AFTER seven games of the season, all three newly-promoted teams find themselves safely nestled in mid-table, with tenth-placed Swansea City sandwiched in between ninth-placed Norwich City and 11th-placed QPR.
It is of course, quite a common occurrence for top tier newcomers, fuelled by early season optimism and momentum, to propel themselves towards the upper reaches of the league table. At the same stage last season West Bromwich Albion were riding high in sixth place, with Blackpool three places below them.
By the same token, a collapse in the second half of the season is a common theme amongst promoted clubs. Last season, relegated Blackpool won just three of their last 19 games, compared to seven in the first half of the season. Similarly, Hull City’s Premier League survival-securing side of 2008/09 won seven of their first 19 games, but only emerged victorious once in the second half of that season.
Whilst there is no template for prolonging a club’s tenure in the Premier League, there are a number of key factors which certainly make survival easier. The gulf in quality between the Premier League and Championship makes all facets of the game harder for promoted sides, but it is the ability to score goals and register prolifically that frequently eludes newly-promoted forwards.
Even at this embryonic stage of the season, it is possible to suggest that Norwich, QPR and Swansea could struggle to find the net on a frequent enough basis. Swansea, who took five games to break their Premier League duck, have averaged 0.86 goals per game so far. The statistic is even bleaker for QPR, who have managed just 0.71 goals per game this season. With seven goals in seven games, Norwich appear best equipped of the three to achieve survival.
A closer look at the three clubs’ results reveal that no recognised forward at either club has managed more than one league strike so far this term. Scott Sinclair, ostensibly a wide player, tops the scoring chart amongst the promoted sides with two goals in seven outings, whilst line-leaders Leroy Lita, Danny Graham, DJ Campbell, Grant Holt and Steve Morison have all managed one solitary strike each.
The acquisition of players with Premier League experience is frequently cited as a necessity, with this mantra particularly applicable to the forward department. Prior to the start of this season, four of Norwich’s five recognised forwards had had no Premier League experience whatsoever – indeed the injured James Vaughan is the only member of the quintet who has featured in the top flight before, with 47 appearances and seven goals for former club Everton.
Rangers manager Neil Warnock wisely opted to boost his attacking options with the signings of Jay Bothroyd (29 appearances and three goals for Charlton Athletic/Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League) and DJ Campbell (14 league goals for Blackpool last season), but the former’s profligacy thus far suggests that he may struggle this season.
Swansea boss Brendan Rodgers lured Danny Graham and Leroy Lita to the Liberty Stadium, but their combined Premier League record (prior to this season) of 59 appearances and nine goals is hardly prolific.
It would be churlish to place undue reliance upon one such player, and there’s nothing to suggest that the aforementioned players will not adapt to the top tier, but history denotes that the presence of a consistent goalscorer is essential in the quest for Premier League survival.
Last season’s surviving promoted sides, Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion, both scored 56 league goals (1.47 goals per game). Newcastle’s top scorer Kevin Nolan bagged 12 goals (constituting 21.4% of his side’s league goals), whilst West Brom’s Peter Odemwingie chipped in with 15 Premier League strikes (constituting 26.8% of his side’s league goals).
The percentages are similar for the season prior to that one too – Wolves’ leading scorer Kevin Doyle struck nine times (28.1% of his side’s league goals) and Birmingham’s Cameron Jerome scored 11 goals (28.9% of his side’s league goals) in 2009/10.
Going back, the examples of Sunderland in 1999/2000 and Ipswich Town in 2000/01 further illustrate the importance of a single prolific goalscorer. Although those clubs’ Premier League campaign finishes of seventh and fifth may be regarded as somewhat anomalous, there is no doubt that they were boosted by the exploits of Kevin Phillips (30 league goals; 52.6% of Sunderland’s league goals) and Marcus Stewart (19 league goals; 33.3% of Ipswich’s league goals).
In each of the last three seasons, two out of the three promoted sides has avoided an immediate return to the Championship. Both West Brom and Newcastle managed this respectable feat last season, finishing in 11th and 12th respectively, so the omens do look good for Norwich, QPR and Swansea. However, the ability to rely upon a consistent goalscorer is crucial, and all three sides will be hoping that someone steps up to the plate over the next seven months.
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