Has Any Premier League Side Avoided Relegation After Being Bottom at Christmas?

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With the first half of the Premier League campaign almost in the books by Christmas time, the narrative for the season has at least partially been set. By this stage, we have a good idea of which sides will be fighting it out for the title, the likely contenders for the European positions and, at the other end of the scale, those sides for whom survival is the only aim.

With so many games crammed into such a short amount of time, there is good reason that late December is often labelled the “crucial Christmas period”, but just how crucial is it? After all, the side that tops the table as we head into the New Year doesn’t always go on to lift the title; the European positions aren’t set in stone; and those anchored to the foot of the table aren’t relegation certainties. Or are they?

Here we look back at the 31 editions of the Premier League since the inaugural 1992/93 campaign, picking out those sides who propped up the rest on Christmas Day before fast-forwarding to see where they ultimately ended up at the end of the season.

Record of Premier League Clubs Bottom at Christmas (1992/93 – 2022/23)

Season
Bottom Club
Points
Points off Safety
Final Points
Finishing Position
Status
92/93
Nottingham Forest
15
6
40
Bottom
Relegated
93/94
Swindon
14
3
30
Bottom
Relegated
94/95
Ipswich
12
7
27
Bottom
Relegated
95/96
Bolton
10
6
29
Bottom
Relegated
96/97
Nottingham Forest
13
3
34
Bottom
Relegated
97/98
Barnsley
14
6
35
19th
Relegated
98/99
Nottingham Forest
12
4
30
Bottom
Relegated
99/00
Sheffield Wednesday
6
10
31
19th
Relegated
00/01
Bradford
12
6
26
Bottom
Relegated
01/02
Ipswich
12
4
36
18th
Relegated
02/03
West Ham
14
4
42
18th
Relegated
03/04
Wolves
11
5
33
Bottom
Relegated
04/05
West Brom
10
5
34
17th
Survived
05/06
Sunderland
5
11
15
Bottom
Relegated
06/07
Watford
11
8
28
Bottom
Relegated
07/08
Derby
7
7
11
Bottom
Relegated
08/09
West Brom
15
4
32
Bottom
Relegated
09/10
Portsmouth
14
3
19
Bottom
Relegated
10/11
West Ham
13
3
33
Bottom
Relegated
11/12
Blackburn
10
5
31
19th
Relegated
12/13
Reading
9
6
28
19th
Relegated
13/14
Sunderland
10
4
38
14th
Survived
14/15
Leicester
10
5
41
14th
Survived
15/16
Aston Villa
7
10
17
Bottom
Relegated
16/17
Hull City
12
3
34
18th
Relegated
17/18
Swansea
13
4
33
18th
Relegated
18/19
Fulham
10
14
26
19th
Relegated
19/20
Watford
12
6
34
19th
Relegated
20/21
Sheffield United
2
10
23
Bottom
Relegated
21/22
Norwich
10
3
22
Bottom
Relegated
22/23
Wolves
10
4
41
13th
Survived

Not Quite Terminal, But a Very Bad Sign

So, does the side sitting rock bottom at Christmas always go down? No, not always… just almost always. Of the 31 sides who looked up on the rest at Christmas, 17 (54.84%) remained rooted to the foot of the table when all was said and done, whilst 27 of 31 (87.10%) festered in one of the relegation positions. All of which suggests a 12.90% chance of survival for the club sitting bottom as the festivities begin.

Chart that Shows the Percentage of Clubs that were Bottom of the Premier League at Christmas Between 1992/93 and 2022/23 that Survived or were Relegated

One notable aspect of the above table is that the majority of the rock bottom clubs were well within touching distance of safety at Christmas, with six sides only 3 points, or one result, away from hauling themselves clear and 23 of 31 teams within 6 points, or two results, away from getting out of trouble. The overall pattern suggests that should a side demonstrate that they don’t have what it takes over the first half of the season, they are unlikely to find even the small improvement required to beat the drop. Interestingly, no side more than 5 points adrift of safety on Christmas Day has ever survived.

Look Away Now Blades, Clarets, and Hatters Fans

Club
Points
P
W
D
L
GF
GA
GD
15th
Crystal Palace
18
18
4
6
8
18
26
-18
16th
Everton*
16
17
8
2
7
22
20
2
17th
Nott’m Forest
14
17
3
5
9
17
30
-13
18th
Luton Town
9
16
2
3
11
17
32
-15
19th
Burnley
9
16
2
2
13
16
36
-20
20th
Sheffield United
8
17
2
2
13
12
43
-31

Note: Everton have been given a 10 point deduction. 

