Ranked! The 10 worst EVER starts in the Premier League

Portsmouth 2009/10

Unusually, a trio of winless teams are propping up the Premier League table as it enters its seventh week. Cardiff, Huddersfield and Newcastle are still on the lookout for that elusive first victory, with all three teams picking up just two points from their opening six games.

Yet while the outlook might appear bleak, they can at least take solace from the fact that several teams have started the season in even worse fashion over the years.

Cardiff and Huddersfield have an identical record at this point and are 14th and 15th in the list of all-time worst Premier League starts after six rounds, while Newcastle are way down in 26th thanks to their superior goal difference.

Two teams can count themselves lucky to miss out on a place in this 10: Sunderland (2016/17) and Blackburn (1996/97), who were just squeezed out on goal difference...

10. Man City (1995/96) & Sunderland (2005/06)

W0 D1 L5, F3 A10 GD -7, Pts 1

Two in one to start us off, as this pair of sides from different eras recorded identical records from their opening six games – much like Cardiff and Huddersfield have this term.

New Manchester City manager Alan Ball got off to a nightmare start in 1995, drawing on the opening day with Tottenham before falling to five successive defeats. Mick McCarthy’s Black Cats simply swapped the timing of their win a decade later: they fell to five straight defeats before finally getting a point on the board with a draw at home to West Brom in week six.

Where did they finish up?

After winning just two points in their opening 10 games, City began to gradually improve. But they were made to pay for their early-season struggles: on the final day of the season they earned a surprise 2-2 draw with Liverpool which they hoped might secure their survival, but goal difference led to the Citizens finishing below both Coventry and Southampton. (Famously, manager Alan Ball had misinformed midfielder Steve Lomas that the Saints were losing, and who duly wasted time in the corner.)

Sunderland felt no such heartbreak, as their demotion was never in doubt. In a humiliating campaign, the north-east club won just three games and finished the season bottom with a pathetic 15 points – the second-worst total ever in the Premier League. By that point, McCarthy had been sacked in March and caretaker Kevin Ball failed to spark a miraculous turnaround. Balls. 

READ Derby's 2007/08: the Premier League's worst ever season, by the men who were there (opens in new tab)

9. Crystal Palace (2004/05)

W0 D1 L5, F5 A13 GD -8, Pts 1

On their return to the top flight, Palace rarely looked equipped to deal with the demands of the Premier League. Manager Iain Dowie had pulled off a remarkable and unexpected achievement by taking the Eagles up from the First Division, but the start his side made among English football’s elite was a sign of things to come.

A creditable opening day draw away to Norwich was followed up by five straight defeats, putting the newly-promoted side on the back foot from the start.

Where did they finish up?

Dowie’s side rallied after week six with three wins and a draw in their next five games. Unfortunately that turned out to be the best run of form of the entire season for the Selhurst Park club.

The goals of Andy Johnson, who finished the season with an impressive 21 league strikes (11 of them penalties) kept Palace in contention for survival until the final day. However, a 2-2 draw with Charlton saw them miss out on another season in the top flight by just one point.

8. Newcastle (1999/2000)

W0 D1 L5, F8 A18 GD -10, Pts 1

The Magpies’ abysmal start to the 1999/2000 campaign is most vividly remembered for the resignation of Dutch legend Ruud Gullit. The Newcastle boss walked out of St James’ Park after five games, having watched his side slump to four defeats and a draw (a 3-3 with Wimbledon, despite the Magpies holding a 3-1 lead after an hour).

The final straw came with a 2-1 defeat to arch-rivals Sunderland, in which Gullit left star strikers Alan Shearer and Duncan Ferguson on the bench following a fallout. In came Steve Clarke as caretaker, but the Scot oversaw a further two defeats as Newcastle’s nightmare started continued. They remain the side to have conceded the most goals (18) in a Premier League season after six games.

Where did they finish up?

