For the majority of English football clubs that secure promotion to the Premier League from the Championship, securing their top-flight status is often the sole objective for their first campaign back. Whether it’s a former Premier League regular making a comeback after a slight blip or a newcomer rubbing shoulders with English football’s elite for the first time, staying up in the Promised Land is always the first priority for every side that goes up.
Despite that initial caution, once in a while, a team emerges that not only manages to maintain its Premier League status but also uses the momentum gained from last year’s successful campaign to absolutely thrive in the Premier League. Recent examples include Wolverhampton Wanderers in the 2018-19 season and Sheffield United in the current campaign, who are making a strong push for a place in Europe themselves.
However, it must be said that Wolves and Sheffield have bucked the general trend to become some of the Premier League’s most heartening success stories, as no newly-promoted club had finished higher than 8th in the Premier League since 2001 before Wolves’ seventh-place finish last season.
And on that note, with a fair idea of how rare it is to see a side that has just come up from the Championship achieve anything more substantial than top-flight survival, let’s take a look back at five of the best Premier League campaigns that newly-promoted sides have had in the past.
5. Sunderland (1999/2000) - 7th
Amassing an incredible 105 points on their way to storming to the Division 1 (as it was then known) title in the previous season, Sunderland would have backed themselves to at least stay in the Premier League in 1999-2000. However, spearheaded by the lethal ‘little and large’ strike partnership of Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn, the Black Cats managed a creditable top-half finish, missing out on a place in the Intertoto Cup on goal difference alone.
Managed by former England midfielder Peter Reid, Sunderland made an inauspicious start to the campaign with a 4-0 thrashing away at Chelsea. Incredibly, the Black Cats lost just two more league games till Christmas following the opening day loss and found themselves third in the table.
An 11-game winless run that saw them drop to ninth quickly followed before five wins from their last nine games moved them back up to seventh, where they would eventually finish. Quinn and Phillips were absolutely unstoppable in the Premier League, scoring 44 of Sunderland’s 57 goals. In fact, Phillips’ personal tally of 30 won him the European Golden Shoe, and he remains the only Englishman to have claimed that accolade ever since.
Unfortunately, the fairy tale would not last long - Sunderland finished seventh again in the following season before suffering relegation a year later.