As we head into the final weekend of fixtures before Santa comes calling, we don’t know who will occupy the dreaded bottom spot. Sitting on 9, 8, and 8 points respectively, the dubious honour could fall to Luton Town, Burnley, or Sheffield United. Most concerningly, for Burnley and Sheffield United, the gap between themselves and fourth-bottom Nottingham Forest already sits at 6 points. A failure to pick up any points from their trips to Fulham and Aston Villa respectively would leave the two sides in a position no club has ever recovered from at this stage of the season.

What Do The Odds Say?

Coral Premier League 2023/24 Relegation Betting

As illustrated in the earlier table, past results suggest that the club sitting bottom at Christmas has an 87.10% chance of relegation – equating to odds of around 3/20 (1.15). The compilers rate the chances of Sheffield United (bottom at the time of writing) as slightly worse than that, with the best price about the Blades going down being 1/12 (1.08) – representing a 92.30% chance of the drop. Luton are around 1/5 (83.30% chance), and Burnley are available at 1/4 (80% chance).

Is Second Bottom Any Better?

With all of the above in mind, fans of Sheffield United, Luton, and Burnley are unlikely to be filled with optimism. And, no matter how the results go, all three sides will remain in the relegation zone on the 25th of December. The next question is whether the prospects of those sitting second and third bottom at Christmas are that much better.

Chart that Shows the Percentage of Clubs that were Second and Third Bottom of the Premier League at Christmas Between 1992/93 and 2022/23 that Survived or were Relegated

It turns out that they are significantly better. Of the 31 sides who sat second bottom at Christmas, only 17 went down, representing a significantly reduced rate of 54.84%. Moving up to the club in third-bottom position, only 11 were playing Championship football the following season – 64.52% of sides third bottom at Christmas stayed up, with only 35.48% going down.

Only four times in Premier League history (2000/01, 2001/02, 2012/13, 2021/22) have the sides who filled the bottom three positions on Christmas Day all suffered relegation. Exactly one of the Christmas slow coaches has stayed up on 17 occasions, with two of the three beating the drop 10 times. Hope yet, perhaps, for Luton, Sheffield United, and Burnley, provided they avoid that dreaded rock-bottom position.

The Great Escapes

Let’s take a look at the rare occasions where the Christmas curse has been beaten and the team bottom of the pile on Christmas Day has survived.

West Bromwich Albion – 2004/05

Propping up the table on Christmas Day 2004, with just one win in their opening 18 fixtures, The Baggies became the first to buck the trend. Dispensing with the services of Gary Megson in late October, club legend Bryan Robson took over the reins in November. That change ultimately had the desired effect, but only just.

Still bottom of the table at the start of the final day, West Brom’s 2-0 win over Portsmouth, in combination with Norwich City being battered 6-0 at Fulham, Southampton losing 2-1 at home to Manchester United, and Crystal Palace managing only a draw with Charlton, resulted in the greatest of great escapes.

Sunderland – 2013/14

Sunderland’s predicament was only marginally better than that of West Brom at Christmas, with two wins from 17 fixtures seeing the Black Cats four points off safety. Paulo Di Canio paid the price for the early season form, with caretaker Kevin Ball doing little to steady the ship before passing the baton to Gus Poyet.

As late in the season as the 12th of April, Sunderland remained bottom and now seven points away from safety. Then came a remarkable run of four successive victories – including wins on the road at Chelsea and Manchester United – with a final-day victory over West Brom, lifting the club to the lofty heights of 14th.

Leicester City – 2014/15

Just one year on, Leicester City repeated the performance of Sunderland almost to the letter. Bottom with two wins from 17 on Christmas Day and still bottom in April, the Foxes rediscovered their mojo under Nigel Pearson to win seven of their final nine fixtures and finish up in 14th. Not enough to save Pearson, but, of course, the appointment of Claudio Ranieri proved to be a shrewd move, as Leicester went on to stun the world when lifting the Premier League trophy in 2015/16.

Wolverhampton Wanderers – 2022/23

Any fans of the bottom club at Christmas needn’t look too far back for inspiration – only as far as last season, in fact, to the Jekyll and Hide display of Wolverhampton Wanderers. Across their 15 pre-Christmas fixtures, Wolves won just twice and, most concerningly, managed only eight goals. Enter ex-Spain boss Julen Lopetegui, who inspired the side to a far healthier nine wins in his 23 games in charge, doubled their goals per game average and lifted the Molineux club to a 13th-place finish – representing the biggest improvement by any side who sat bottom at Christmas.

Author: Raymond Sanchez