One of the most remarkable turnarounds in this list came about thanks to the late, great Sir Bobby Robson. He arrived on Tyneside with Newcastle propping up the table and made an immediate impact, overseeing an 8-0 thrashing of Sheffield Wednesday in his first home game. The renaissance continued with the 66-year-old at the helm, as he led them to an 11th-place finish and encouraged an attacking style of football that saw the Magpies finish the season as the third-highest scorers in the league.

7. Sunderland (2013/14)

W0 D1 L5, F4 A14 GD -10, Pts 1

A memorable campaign at the Stadium of Light got off to a terrible start as Paolo Di Canio’s revamped side, featuring 14 new signings, failed to gel. After five games in which the Black Cats picked up just one point (a 1-1 draw with Southampton), the Italian was sacked amid rumours of squad unrest.

Di Canio’s dismissal failed to produce an instant reaction under caretaker Kevin Ball and subsequently Gus Poyet, with Sunderland falling to further defeats against Liverpool, Manchester United and Swansea to make it seven defeats from their opening eight games.

Where did they finish up?

Poyet did begin to make an impact, starting with a 2-1 win against rivals Newcastle in his first home game in charge. However, by the time Sunderland were beaten by Everton on April 12 – their seventh defeat in eight games – survival seemed an almost impossible task.

The Uruguayan’s turning point came when his side inflicted Jose Mourinho’s first ever home league defeat in the Premier League with a 2-1 win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It sparked a remarkable run of four wins in a row that was enough to achieve a 14th-place finish. By this stage, Poyet had also taken Sunderland all the way to the League Cup final, where they were beaten by Manchester City.

6. Sheffield Wednesday (1999/2000)

W0 D1 L5, F3 A13 GD -10, Pts 1

Wednesday soon became favourites to go down after a disastrous start to their Premier League campaign. A draw with Bradford gave the Owls their only point in an opening six games where they were also hammered 4-0 by Manchester United and lost each of their home games against Liverpool, Tottenham and Derby.

The poor run would continue as a further three defeats followed, including a humiliating 8-0 reverse away to Newcastle.

Where did they finish up?

The Owls finally recorded their first, long overdue win on October 2 with a surprisingly emphatic 5-1 triumph over Wimbledon. It failed to rouse the team, though, who immediately slumped back into a seven-game winless run.

Manager Danny Wilson was eventually dismissed in March after his side were beaten by a Watford side facing even worse struggles than Wednesday, but caretaker boss Peter Shreeves couldn’t arrest their slide. Defeat to Arsenal on the penultimate day of the season confirmed relegation as they went down in 19th place.

4= Southampton (1998/99)

W0 D1 L5, F3 A17 GD -14, Pts 1

Saints fans realised things weren’t quite right when they were on the receiving end of a 5-0 thrashing at top-flight newcomers Charlton in the second week of the season.

Southampton scored just two goals as they lost their first five games in a row, before Matt Le Tissier’s goal helped them finally collect their first point of the season with a draw at home to Spurs in week six.

Where did they finish up?

After taking just two points from their opening nine games, the form of Dave Jones’s side gradually began to pick up over the winter months. The 2-0 defeat at home to Chelsea on Boxing Day proved to be their final defeat of the season at The Dell, but dreadful away form was threatening to drag them down.

Southampton left it late to get out of trouble, occupying a place in the drop zone until April, when a superb run at the end of the season of three wins and two draws saw them leapfrog Charlton and dodge relegation.

4= Swindon (1993/94)

W0 D1 L5, F3 A17 GD -14, Pts 1

Swindon’s solitary Premier League season got off to an inauspicious start. A 4-3 win against Leicester in the Division One play-off final had earned the Robins their first crack at the top flight for 73 years, but the departure of player-manager Glenn Hoddle to Chelsea hit them hard.

They lost their opening four games, including 5-0 and 5-1 beatings at the hands of Southampton and Liverpool respectively. A goalless draw away to Norwich was their only respite.

Where did they finish up?

Things didn’t get much better for Swindon fans, who had to wait until November 24 for their first win of the season; a 1-0 victory at home to QPR.

