Derby’s dismal record-low points total looms large on bottom three

There are two crucial milestones for every promoted team to reach as quickly as possible: win a Premier League game and bank enough points to make sure Derby County keep their unenviable record of the lowest total ever achieved.

Staying in the Premier League and avoiding relegation back to the EFL Championship is the ultimate objective, but right now Burnley, Sheffield United and Luton Town must be wondering when they will reach the base camp of a first victory.

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Derby collected 11 points in 2007-08, winning only one of their 38 matches, which came 1-0 at home to Newcastle United in September. So by now, even that terrible Derby side had won a game; the longer the wait goes on for last season’s promoted clubs, the more they will fear taking that record for themselves. Eleven points isn’t just the lowest total seen in the Premier League, it’s the worst return in any of England’s four professional divisions since clubs first started earning three points for a win over 40 years ago.

After six weeks of the 2023-24 season, the three promoted teams fill the three relegations spots with one point each. Paul Heckingbottom’s Sheffield United are anchored to the foot of the table on goal difference following their 8-0 home defeat against Newcastle last Sunday. The Blades already jointly hold the record for the fewest goals scored in a Premier League season, with their 20 of 2020-21 matching Derby’s total in their horror season.

Surviving in the Premier League is statistically becoming more difficult. In four of the last six seasons, two of the three promoted teams have been relegated back to the Championship after just one year. Prior to that sequence, it had only happened once in seven campaigns.

But a clean sweep of all three promoted teams going back down together is a rarity, with the 1997-98 season (Barnsley, Bolton, Charlton) the only time it has happened since the Premier League began in 1992-93. Burnley, Sheffield United and Luton are already displaying worrying signs, however, that history will finally be repeated.

They are all averaging less than a goal-a-game scored, but conceding at a ratio of more than two goals-a-game. Sheffield United’s hammering against Newcastle means they are conceding at a rate of 2.83 goals-per-game. Those numbers point to relegation.

With all three away from home this weekend, there is little reason to believe the negative trends will come to a halt, although next Tuesday’s re-scheduled clash between Luton and Burnley at Kenilworth Road is a game that both teams know they simply have to win.

Once the first victory comes along, confidence will grow, but wait too long and the damage may already have been done.

Swindon Town hold the record for the longest wait for a first victory, winning at the 16th attempt in late-November of the 1993-94 campaign. Norwich City needed 14 games to get their first win in 2004-05. Unsurprisingly, both teams were relegated.

In the 2023 Deloitte Football Money League, compiled with data from the 2021-22 season, 11 of the top 20 clubs came from the Premier League. It’s a major reason why promoted teams are finding it increasingly difficult to stay up.

When Luton defeated Coventry City in the Championship playoff final at the end of May, they won “the richest game in football” because of the financial rewards that come from being in the Premier League; with prize money and broadcast revenue, Luton guaranteed themselves £250 million over the next four years.

The three promoted clubs will earn a huge amount just by being in the Premier League this season alone. For instance, Southampton received £163m from the Premier League prize money pot last season despite finishing bottom of the table. If any of the promoted teams are relegated and fail to come back up, they will still receive an average of £33m-a-year for the next three seasons in so-called Parachute Payments, designed to ease the financial burden of dropping out of the most lucrative league in world football.

Despite the riches heading their way, none of the promoted teams embarked on a summer spending spree in an attempt to close the gap on their Premier League rivals.

Burnley spent £96m on 10 new players, with £12m on Manchester City and England under-21 goalkeeper James Trafford their biggest outlay. United, meanwhile, invested £55.7m, with the £18.6m signing of Aston Villa forward Cameron Archer their biggest deal. But Luton, who were promoted from non-league football as recently as 2014, spent just £19.7m on six transfer fees, plus the free signings of Ross Barkley and Tim Krul. Their biggest signing was Wolves defender Ryan Giles at just £5m.

It’s sensible budgeting, with each club clearly wanting to avoid an overspend that leaves them having to service unsustainable wage bills in the Championship. But it’s also a harsh reality that when competing against teams with expensively assembled and deep squads, taking a prudent approach is not going to help a promoted team to survive.

They are caught in a Catch-22 situation — spend big and risk the fate of Portsmouth, Bradford City and Derby to be left languishing back in the lower leagues while attempting to unpick financial chaos; or play it safe and risk relegation and hope to be in a stronger position to bounce back.

Burnley, Sheffield United and Luton have chosen the latter, with the belief that they can buck the trend and still stay up. But to do that, they need to start winning, and fast.

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