Newcastle, Cardiff and Huddersfield entered the final Premier League game week of October 2018 as the only winless sides in the Premier League. While this has spelt doom for teams in the past, many have gone on to do extremely well, showing exactly why Jimmy Greaves once saw fit to call football a ‘funny old game’.
Slow starters this time around, Newcastle have a history of turning around poor starts. Bobby Robson’s appointment in 1999/2000 proved crucial to changing the Magpies fortunes over the course of three years.
In the case of Newcastle’s class of 2018/19, there are most certainly mitigating circumstances, with the Magpies arguably suffering the toughest start of any team in the league this term. Though there remains cause for optimism, Rafael Benitez’ defensive style is under the cosh from critics, and nothing has prevented Newcastle’s Premier League odds for relegation from shortening as a result. Of course, the Premier League is awash with many examples of teams making dismal starts, but in many cases, those teams emerge stronger for having experienced them.
How soon we forget…
One needs only to cast their mind back to this time last year, when Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson inherited a dishevelled mess from predecessor Frank De Boer. By October 2017, Palace’s record read: played seven, lost seven, scored zero. Only one previous team (the doomed Portsmouth squad of 2009/10) had attained this, and even the Derby County team of 2007/08 – which eventually went down with just 11 points – had done better by the same stage.
In short, this was a non-survivable start. At that time there was no precedent for Premier League teams surviving after losing the first seven games, but then came the turning point. On 14 October 2017, reigning champions Chelsea came to Selhurst Park as massive odds-on favourites. Even the pundits safely pocketed in the gantry were cowering with fear, in anticipating of an utter bloodbath.
Frank De Boer wanted “dominant football”. He got a P45.
What unfolded was nothing short of a miracle. From the very first whistle, it was impossible to tell which team was rooted at the bottom of the Premier League, primed for an early relegation, and which had very recently romped to a total of 93 points on route to the title. Palace beat the then-champions 2-1, with a goal from Wilfred Zaha on the stroke of half-time proving decisive, even though Chelsea – as expected – dominated the possession in the second half.
In many cases, a simple change of personnel is all that is needed. One notable example of this in action is when Joe Royle took over from Mike Walker at Everton, after the Merseysiders scraped just one win from the first fourteen games. The former Evertonian transformed his side into a team of rock solid battlers. With his ‘Dogs of War’ going on to not only survive, but also win the F.A Cup in 1995.
Everton were also bottom of the league at the start of October in 2005/06 and 2010/11, but Everton chairman Bill Kenwright kept his faith in then-manager David Moyes. Both seasons saw remarkable post-Christmas recoveries, with the latter also seeing a comfortable top half finish.
Everton won just one game of the first fourteen in 1994/95, but went on to survive and win the F.A Cup. This famous Merseyside Derby win in November 1994 was the catalyst to recovery.
Of course, no list of this ilk would be complete without a mention of Southampton – a club that became synonymous with survival in the 1990s. Until south coast rivals Portsmouth lost the first seven games of 2009/10, Southampton’s squad of 1998/99 had the accolade of being the weakest starter in Premier League history, after taking just two points from the first nine games.
The Saints went on to survive, but not before another dramatic final day escape! That would become less of a theme after the turn of the century, though disaster would finally strike in 2005.
Perhaps the most remarkable tale of all lies within Tottenham’s start to 2008/09, when a side managed by the hated Juande Ramos took just two points from the first twenty-four available, but went on to survive under Harry Redknapp. Within two years of Ramos’ sacking, Tottenham were making their Champions League bow against then-European champions Inter Milan.
If your team is rooted to the bottom of the league at the start of October, remember the words ‘nil desperandum’!