th place WBA (5) – but don’t let it distort the fact that this was one of the worst seasonal performances by a Premier League team.
United lost 29 of their 38 games, which equalled the joint-worst tally in a season by any club. They were on 29 ahead of their final game of the season at home to Burnley, but an outright Premier League record of 30 defeats was saved by David McGoldrick’s goal in a 1-0 win at Bramall Lane.
Sheffield United’s class of 2020-21 also broke another Premier League record in this dismal season, with their first win not coming until the 18th match of the season – a 1-0 home victory over Newcastle United on 12th January.
Queens Park Rangers in 2012-13
Prior to the 2012-13 campaign, QPR had survived relegation by the finest of margins and decided they needed to strengthen the squad by signing a host of big names including Park Ji-sung, Rob Green, Esteban Granero, José Bosingwa, and Julio Cesar because one international goalkeeper on vast sums of money wasn’t enough.
With what was a heavily unbalanced squad, QPR failed to win their opening 16 games in the Premier League, setting a then competition record for the longest wait for a win from the start of a campaign (later broken by Sheffield United in 2020-21). The R’s went on to finish bottom of the table despite the efforts of Harry Redknapp and co, who had replaced Mark Hughes mid-season.
Norwich City in 2019-20
Controversially labelled as the ‘best team to be bottom of the league in Premier League history’ by many in 2019-20, Norwich City became the only side to fail to gain a single point from a losing position in a single Premier League season. The Canaries astonishingly lost all 27 matches in which they fell behind on the way to relegation back to the Championship.
They won promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking in 2020-21, but things haven’t gone much better for the Canaries in this top-flight campaign…
Aston Villa in 2015-16
Aston Villa lost 11 consecutive Premier League games between February and April 2016, which remains the second longest losing run in the competition’s history and the second longest losing streak within a single season. Mid-season managerial appointment Rémi Garde also left a legacy of having the lowest win percentage of any permanent Aston Villa manager in Premier League history (9.5%).
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