Leeds were the big winners of the three automatic promotion hopefuls in the Championship this week. Whilst Norwich and Sheffield United stumbled to draws against the sides ranked 17th and 20th in the league, Marcelo Bielsa’s side comfortably beat Preston. As a consequence, they leapfrogged Sheffield United into second place and narrowed the gap to top spot to six points. Winning the league remains a tall order with just five games remaining but is, by no means impossible.
Whichever of the trio misses out is guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, though their opposition remains a mystery with anyone down to 14th still in with a chance of occupying the remaining spots. What, though, does next season hold for the three sides who do manage to reach English football’s promised land?
With that question in mind, we decided to take a look at how promoted sides have fared in the top flight since the 2009/10 season, as well as the clubs making the opposite journey down to the Championship.
The encouraging news for Premier League newbies is that only eight of the 24 promoted clubs, who we looked at, were relegated in their first season in the top tier, although a further two were subjected to the drop in their second.
The average finishing position for a promoted club was 15th, with West Ham (2011/12) and Newcastle (2016/17) the only sides able to breach the top half, each managing a tenth place finish.
On no occasion since 2009/10 have all three promoted sides gone down, though there are a couple of occasions when two of them finished in the bottom three; in 2014/15 when Burnley and QPR finished 19th and 20th respectively and in 2016/17 when Marco Silva’s Hull fought bravely against the drop but were relegated alongside Aitor Karanka’s less spirited Middlesbrough.
Encouragingly though, in the 2011/12 season QPR, Norwich and Swansea all managed to beat the drop after coming up, before Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield repeated the feat in 2017/18.
So promoted teams should, generally, have cause to feel cautiously optimistic about their chances of survival. What about the sides travelling in the opposite direction though? With Huddersfield and Fulham now mathematically relegated and Cardiff looking certain to join them, should we expect to see them bouncing back at the first attempt? The stats emphatically say no.
Of the 24 relegated teams, only six were able to win promotion at the first time of asking and four of those needed to rely on the lottery of the playoffs. The outliers were Burnley in 2015/15 and Newcastle in 2016/17, both of whom managed to win the league.
Eight of the group ended up in the playoffs and, with half of them reigning victorious, it suggests that if newly relegated sides do manage to reach that stage, they have a higher than usual chance of going all the way.
The average finishing position after relegation is around ninth with the single worst performance coming from Sunderland in 2017/18, who finished bottom of the league sealing back-to-back relegations. Consecutive drops seem to be very rare though, with Wolves the only other side ‘achieving’ it after finishing 23rd in 2012/13.
Surprisingly then, it seems fair to say that staying up after a promotion is actually marginally easier than bouncing back after relegation, with the fiercely competitive Championship notoriously difficult to escape from. This is contradictory to the typical notion that relegated teams are automatically the favourites to win the league the following season.
So enjoy Neil Warnock’s ranting, Fulham’s calamitous defending and Huddersfield’s general disarray whilst you can, because once they are gone we may not see them again on Match Of The Day for quite a while.