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5 of the English Premier League’s Surprising Success Stories


Premier league success stories

We witnessed the English Premier League’s (EPL) new-boys Sheffield United upset the applecart in the 2019/20 campaign. Chris Wilder’s razor-sharp Blades ended up finishing in a hugely respectable ninth place in their first season back in the top tier. This top-half finish was all the more impressive when you consider that Norwich City – who were promoted with United – finished 13 points adrift at the foot of the table.

Sheffield United’s heroics has inspired us to look back into the history books to uncover some of the many other underdog success stories in the EPL’s 28-year history. Below are the top-five most impressive finishes in the EPL to date.

Leicester City (1st – 2015/16)

Some football pundits have described Leicester City’s EPL title success in 2016 as the biggest shock in the history of world football. It’s hard to disagree when you consider the Foxes were 5,000/1 outsiders for the championship at the start of the season. Managed by the enigmatic Italian journeyman Claudio Ranieri, Leicester’s hotch-potch collection of well-travelled players from second-tier level – interspersed with the overseas flair of the likes of Riyad Mahrez – proved to be an unstoppable force.

The pace and power of Jamie Vardy proved irresistible, with the striker also completing a true “Roy of the Rovers”-esque journey from non-league to EPL winner. Better still, Leicester had only been promoted into the EPL just two years prior to this title success.

Ipswich Town (5th - 2000/01)

Ipswich Town channelled the days of Sir Alf Ramsay and Sir Bobby Robson to finally return to the EPL in May 2000, defeating Barnsley in the playoff final. Even the most ardent Tractor Boy would have suggested that survival was the main target for Town in 2000/01. However, George Burley’s side played with flair and panache on the ball and demonstrated an excellent work ethic and team unity to finish 5th and qualify for a UEFA Cup place. Striker, Marcus Stewart also finished as joint top scorer in the league with Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Unfortunately for Ipswich, they suffered the dreaded ‘second season syndrome’ and were promptly relegated the following year at one of the world’s most iconic stadiums, thrashed 5-0 at Anfield. It has been a disastrous two decades since the Tractor Boys' relegation from the top-flight. The Suffolk side now find themselves in the third tier of English football. Despite a promising start to the 2020/21 League One campaign, Town's form has fallen off a cliff of late and the football outrights have Ipswich priced as long as 24/1 at the time of writing to recover and win the League One title.

Norwich City (3rd – 1992/93)

Ipswich’s bitter rivals Norwich City have also enjoyed a very impressive EPL finish too. In fact, it was the first ever EPL campaign of 1992/93 when the Canaries improved vastly on their 18th-placed finish in 1991/92 to finish third in 1993. All of this was achieved despite losing their top scorer Robert Fleck to Chelsea on the eve of the 1992/93 season.

An outstanding start to the season proved the bedrock of their success, losing just once in their opening ten fixtures to move top of the table. Although they ended the campaign with a negative goal difference, City finished a hugely creditable third and bagged a place in the 1993/94 UEFA Cup.

Nottingham Forest (3rd – 1994/95)

Under the guidance of experienced boss Frank Clark, Nottingham Forest also achieved an unlikely third-place finish in the 1994/95 EPL campaign. It was even more impressive given that the Tricky Trees had just been promoted back to the top-flight from Division One. A quick glance at the Forest squad suggested they should have been nowhere near the second tier, with powerful front men Bryan Roy and Stan Collymore doing the damage.

Collymore was particularly hot property, scoring 22 league goals and earning a lucrative £8.5 million switch to Liverpool in the summer of 1995. As for Forest, they went on to reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup in the following season, before losing their way yet again and succumbing to relegation.

Burnley (7th – 2017/18)

Burnley football club fan

When Burnley finished 16th in the 2016/17 EPL season, it was heralded as a massive achievement for Sean Dyche’s unfashionable Clarets. Despite a rugged, direct style of play, Burnley were able to grind out results and points to buy extra time and money with the Premier League’s elite. However, they would go much better in the following season, buoyed by the fact that it was their first back-to-back appearance in the top-flight since the 1970s.

Fears over a mid-season injury to star keeper Tom Heaton were allayed by the magnificent performances from understudy Nick Pope. Despite failing to win in any of their remaining five fixtures, Burnley still comfortably finished seventh to earn their first taste of European football since 1966.

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