The step up from the Championship to the Premier League is supposed to be a real challenge, yet for a select few, they’ve almost made it look easy, hammering in goals left right and centre and making a mockery of the so-called ‘better’ defences.
An impressive first campaign in the top-tier of English football isn’t always a sign of greater things to come – *cough* Michael Ricketts – yet it’s still worth celebrating those who made an instant impact at the highest level.
Although Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford has a chance of joining this list come the end of the season, for now let’s take a look at the five players who, after gaining promotion from the second tier with their team, wreaked havoc in the top-flight:
Marcus Stewart – 19 goals (2000/01)
Perhaps not the most household name on this list, the Englishman enjoyed a remarkable first season in the Premier League, as his newly-promoted Ipswich Town side – led by George Burley – clinched a stunning fifth-place in the 2000/01 campaign.
The former Huddersfield man had only joined the Tractor Boys at the back end of the 1999/2000 season, yet played a key role in their promotion to the top-flight, having scored in their 4-2 win over Barnsley in the Championship play-off final, as well as netting twice in the semi-final triumph over Bolton.
As the figurehead of Burley’s overachieving side, Stewart hit 19 top-flight goals that season, including bagging his one and only top tier hat-trick against Southampton in the April of that term.
— Premier League (@premierleague) April 2, 2017
That tally saw him finish as the second highest goalscorer in the division that season only behind Chelsea’s Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (23), form which even sparked hopes of England involvement, although that call-up sadly never came.
Stewart and Ipswich’s stellar campaign saw them clinch a UEFA Cup spot, although the following year was the ultimate case of second season syndrome, as they were subsequently relegated, with the striker netting just six league goals.
The Bristol-born forward would spend just one more year in the top tier after joining Sunderland the following season, before seeing out his playing days with spells in the lower divisions.
Andrew Johnson – 21 goals (2004/05)
After joining the Eagles from Birmingham City in 2002, Johnson then played a crucial role in taking the club into the Premier League, hitting 27 First Division goals in just his second season at Selhurst Park in the 2003/04 campaign.
The following year was a difficult one for Palace as they slipped straight back down into the second tier following some final day heartache, West Bromwich Albion pulling off the the great escape to pip Johnson and co to safety by just one point, the south London club having conceded an agonising 82nd minute Jonathan Fortune goal to deny them victory over Charlton.
While it was a collectively disappointing season, on an individual level Johnson was on fire, finishing as the second top scorer behind Thierry Henry, as well as earning the first of his eight England caps that season.
In truth, it never really got better for the striker, as he only ever hit double figures in a top-flight season on one further occasion, after bagging 11 in 2006/07 for Everton, a campaign which saw him write himself into Toffees folklore with a brace in a 3-0 win over Liverpool.
Stan Collymore – 22 goals (1994/95) *
At times a controversial figure, Collymore was undoubtedly one of the most talented centre-forwards of his era, with his spell at Nottingham Forest particularly impressive.
After joining the club following their relegation into the second tier and the departure of the legendary Brian Clough, the powerful forward took no time at all to settle into his new surroundings, firing the club straight back into the Premier League with 19 goals in his first season at the City Ground.
The former Crystal Palace man seemingly got even better in the top-flight, as his explosive form dragged the newly-promoted side to a remarkable third-place finish and UEFA Cup qualification, as he began to attract the attention of the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool.
Stan Collymore v Wimbledon, 1994. pic.twitter.com/zpU6gguYk7
— 90s Football (@90sfootball) October 5, 2020
A move to Anfield followed at the end of a campaign that had seen him hit 22 league goals to finish fourth in the scoring charts, although Alan Shearer dwarfed his tally with a sensational 34-goal haul, one of three occasions in which the former England captain registered 30+ league goals in a season.
As for Collymore, he may have gone on to perform, albeit briefly, for the Reds, but he would never again hit the 20-goal mark, while he would earn just three caps for England, the first of which came at the end of his fine debut campaign in the Premier League.
Kevin Phillips – 30 goals (1999/2000)
While it would be wrong to suggest that anyone has forgotten about Phillips’ stellar season, there perhaps isn’t enough praise for just how good he was in the 1999/2000 campaign, particularly considering he’d never played in the Premier League before.
The former Watford man joined Sunderland in 1997, going on to hit 52 league goals in just two seasons in the second tier, helping to fire the Black Cats into the top-flight at the end of the 1998/99 season.
As part of that famed ‘little and large’ partnership alongside side former Ireland international Niall Quinn, Phillips was quite simply electric in the top tier, starting the season in explosive form – including netting a hat-trick against Derby County in early September – and somehow managing to maintain those levels.
In a modern era where centre-forward partnerships are few and far between, it is a real joy to look back on the Quinn-Phillips double act, the two men arguably the key reason for dragging Peter Reid’s side to seventh in the table.
21 years ago today a stunning winner from Kevin Phillips v Everton gives Sunderland their first victory of the 21st Century 🔴⚪ pic.twitter.com/e6nHDbKKGW
— Roker Retro 🔴⚪ (@rokerretro) March 25, 2021
While the veteran Irishman ended the season with a respectable 14 league goals, his 5 ft 7 teammate hit a staggering 30 top-flight goals, earning himself the accolade of the league’s top scorer and becoming one of just nine players to have hit 30+ goals in a Premier League campaign.
That form also saw him scoop up the European Golden Shoe – the only Englishman still to do so.
Andy Cole – 34 goals (1993/94)*
Despite finishing his career with a superb tally of 187 Premier League goals, it’s quite remarkable that only twice did the Englishman hit over 20 league goals in a single season, with by far his best ever individual term coming in his first campaign in the Premier League.
After failing to break through at Arsenal, Cole spent time at Fulham and Bristol City, before joining Newcastle United in February 1993, firing the Magpies out of the First Division with 12 goals in just 12 league games in the back end of that season.
That electric form was not curtailed despite the step up to a higher level, as Kevin Keegan’s newly-promoted side settled quickly back into life in the top tier, after a four year absence. Alongside the returning Peter Beardsley, Cole was simply superb, the two men combining for 55 league goals as “The Entertainers” finish third and secured a UEFA Cup spot.
The latter man’s 34 league goals – 41 in all competitions – not only saw him claim the PFA Young Player of the Year gong, but also means he holds the record – alongside Shearer – for the most goals scored in a Premier League season, albeit in a 42-game term.
That sensational year saw Cole clinch a move to Manchester United midway through the following season, the England international going on to play a key role in the club’s treble-winning 1998/99 campaign.
* 42-game Premier League season