Life in the Premier League is never easy for a newly promoted side. The gulf between England’s top flight and its second tier has arguably been increasing ever since the inaugural Premier League season in 1992-93, and right now, it’s never been bigger.
Despite this, there have been a handful of newly promoted sides during the Premier League era who have been surprisingly successful. Often using innovative tactics and unheralded players, these sides have upset the Premier League’s more fancied teams and made a huge splash in their debut campaigns.
Here are the 5 best newly-promoted sides in Premier League history.
#1 Newcastle United (1993-94)
Given their position in the mid to late 1990’s as perennial Premier League title contenders, it seems hard to believe that Newcastle weren’t actually part of the inaugural season of the competition. But indeed, the Magpies were only promoted from Division One in 1992-93, winning the league title in the second tier in Kevin Keegan’s first full season as boss.
After that season, fans were optimistic about their Premier League hopes, but nobody could’ve predicted how well they’d actually do. Buoyed by the signing of forward Peter Beardsley in the summer of 1993, Keegan’s men took the top flight by storm.
It took 4 games for them to claim their first Premier League victory, a 1-0 win over Everton, but after that, they never looked back. Christened as the league’s “entertainers”, Newcastle scored an insane 82 goals, finishing the campaign in 3rd place as the Premier League’s top goalscorers.
34 of those goals belonged to Cole, who claimed the Golden Boot, while Beardsley scored 25, making the duo the league’s most deadly partnership. Their 7-1 thrashing of Swindon was at the time the Premier League’s highest victory, and their lofty finish handed Magpies fans their first foray into Europe since the 1970’s. Two seasons later, Keegan’s side would be considered bonafide title contenders.
#2 Nottingham Forest (1994-95)
Relegated in the inaugural Premier League season, Nottingham Forest bounced back immediately in the 1993-94 season under new boss Frank Clark. They finished second in Division 1 to gain automatic promotion, largely buoyed by the goals of striker Stan Collymore.
To everyone’s surprise though, Forest, and Collymore, also hit the ground running in the top flight. The 1994-95 season saw them begin with an 11 match unbeaten run, and in the end they finished the season with just 9 defeats.
Collymore scored 22 of their 72 league goals, but unheralded players like Steve Stone and Ian Woan were also fantastic. Stone played his way into the England squad, while new Dutch signing Bryan Roy made a huge impact with 13 goals. And at the back, veterans like Stuart Pearce and Colin Cooper ensured Clark’s side kept things tight.
Forest ended up finishing in 3rd place, above more fancied sides like Newcastle and Leeds, and although they couldn’t repeat their heroics in 1995-96 following the sale of Collymore, they did make it to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup.
#3 Ipswich Town (2000-01)
Literally nobody expected Ipswich Town to thrive in the Premier League in the 2000-01 season. Relegated from the top flight back in 1994-95, the Tractor Boys finished 3rd in Division One in 1999-00 and were only promoted via the play-offs.
Pundits predicted doom for George Burley’s side when they barely added to their squad in the summer of 2000, but things turned out to be very different. After a somewhat tricky start, Ipswich began to win, regularly, and ended up in an unlikely race for a top 3 spot. A loss to Charlton with 2 games to go ended those hopes, but they still finished 5th, just 4 points behind second-place Arsenal, earning themselves a UEFA Cup spot.
Striker Marcus Stewart was the star; his 19 league goals meant he finished second in the race for the Golden Boot behind Chelsea’s Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink. But Ipswich also kept things tight at the back, conceding just 43 goals thanks to the performances of goalkeeper Richard Wright and defender Titus Bramble.
Despite their fantastic season though, the Tractor Boys couldn’t repeat the feat in 2001-02. The sale of Wright in the summer of 2001 hurt them badly, and despite making some strong signings like Finidi George and Marcus Bent, Burley’s side simply couldn’t cope with the added European fixtures. They finished 18th, were relegated, and haven’t made it back to the Premier League since.
#4 Wolverhampton Wanderers (2018-19)
After taking the 2017-18 EFL Championship by storm - winning the league title by a clear 9-point margin - many people expected Wolves to do well in their first Premier League season in 6 years. However, few people expected them to do as well as they did, finishing 7th behind only the Premier League’s established “Big Six”.
Nuno Espírito Santo already had a strong squad to call upon, with the likes of Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota and Willy Boly starring in the Championship, but big signings like Rui Patricio, Joao Moutinho and Raul Jimenez strengthened them even further.
Wolves made their intentions known early in the campaign, taking a draw from champions Manchester City in their third game, and they never really looked back from there.
Nuno’s side ended up pulling out some miraculous results, defeating Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal, and it was only their slightly worse form against the league’s strugglers that prevented them from making a push for a top four spot.
Proving that their maiden season wasn’t a fluke, Wolves have built on their success and currently sit in 6th place in the league. Nuno’s side now have a very real chance of securing Champions League football for 2020-21; a remarkable feat for a side who were in the second tier just two seasons ago.
#5 Sheffield United (2019-20)
Unsurprisingly for a newly-promoted side, Sheffield United were most pundits’ top pick for relegation in the current Premier League season. Chris Wilder’s Blades had done remarkably well in the 2018-19 EFL Championship and had been promoted in second place, but on paper at least, it just didn’t look like they had what it would take to survive in the top flight.
None of the Blades’ players were household names, with the majority of them not even having that much experience at second-tier level. And while they spent some money in the summer, Lys Mousset and Oli McBurnie could hardly be considered marquee signings.
Despite everyone’s misgivings though, Wilder’s side have bucked the trend entirely during the current campaign. When the season was suspended in mid-March, the Blades were in 7th position, had a game in hand on their rivals and were only 5 points off a Champions League spot.
Their biggest strength has been their tight defence; Wilder’s men have conceded just 25 goals, with only likely champions Liverpool letting in less, and while they haven’t scored as many goals as the sides around them, they’ve still done enough to take points from sides like Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United.
Wilder’s smart tactics have brought the best out of players such as Chris Basham, John Lundstram and John Fleck – men considered journeymen at best prior to the start of the season – and it now seems inconceivable that the Blades would miss a European spot by the end of the season.Published 14 Apr 2020, 21:06 IST