The 10 best newly-promoted PL clubs: Newcastle, Forest, Ipswich…
Newly-promoted sides usually see it as an achievement just to stay in the Premier League, but sometimes they do more than just survive that first season.
With the wind in their sails following promotion, some teams have been able to use the momentum gained from the previous campaign to thrive at a higher level, and in some cases, make a push for Europe.
Here are the 10 clubs who, against the odds, finished in the top nine in their first Premier League season following promotion.
Newcastle United – 1993-94
Promoted as champions with Kevin Keegan in charge, Newcastle supporters will have gone into the 1993-94 season with plenty of optimism.
Still, surely not even the most hopeful of fans would have expected them to finish third and make it back into Europe for the first time since 1970.
Key to their success was the return of Peter Beardsley, who formed what proved to be the Premier League’s most prolific ever partnership with Andy Cole, the pair scoring an incredible 55 goals between them in 42 games that season.
In fact, the Magpies were the highest-scoring team in the division, racking up 82, including seven in one game against Swindon Town.
They didn’t call them ‘The Entertainers’ for nothing.
Now here’s a pretty irrelevant but absolutely wonderful promotional photograph from that season…
Nottingham Forest – 1994-95
The Premier League was not quite the beast it is now back in its early years, but it was still no less remarkable when Forest matched Newcastle’s achievement in finishing third, having finished as runners-up in the First Division the previous season.
The East Midlanders had finished bottom of the Premier League in its inaugural season in 1992-93, but Frank Clark took over from Brian Clough and signed key players in the shape of Stan Collymore, David Phillips and Colin Cooper that not helped them seal an instant return to the top flight but all thrived once there.
Collymore, in fact, scored more goals in the Premier League than he had managed in the First Division, bagging 22 to earn Forest a place in Europe – and himself a move to Liverpool for a then-record fee for an English club.
Crystal Palace, who were promoted ahead of Forest as champions, were relegated straight back to the second tier.
Ipswich Town – 2000-01
Arguably the biggest surprise package on this list, Ipswich had only earned promotion via the play-offs yet somehow finished just three points off a Champions League spot in fifth place – and only four points behind second-placed Arsenal.
The Tractor Boys barely added to their squad over the summer and were tipped to struggle, but keeping the core of the team together proved to be the right decision as George Burley’s young team adapted brilliantly to the Premier League.
Marcus Stewart finished second behind Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in the race for the Golden Boot with 19 goals, and along with the likes of Richard Wright, Titus Bramble and James Scowcroft was soon being tipped for bigger things.
Wright and Scowcroft did indeed move on, to Arsenal and Leicester City respectively, and that combined with the need to add depth to the squad for a crack at the UEFA Cup ultimately proved Town’s undoing as they were relegated in 2002.
Burley told us: “You lose players and that building process from the previous five or six years gets a wee bit knocked because you’re bringing a lot of players in to try to improve what you’ve got and give yourself a bigger squad.
“That was probably the mistake I made: building the squad up over the previous five or six years, and then dismantling it a little bit.”
Sunderland – 1999-00
Sunderland opened their season with a 4-0 defeat to Chelsea in which Gus Poyet scored that goal but incredibly lost just two more league games before Christmas and gained revenge for the Chelsea spanking with a 4-1 win at the Stadium of Light.
The Wearsiders were actually third at Christmas, but an 11-game winless streak that began on Boxing Day saw them fall out of Champions League contention before five wins from their last nine games moved them back up to seventh, missing out on a place in the Intertoto Cup on goal difference alone.
Incredibly, Kevin Phillips scored 30 goals in his first ever Premier League season to win Europe’s Golden Boot.
Reading – 2006-07
In the previous campaign, Reading were promoted with the record of the most points accumulated in a Championship season (106) and they carried their form into the following campaign, finishing an impressive eighth on 55 points.
Steve Coppell won Manager of the Month for September and November, while strikers Kevin Doyle and Leroy Lita formed a deadly partnership, scoring a collective 20 goals in the league.
They missed out on a place in the UEFA Cup by a single point, with a surprise 2-0 loss at home to bottom-place Watford on the penultimate game of the season snubbing their chances of Europe next season.
Charlton won the Division One title and in doing so earned themselves a reputation as being a tough attacking force.
But it was their poor defending that cost them a higher finish than ninth on 52 points. Alan Curbishley’s men, in fact, conceded 57 goals in the 38 league games, the 16th worst in the league.
Up front, however, new arrival Jonatan Johansson made himself a fan favourite at the Valley with 11 league goals.
Manager Bryan Robson enjoyed a prosperous season with his newly-promoted side, earning 51 points.
Boro’s 11-game unbeaten run in the league saw them nab three points over Manchester United at Old Trafford, with the home side unable to pull back a 3-goal deficit in a 3-2 win for the north-east club.
The victory appeared to blow a gasket within the squad, however, as Boro couldn’t find a win in nine games following it.
Manchester City 2002-03
The noisy neighbours were more lovable underdogs than European elites when Kevin Keegan guided them back into the Premier League after just a season’s absence from the top tier.
In their last season at Maine Road they finished on 51 points, matching Middlesbrough’s 1998-99 points total, but their goal difference (-7) was one shy of Boro.
The club’s finish earned them a spot for the UEFA Cup qualifying-round the following season, but they were knocked out in the second round to Polish club Groclin 1-1 on aggregate.
These were simpler times for City.
Birmingham City 2009-10
Birmingham City made this top-10 finish on 50 points – their highest Premier League finish to date.
The Midlands had been guided up to the top tier by Alex McLeish – the manager who would go on to manage their fiercest rivals, Aston Villa, just two years later – as they finished level on points with Blackburn Rovers but secured a higher goal difference.
Leicester City 1996-97
Around twenty years ago Leicester City was a plucky yo-yo club playing at the 20,000-capacity Filbert Street, not like recent Premier League winners with sights on Europe.
Martin O’Neill was supposed to just keep the club afloat in the 1996-97 season, but instead, he guided the Foxes to finish ninth on 47 points, winning the League Cup for good measure.
Steve Claridge and Emile Heskey’s collective return of 22 league goals certainly helped their cause.