The Football League trophy may not be the pinnacle of English football any more, but it used to at least mean there was a decent enough chance of surviving in the top flight the year after.
Over the 20 previous Premier League seasons the winners of the second tier have been relegated on six times and on three of those occasions the other two promoted clubs survived. Sunderland’s abysmal total of 15 points in the 2005-06 (the second worst in Premier League history) being the most extreme example of the second tier champions bombing in the top flight.
The most common problem that effect’s these clubs relates to the expectations that being league winners produces. Whether it is complacency from the management or an owner who expects too much too soon. The truth is that not approaching the Premier League with brutal realism can be catastrophic.
League winners can struggle with the role reversal that comes with promotion; the transformation from favourite to underdog is difficult. A good example of this is Tony Mowbray’s West Brom side of 08-09.
The team had won half their games to gain promotion the previous year and had even been heralded as ‘the Arsenal of the championship’. However, faced with a higher standard of opposition in the Premier League their attacking approach wasn’t successful and they finished bottom.
It was in stark contrast to other newly promoted side Stoke who doggedly fought their way to a relatively comfortable survival, demonstrating that although confidence in your own abilities is important understanding the level of your opponents is just as vital.
Player recruitment is also vitally important, there are plenty of examples of lower league players defying the odds and making the grade in the top flight.
But expecting too much of inexperienced players can also cause problems. The 15-point Sunderland team being the prime example of this, the lack of top-level players Mick McCarthy was able to bring in ultimately led to their downfall.
Bringing in too many players can also destabilise an established dynamic, as QPR discovered last season. Despite the quality the club invested in they still struggled to stay up. The balancing act for a manager has to be to add Premier League quality without upsetting the core of a team too much.
But fundamentally it comes down to patience, a newly promoted side always needs time to establish itself at a new level, and no matter the manner of the promotion the key ingredient is time.
Heightened expectations can disrupt the gradual process of a club developing so it can cope at a higher standard. But for the average fan going from watching a team that wins each week to one that struggles can be a transformation that is difficult to accept.
image: © crystian cruz