5 instances since the turn of the century when promoted teams exceeded expectations in the PL

Looking back at the 2018-19 season of the Premier League, the three newly-promoted teams, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Cardiff City and Fulham all had completely different fortunes in the top-flight.

While the likes of Cardiff and Fulham went straight back down to the Championship, Wolves surpassed all expectations and flew the flag high for the promoted sides.

Wolves, who secured automatic promotion to the Premier League as the winners of the Championship in the 2017-18 season, took the top-flight by storm following a six-year exile.

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Guided by the charismatic Nuno Espirito Santo, the Black Country outfit not only gave their own fans a lot to cheer about but they also impressed one and all with their character, resilience and bravery.

They finished the season with an eye-watering record against the big-six in the Premier League, accumulating 16 points out of a possible 36 and registering victories over Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United.

In the end, Wolves secured a 7th-place finish in the top-flight and Watford’s defeat at the hands of Man City in the FA Cup guaranteed the club’s return to the European stage for the first time since 1980-81.

Over the years, we have seen a lot of teams getting promoted to the Premier League from the Championship with high hopes and expectations, only for them to go straight back down to the second tier.

However, there have been many instances in the history of English football when promoted teams have taken everyone by surprise and exceeded all expectations.

As this year’s promoted sides Norwich City, Aston Villa and Sheffield United prepare to ensure survival in the top-flight, let us turn the pages of the history books and revisit the instances when promoted sides took the top-flight by storm.

Here are 5 teams since the turn of the century who surprised one and all with their heroics upon securing promotion to the Premier League.

1. Ipswich Town – 5th (2000-01)

Ipswich might have been relegated to League One this past season but there was a time when the club made headlines in the Premier League.

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The Tractor Boys finished third in the First Division in the 1999-00 season and eventually beat Barnsley 4-2 in the play-off final at Wembley to secure promotion to the Premier League following a five-year absence.

Having somehow scraped through the playoffs, there was hardly anyone who gave them a chance to survive in the top-flight. In fact, they were the favourites to suffer relegation and make an immediate return to the first division.

However, the Tractor Boys not only silenced their critics by staying up but they also did so in some style, coming up with flying colours to secure a 5th-place finish in the Premier League.

Heroics from Man City legend Richard Wright, forward Marcus Stewart and big-money signing Hermann Hreidersson ensured that Ipswich finished the season with as many as 20 victories.

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The Tractor Boys were very much in the race to finish in the top-three, with Stewart’s 19 goals in the Premier League helping the club mount an unlikely title challenge, although a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Charlton Athletic ended all hopes of securing Champions Cup qualification.

However, a 5th-place finish was enough for Ipswich to qualify for the UEFA Cup for the first time since 1982 and manager George Burley was voted as the Manager of the Year by his colleagues, in what should go down as arguably the most remarkable campaign by any promoted side since the turn of the century.

2. Man City – 9th (2002-03)

Man City might be the reigning Premier League champions and currently amongst the European powerhouses but things were hardly the same for the Citizens around the turn of the century.

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As a matter of fact, they weren’t even a regular in the Premier League back then, as the club largely hopped in and out of the First Division and also dropped down to the third-tier once.

Man City secured promotion to the Premier League under the stewardship of Kevin Keegan in an emphatic manner as the outright winners of the First Division in the 2001-02 season, scoring as many as 108 goals in the process.

Their stellar performances in the second-tier caused many to believe that they would thrive in the top-flight, however, what followed took everyone by surprise, as City romped to an impressive 9th-place finish on their return to the Premier League.

Boosted by the arrival of marquee signings Nicolas Anelka, Peter Schmeichel, Sylvain Distin and the late Marc-Vivien Foe, Man City reached great heights in the Premier League and finally proved their mettle in the top-flight, with Anelka and Foe netting 14 and 9 goals respectively.

However, the 2002-03 season will be best remembered by the fans on the blue half of Manchester for City’s 3-1 victory over bitter rivals Man United, which was their first derby victory in 13 years.

3. West Ham – 9th (2005-06)

West Ham finished 6th in the Championship in the 2004-05 campaign and eventually beat Preston North End in the playoff finals to secure a return to the Premier League at the second time of asking.

Marlon Harewood,Hayden Mullins

Having barely managed to secure the final playoff spot in the second-tier, the Hammers were tipped by many to go back down to the Championship but they reminded their critics that teams do not necessarily need to win the league in the second division to thrive in the Premier League.

The Hammers didn’t spend extravagantly but they did add quite a few fresh faces to their ranks in both the transfer windows combined, with Dean Ashton, Yossi Benayoun, Lionel Scaloni, James Collins and Shaka Hislop being the most notable of the new signings.

However, West Ham’s success in the Premier League that season was largely down to the exploits of Marlon Harewood, who netted 14 goals over the course of the campaign, whilst Bobby Zamora and Teddy Sheringham also added 6 goals apiece.

The Hammers not only registered an impressive 16 wins and 7 draws in the league but they also made it to the finals of the FA Cup, only to lose out to Liverpool on penalties. 

West Ham’s 9th-place finish saw them miss out on qualification to the Intertoto Cup but given that Liverpool had already qualified for the Champions League, the honour of qualification to the UEFA Cup was passed down to the Hammers.

4. Charlton Athletic – 9th (2000-01)

The Addicks secured promotion to the Premier League as the outright winners of the First Division in the 1999-00 season under the stewardship of the legendary Alan Curbishley.

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The resounding success in the second-tier saw the club bring in a number of talented players in the summer of 2000, including the likes of Claus Jensen, Jonatan Johansson, Mark Fish and Karim Bagheri, with a view to ensuring safety in the top-flight.

Charlton enjoyed an impressive campaign in the Premier League and finished ninth, accumulating 14 wins and 10 draws, while scoring as many as 50 goals in the process.

Johansson topped the scoring charts with 11 goals and the likes of Richard Rufus and Mark Fish too put in some consistently impressive displays at the back to steer the Addicks to safety.

5. Birmingham City – 9th (2009-10)  

Alex McLeish’s side made a return to the Premier League with a second-place finish in the Championship in the 2008-09 season, with Kevin Phillips topping the scoring charts with 14 goals. 

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However, with Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung completing a takeover of the club, the Blues made some high-profile signings following their promotion, including a controversial move for Christian Benitez. The likes of Barry Ferguson, Scott Dann, Lee Bowyer, Craig Gardner and Michel all came through the door as well.

Birmingham failed to beat any of the big guns in the Premier League but their impressive performances overall were enough to secure a top-ten finish, with Cameron Jerome playing a key role with 11 goals.

The Blues narrowly missed out on European qualification but a tally of 13 wins and 11 draws gave them a lot to write home about, nevertheless.


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