There are two important milestones for every promoted team to reach as soon as possible: win a Premier League game and gain enough points to maintain Derby County’s unassailable record for their lowest total.
Staying in the Premier League and avoiding relegation to the EFL Championship is the ultimate objective, but at the moment Burnley, Sheffield United and Luton Town must be wondering when they will reach the base camp of their first win.
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Derby collected 11 points in 2007–08, winning just one of their 38 matches, which came in a 1–0 defeat to Newcastle United in September. So by now, even that awful Derby team had won a game; The longer the wait for last season’s promoted clubs, the more they will fear taking that record for themselves. Eleven points is not only the lowest total seen in the Premier League, it is the worst return in any of England’s four professional divisions since clubs first began earning three points for a win 40 years ago.
After six weeks of the 2023–24 season, the three promoted teams fill the three relegation spots on one point each. Paul Heckingbottom’s Sheffield United are anchored at the foot of the table on goal difference after an 8-0 defeat at home to Newcastle last Sunday. The Blades already jointly hold the Premier League record for fewest goals in a season, with their 20 in 2020-21 matching Derby’s total in their horror season.
Surviving in the Premier League is becoming statistically more difficult. In four of the last six seasons, two of the three promoted teams have returned to the Championship after just one year. Before that streak, it happened only once in seven campaigns.
But three promoted teams going back together is a rarity, having happened since the Premier League began in 1992–93 in the 1997–98 season (Barnsley, Bolton, Charlton). Burnley, Sheffield United and Luton are already showing worrying signs, but that history will eventually repeat itself.
They are all averaging less than one goals-a-game, but conceding more than two goals-a-game. Sheffield United’s hammering against Newcastle means they are conceding 2.83 per game. These numbers point to recognition.
With all three away from home this weekend, there is little reason to believe the negative trend will stop, although the rescheduled clash between Luton and Burnley at Kenilworth Road next Tuesday is a game both teams know they simply must win.
Once with the first victory, confidence will build, but wait too long and the damage may already be done.
Swindon Town hold the record for the longest wait for a first win, having won at the end of November 1993-94 at the 16th attempt. Norwich City needed 14 games to get their first win in 2004–05. Surprisingly, both teams were registered.
in 2023 Deloitte Football Money League, compiled with data from the 2021–22 season, 11 of the top 20 clubs are from the Premier League. This is a big reason why promoted teams are finding it increasingly difficult to survive.
When Luton beat Coventry City in the Championship play-off final at the end of May, they won “the richest game in football” due to the financial rewards in the Premier League; With prize money and broadcasting income, Luton have guaranteed themselves £250 million over the next four years.
The three promoted clubs will earn huge sums this season just by playing in the Premier League. Southampton, for example, received £163 million from the Premier League’s prize money pot last season despite finishing bottom of the table. If any of the promoted teams are relegated and fail to return, they will still receive an average of £33m-a-year for the next three seasons in so-called parachute payments, designed to ease the financial burden of dropping out of world football’s most lucrative league.
Despite riches heading their way, none of the promoted sides have embarked on a summer spending spree in an attempt to close the gap on their Premier League rivals.
Burnley spent £12m on 10 new players with Manchester City and England Under-21 goalkeeper James Trafford their biggest spenders at £96m. United, meanwhile, invested £55.7m, signing their biggest signing of £18.6m Aston Villa forward Cameron Archer. But Luton, who were recently promoted from non-league football in 2014, spent just £19.7m on six transfer fees and the free signings of Ross Barkley and Tim Krul. Their biggest signing was Wolves defender Ryan Giles at just £5m.
It’s a sensible budget, as every club clearly wants to avoid an extra expense that they have to service unsustainable wage bills in the Championship. But it is also a harsh reality that, when competing with expensively assembled and deep squads, taking a prudent approach will not help a promoted team survive.
They are caught in a Catch-22 situation — spending big and risking the fortunes of Portsmouth, Bradford City and Derby to try to clear the financial mess of relegation; Or play it safe and risk relegation and hope to be in a strong position to bounce back.
Burnley, Sheffield United and Luton have opted for the latter, believing they can buck the trend and still keep up. But to do that they have to win and fast.