They say 40 points is the magic number a Premier League team needs to reach if it is to avoid relegation.
While that is usually true, it’s not a given. Since switching to 20 teams in 1995, the top flight has seen three teams be relegated on 40 points or more: Sunderland in 1997, Bolton Wanderers in 1998, and West Ham United, who went down with 42 points in 2003.
So this figure will more often than not be enough for clubs seeking to avoid the drop, but often that much is not even needed to stay up. In 17 of the last 25 seasons, the 17th-placed team survived on less than 40 points, in some cases a good bit less.
We could very well have such a situation this season. Based on current projections, Fulham, who currently sit one place above the dropzone on seven points after ten matches, would survive on just 24 points.
That would be easily the lowest tally to ever keep a club in the Premier League. Obviously that won’t happen, we know this much from history, but it does indicate that we may have a very low threshold to remain in the first tier in 2020/21.
The Premier League clubs with the fewest points to survive:
=5. Bradford, Fulham, West Brom, Southampton, Brighton – 36 points
Multiple teams have survived with just 36 points, so we’ve grouped them all here together. Unsurprisingly most of these teams completed what you might consider ‘Great Escapes’, avoiding relegations in the unlikeliest of circumstances.
In 2000 Bradford City were responsible for one of the all-time great final day moments when they defeated Liverpool, who were chasing Champions League qualification. They held on for dear life after David Wetherall scored the game’s only goal in the 12th minute, securing their place in the top flight for another year.
Fulham were virtually relegated at half-time of their away clash with Man City in April of 2008; a 2-0 deficit and results elsewhere meant they would be going down that day if everything stayed as it was. A second-half comeback was the spur for an incredible dash for survival that season.
And West Brom somehow stayed up in 2013/14 despite Spanish manager Pepe Mel winning just three of his 18 matches in charge. A 1-0 win over Norwich City was crucial. Southampton and Brighton were only just about good enough to avoid the drop in 2018/19 and 2019/20 respectively.
=2. Hull City, 2008/09 – 35 points
In 2008 Hull City were promoted to the Premier League for the first time ever and for a while they were enjoying a fairytale season under eccentric manager Phil Brown. The tanned geordie led the Tigers to just one defeat in their opening nine matches, winning six.
They were in third place as late as the end of October, but proceeded to win just two more games all season. They slid perilously towards the dropzone, entering it for the first time in the entire campaign on matchday 36 following defeat to Stoke City.
Hull managed a draw against Bolton Wanderers the next day out, their first point in over a month, which was enough to see them finish ahead of Alan Shearer’s wretched Newcastle United.
=2. West Ham, 2009/10 – 35 points
When Carlton Cole is your top scorer with just ten goals, it’s hardly surprising when your team is in a relegation dogfight. But that only tells part of the story of a season that shaped West Ham United for the next decade.
The campaign began well for the Hammers, winning 2-0 at Molineux on the opening day. That would be their only away win of the whole season, however, as they struggled to string results together after the club was plunged into crisis.
Their Icelandic owner and banker Björgólfur Guðmundsson was declared bankrupt following the economic crash of 2008, putting the London outfit in serious jeopardy. David Gold and David Sullivan took over the club in January 2009 and, despite awful midseason form, the team managed to survive.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) September 28, 2018
Unsurprisingly they went down the next year, two points worse off at the foot of the table.
=2. Aston Villa, 2019/20 – 35 points
The most recent addition to this list, Aston Villa survived by the skin of their teeth last season despite looking like a sure bet to go down for most of the season.
The key to their survival was an improved defence once Project Restart got going, as manager Dean Smith went to work making them better at the back.
It worked, as they went undefeated in the final four games of the league to stay up ahead of Bournemouth. Their survival could be deemed extremely lucky, however, after goal line technology failed to award Sheffield United a rightful goal at Villa Park.
Should Sheffield United be ahead here!? 🤯
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) June 17, 2020
That gave Villa the point they ultimately need to remain in the top flight.
1. West Brom, 2004/05 – 34 points
The worst team to ever avoid relegation from the Premier League? We’ll reserve judgement on that front, but we do know for sure that West Bromwich Albion earned the fewest points ever to stay up.
It could also be said that the Baggies are responsible for the greatest escape of them all, becoming the first team to avoid the drop despite being last on Christmas Day. They became the first club to do so, and only Sunderland and Leicester City have managed it since.
It was only made possible after Bryan Robson’s charges somehow managed to get out of Old Trafford with a point on the penultimate weekend, setting up ‘Survival Sunday’ as the Sky Sports marketing machine dubbed it.
West Brom got the all-important victory they needed to survive, but they still had to wait a nervy few moments after the final whistle to see if results had gone their way.
Crystal Palace could only muster a draw against Charlton, meaning they went down and West Brom stayed. Once word filtered through to the crowd at the Hawthorns, it sparked some of the most sensational scenes in Premier League history.