This post is about relegation, something never far from our minds, and who this season’s three might be. Over the summer I looked over a little bit of history and generated some numbers in order to bring you more of my dodgy predictions. Enjoy them or argue with them as you will. Just don’t nick the family allowance and run off to the bookies.
It’s the newly promoted clubs that are most at risk. In broad figures, 40% do not survive beyond their first season in the Premiership and only twice, in 2001-2 and 2011-12, have no newcomers been relegated. Most often it’s only one of the new clubs that suffers but all three of the promoted clubs went straight back down in 1998 and two newly promoted clubs have gone down six times, although you could argue 1995 shouldn’t count as four clubs were relegated (with only two promoted) and Crystal Palace would have stayed up if only three had been relegated.
Relegations in 20 of 22 seasons translate into a 91% probability that at least one of Leicester, Burnley or QPR will be in the drop zone next May. However, the stats for double and treble first- season relegations mean there’s only a low (approx. 25%) chance that two of them will go down and there’s a less than 5% chance that all three will be relegated.
A closer look at the tables shows that seven of the first-season relegations have been the Championship winners, nine the runners up and twelve (43%) the playoff winners. 91% of 43% gives a 39% probability that the playoff winners will go straight back down. I remember QPR fondly but I have to go with such a high probability. First place for relegation: QPR.
Almost 60% of newcomers are gone within two years so it’s worth taking a closer look at clubs in their second season. 28 relegations immediately following promotion mean there are 39 eligible clubs, of which seven (18%) have been relegated. Again, you can argue that 1995 shouldn’t count. Bolton and Middlesbrough were the promoted clubs; Bolton went straight back down and Middlesbrough lasted two years. However, ‘Boro had a points deduction which took them down instead of Coventry.
An 18% chance of relegation doesn’t sound too bad but it appears “second season syndrome” has increased in recent years. Only two second season clubs, including Middlesbrough in ’95, were relegated in the first thirteen years of the Premiership. The remaining five have gone down in the last nine years, during which time there have been only two double relegations of newly promoted clubs. That’s a small sample from which to generalise but it now looks more likely that one new club and one in their second year will go down than two newly-promoted clubs will be relegated.
Both Hull and Palace must therefore consider themselves at risk but a strange-but-true statistic offers hope to Palace. There have never been two London clubs relegated from the PL in the same season (unless you include Watford, who have gone down twice, each time with a true London club.) I can’t ignore this; I’ve said QPR are doomed so I have to say Palace are safe.
What about Hull?
Hull City finished last season with 37 points after a slide that saw them pick up only two wins and a draw in their last ten games. Some of these games were tough, it must be said, plus there was the distraction of the FA cup, but some were against fellow strugglers. Throw into the mix their six points from us, when we had three sending-offs (I’m not complaining, Tigers fans, but will fortune always make it this easy?) and there are danger signals. Add in McCormick’s law of dodgy averages, which says the syndrome’s due to strike as it didn’t happen last season, then pile on the Europa League, where history suggests competing teams struggle the following weekend and things are stacking up against Hull. Despite some decent signings it may be too much. I hope not, but my second prediction for relegation has to be Hull City, who may be destined to become the next yo-yo club.
It becomes more difficult to identify a third candidate. Only three clubs have been relegated after three seasons, 10% of those eligible. Any club has a theoretical 15% chance of relegation at the start of the season, so it looks as if clubs surviving beyond the first two years are as well established as their longer-lived companions, and may be safer than average.
Given this I began to look at the “flirts”, the clubs that spend some time around the bottom but manage to finish just above the relegation places, and found I might be on to something. More of these clubs appear to have subsequently gone down than have climbed. Some, such as ourselves in 2003, dropped like a stone from good positions (it took us just two seasons) but Wigan, Blackburn, West Ham, Wolves, Bolton and possibly others hovered around the bottom for two or three seasons, maybe more, before slipping over the edge.
So when a club heads downwards and stays there the omens aren’t good, and that leads me to Aston Villa, the only club to finish all of the last three seasons in the bottom six and still stay up. This may not be much to go on but it’s an indicator of trouble and as Randy Lerner still hasn’t sold the club I’ve decided to use it. Despite the appointment of Roy Keane as assistant manager (who, remember, not only took us up but also kept us up) and Keiran Richardson, whom I admire, I don’t see them improving and think they could be at greater risk than Hull or Palace. My final prediction for relegation is therefore Aston Villa.
There are a couple of wild cards to throw into the mix. West Brom finished below both Hull and Villa and with three relegations to date are a classic yo-yo club. They could argue last season was their only poor show since promotion in 2010 but there are other reasons to be concerned. Their new manager, allegedly not their first choice, has a mixed record, on top of which the squad changed a lot over the summer. WBA need a good start, by which I don’t just mean the first game of the season. If they go into winter playing catch up they may not manage another great escape and if it’s not Hull or Villa going down it could be them. I doubt it, though. In fact, I think Southampton are at even greater risk.
This is Southampton’s third season so they should be safe according to some of the figures above. However, 2014 has not looked kindly on them.
In January their Chairman resigned, allegedly due to tensions within the club. Their manager left at the end of the season. Five of their better players followed him, just months after the club had announced it had no plans to sell any of the squad, and others are apparently unhappy at having to stay. Southampton therefore begin the season with a new manager, a weakened squad and internal turbulence. There are no stats to apply but our own recent history shows such turmoil is dangerous. Like WBA, Southampton need a good start if they are to avoid the kind of trouble we had last year. We know it’s possible to recover, we’ve done it and so have WBA. Nevertheless, if Southampton get off slowly they could find themselves too deep in trouble to be able to make up lost ground.
And what of us?
This is a tough one to call and I’m biased. Against us, we are one of the flirts; not in the bottom six last season but there or thereabouts for some seasons, and that’s not good. We have had years of changes to players and a relatively inexperienced manager, which could spell trouble. On the other hand we have strengthened a squad which proved itself against the best last season, which has a settled nucleus and which has confidence in a manager who survived a baptism of fire, while the chairman and backroom people are providing much-needed stability. That doesn’t sound too bad, not that it matters anyway. No numbers, no statistics will convince me we’re safe until we are. For we are Sunderland, and don’t we all know it!
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