By the end of the campaign, they were in last place with just five wins from 42 matches, having become the first top-flight team in 30 years to concede 100 league goals in a season.

3. Wolves (2003/04)

W0 D1 L5, F1 A17 GD -16, Pts 1

A disastrous start for Dave Jones’ team saw them rack up the worst goal difference in Premier League history after six rounds. Wolves secured one point, a 0-0 draw with Portsmouth in week four, but otherwise suffered from an appalling defensive record.

After a 5-1 hammering away to Blackburn on opening day, Wolves were smashed 4-0 by Charlton in their first home game a week later before the Molineux crowd were forced to witness a 5-0 demolition by Chelsea in week six.

Where did they finish up?

Wolves rallied briefly after their opening six weeks from hell, embarking on a four-match unbeaten run that included wins over Manchester City and Leicester (the latter having come from 3-0 down at half-time).

Unfortunately, it proved to be a false dawn. The Midlands club struggled for consistency throughout the campaign and finished up with just seven wins and in last place, level on points with Leeds and Leicester but holding the worst goal difference of the lot.

2. Portsmouth (2009/10)

W0 D0 L6, F3 A12 GD -9, Pts 0

A disastrous campaign off the field for Pompey began equally badly on the pitch. By this point of the season, Paul Hart’s side had lost six in a row, scoring just three goals.

Portsmouth had sold key players Glen Johnson, Peter Crouch and Niko Kranjcar over the summer transfer window and the club had failed to replace that quality in the squad, with a string of cheap deals and loans being a sign of things to come. Financial problems also led to the Premier League imposing a transfer embargo on the club. Hart was sacked by the end of November with his side languishing at the bottom of the table.

Where did they finish up?

Things went from bad to worse for the Fratton Park outfit. Avram Grant replaced Hart in the dugout and the change prompted a slight improvement in league form, including a 2-0 win over Liverpool in the week before Christmas.

However, things had spiralled out of control financially and HMRC filed a winding-up petition on December 23 after the club had failed to pay players’ wages on time for three months. The club formally entered administration on February 26 and were docked nine points.

Pompey were already rock bottom before the points deduction and it only confirmed that relegation was inevitable. Remarkably, Grant’s side went on a run all the way to the FA Cup final, where they were defeated 1-0 by Chelsea. It provided a small ray of light in an otherwise dark year for the club.

1. Crystal Palace (2017/18)

W0 D0 L6, F0 A13 GD -13, Pts 0

The fact that Palace managed to finish 11th last season is remarkable when you consider the eye-wateringly bad start they endured under firstly Frank de Boer, then his replacement Roy Hodgson.

The Dutchman was given his marching orders after defeats to Huddersfield, Liverpool, Swansea and Burnley came and went without the Eagles scoring a goal. They remain the only team to ever have failed to score a single goal by this point in a season.

Enter Hodgson and the start of the recovery process. It wasn’t an immediate fix though, as the ex-England boss led his side to a further three defeats against Southampton and the two Manchester clubs. By the end of September, Palace were four points adrift at the foot of the table with zero wins and zero goals to their name.

Where did they finish up?

Hodgson’s miraculous turnaround began after the October international break, when his side finally got off the mark with a shock 2-1 victory against defending champions Chelsea at Selhurst Park.

The result rallied the troops, at least on home turf, with draws against West Ham and Everton and victory over Stoke following before they finally got their first away point of the campaign at Brighton on November 28.

Palace moved off the bottom of the table in December following a draw with West Brom in the middle of an eight-match unbeaten league run. A dip in form followed at the turn of the year, but Palace finished the season in style with four wins from six games easing them into that astonishing mid-table spot.

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Alasdair Mackenzie is a freelance journalist based in Rome, and a FourFourTwo contributor since 2015. When not pulling on the FFT shirt, he can be found at Reuters, The Times and the i. An Italophile since growing up on a diet of Football Italia on Channel 4, he now counts himself among thousands of fans sharing a passion for Ross County and Lazio.