Forty-six clubs have tried their hand at the English top flight since it became the Premier League in 1992. For some—like Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea—the new name has ushered in a new era of prosperity. For others—such as Liverpool—nothing has quite been the same since the change.
At least the Anfield giants have managed to remain ever-presents in the league, however. Some teams have had their time at the top end not with a bang, but a whimper. Here are the five worst individual teams to have ever graced the Premier League.
These teams aren’t being judged solely on their paltry points tallies, but also the relative quality of their squad and coaching staff compared to the teams around them, their financial clout and their pre-season expectations.
5. Wolverhampton Wanderers: 2011/2012
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Wolves hadn’t exactly set the league alight in the two seasons prior to the 2011-2012 campaign, but they’d looked solid, dependable. And in Mick McCarthy they had a steady handy on the tiller. McCarthy had got them promoted as champions of the second division in 2009.
However, it all went wrong for the Midlands side after a good start. McCarthy was sacked after a run of nine games without a win—although even after such a dismal spell of form, the club was only in the relegation zone on goal difference.
It was without McCarthy that Wolves truly unravelled. Without a replacement lined up, Wolves instead made coach Terry Connor manager for the remainder of the season. While thought of highly for his coaching abilities, the move up to the managerial hot seat proved—as it has with so many others—a step too far for Connor.
Under Connor—who took charge on 13 February—Wolves failed to win a single game for the rest of the season, picking up just four points and going on a run of seven consecutive defeats, ending their spell in the top flight in rather meek fashion. In total, they picked up just 25 points and finished 12 points adrift of safety.
4. Sunderland: 2005/2006
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Long-suffering Sunderland’s first appearance in the list, the 2006 side was a less-than-stellar vintage. They arrived in the Premier League having been promoted as champions the previous season, with Mick McCarthy leading them to a 94-point haul. They conducted what appeared to be some shrewd offseason business, retaining the core of their side while adding some experienced squad players.
The lack of money they spent was perhaps an early warning sign. However, fellow promoted sides West Ham United and Wigan Athletic spent similarly paltry sums, the Hammers’ £7.25m signing of Dean Ashton aside.
The Hammers and the Latics went on to enjoy extremely successful seasons, finishing ninth and 10th respectively. However it was a slightly different story for Sunderland. They started the season as they ultimately went on, losing their first five and winning just once at home over the course of the entire campaign.
The Black Cats were eventually relegated with a pathetic 15 points, at the time the lowest total collected by a Premier League side.
3. Sunderland: 2002/2003
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Sunderland’s second appearance on the list, their 2003 performance, may have outstripped their 2006 counterparts in terms of points, but the manner in which they relinquished their top-flight status was arguably worse.
Their season began in relatively promising fashion, with a win, two draws—one against eventual champions Manchester United—and just one loss in their opening four games. However they mustered just 14 more points from their remaining 34 fixtures, setting the record for lowest Premier League points tally—which they then broke themselves in 2006. They also set another more impressive record.
From 18 January until two games into the next season, Sunderland lost every single league fixture they contested—17 games in all. It remains the longest losing streak in the history of the English top division and has only ever been bettered in any tier by Darwen in 1900.
The feature that made Sunderland’s 2003 side remarkably bad was the amount of warning signs the club’s managerial hierarchy had. The 2002-2003 season marked the end of a precipitous slide of a side that—at one stage—appeared destined to join the Premier League elite.
Sunderland finished seventh in consecutive seasons in 1999-2000 and 2000-2001, and in the former striker Kevin Phillips won the European Golden Shoe after notching 30 times in the league. In 2002 they slipped, finishing just one place outside the relegation zone. The club responded to this setback by investing £19 million in new signings.
Like Wolves mentioned previously, the Black Cats paid the ultimate price for destabilising a winning formula. While longtime manager Peter Reid’s effectiveness had waned, he delivered eight points from nine games before being sacked. The combination of first Howard Wilkinson and then Mick McCarthy fared even worse.
2. QPR: 2012/2013
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Queens Park Rangers’ 2013 team may not have broken any records in its relegation, but its demise was spectacular nonetheless. Having escaped the drop the previous season in the final round of matches, the club responded in the fashion it’d become accustomed to under Tony Fernandes’ ownership—by spending.
Having signed no fewer than 14 players upon their entrance to the league, Fernandes, along with first Mark Hughes and then Harry Redknapp, looked to solidify QPR’s Premier League status by spending £22.5 million as well as adding to their wage bill significantly with the likes of Julio Cesar and others arriving on free transfers.
QPR’s expenditure dwarfed that of many of the other sides in the division. However, as has been the case since Fernandes took charge, the club has paid the price for signing individuals without keeping the team in mind.
Its season simply never got going. Hughes was sacked 23 November, with the club having picked up a miserly four points from 12 games, winning none. Results picked up somewhat under Redknapp, and although still bottom at the start of March, the Rs were still only four points adrift from safety.
However, the honeymoon period didn’t last long, and the team capitulated, picking up just five points from a possible 30 to end the season, a return which saw it finish bottom, 14 points away from 17th-placed Sunderland.
QPR’s 2013 side earns its spot in our countdown thanks to the sheer ineptitude of its profligate transfer policy.
1. Derby: 2007/2008
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Unfortunately for Derby fans, no amount of statistical massaging can do anything about their 2008 team’s position in the rundown of the worst sides in Premier League history.
The Rams had come up via the playoffs the season before. Despite finishing just two points off the automatic promotion positions, the warning signs were perhaps already there in the form of goal difference. County were bettered by eighth-placed Stoke and were only two ahead of Colchester, who finished 10th.
The club spent just a net £3.95 million in the offseason, and ultimately their lack of finances proved costly.
From the off, Derby simply never looked capable of competing in the top flight. They registered just one win in their first six games—but that was as good as it got, with the Rams not winning another league fixture all season.
While they may not have set the Premier League alight with their football, they did set a number of impressive records in their solitary season.
Their tally of 11 points is the lowest in English football since the introduction of the three points for a win rule. Their run of 38 games without a win (which stretched into the next season) is a sequence unsurpassed in English football history. Finally, their relegation in March was the earliest ever in the Premier League.
We may be waiting a long time to see another side as woefully prepared for the Premier League as Derby were in 2007-2008.