Sunderland back in the Championship – what does the data tell us about our chances this year?

Plenty of predictions have been made about Sunderland's first season back in the Championship - but how do newly-promoted teams historically fare in their first seasons back? Richard Easterbrook crunches the numbers

TL;DR:

  • Teams promoted via the League One play-offs have an average finish position of 18th in the Championship – better than teams finishing in second
  • Four of the last ten sides promoted via the play-offs have gone straight back down the season after, with three of the last four dropping into League One
  • The highest finish of sides promoted via the play-offs was eighth, the lowest 24th
  • At least one of any of the three promoted teams has been relegated in all but two of the last ten Championship seasons

 

Plenty of predictions have been made about Sunderland’s first season back in the Championship – but how do newly-promoted teams historically fare in their first seasons back?

Only the most optimistic, rose tinted supporters are predicting Alex Neil can propel us into the top half of the division and within a shout of an incredible return to the Premier League – similarly, very few can bring themselves to predict relegation back to that godforsaken third tier.

Let’s have a look, then, at the last decade of Championship seasons and see just how those league newcomers got on.

Over the last ten seasons of the Championship, the three promoted sides from League One have an average of 53.6 points in their first seasons in the second tier, with an average final league position of 17th.

You would think that how a team was promoted would have an effect on their performance in the Championship – the average points total from League One champions is 58.1 – an average finish of 15th with the second placed teams picking up an average of 50.2, finishing on average 19th.

Interestingly for Sunderland, teams promoted via the play-offs saw an average final league position of 18th with an average points total of 52.4 – faring marginally better than the teams that have finished above them in the league.

This has been skewed by the performance of Millwall in 2017-18 as they finished eighth in their first season back having gone up via the play-offs the season before.

And it’s fair to say that sides promoted via the play-offs find life difficult in their first season in the Championship, with four of the last ten sides relegated back to League One having won their Wembley finals one year previous.

In fact, three out the last four sides promoted via the play-offs went straight back down – Wycombe, Charlton, and Rotherham.

However, more recent history gives us some hope, at least. Blackpool, having won their play-off final – aided by Sunderland midfielder Elliot Embleton, of course – managed a creditable 16th place finish, with their final tally of 60 points ensuring a relegation battle was never realistically on the cards for the Tangerines.

We talk a lot about promoted teams having momentum as they come up from the league below, but the waters are choppy and few teams find it plain sailing.

At least one of the promoted teams has been relegated in all but two of the last ten Championship seasons – and in 2013- both Doncaster and Yeovil dropped straight back to League One having been promoted the season before.

So what does the last ten years tell us about the chances of putting together consecutive promotions? We did, after all, drop out of the Premier League into League One so quickly, we can get back just as quickly, can’t we?

Well, probably not.

In the last decade, no team has achieved back to back promotions from League One and the Championship. The closest we have seen in the last ten years was Brentford, who reached the Championship play-offs only to be beaten by Middlesbrough in the semi-finals. They finished level on points with fellow promoted side Wolves, but with a superior goal difference.

Success for Sunderland this season would be to emulate Blackpool from last year. A 16th-place finish may seem like under-achieving for some Sunderland fans, especially when we’ve such a glittering history in this division, but we need to be realistic and assume, once more, our default position of hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.

We’ve spent four years in League One, and the priority this season needs to be avoiding an immediate return there.