This series will feature the stories of the clubs that have clinched relegation across the top four tiers of English football. Usually, this doesn’t begin until April, but the Terriers of Huddersfield Town decided to get a jump on things this season. Fulham joined them with a loss tonight against Watford, but no other club across the top four leagues is as close to mathematical elimination – the closest is Ipswich Town in the Championship, who is currently 13 points out of safety but with seven matches left.
Here’s a quick look at how the Terriers ended up in this position:
What Went Wrong
Where to begin…
The Terriers started the season 0-3-7 (with only four goals scored), before winning their first match of the season (against Fulham, no less) on 5 November. They added another victory in November, but ended 2018 with a 2-4-14 record.
Manager David Wagner was sacked on 14 January (with the club in the midst of an 0-1-8 stretch), with Jan Siewert taking over a week later. He’s won one match thus far in his tenure, but seems to be the man that will be leading the club in the Championship next season.
With 14 points currently on the season, the Terriers escape having the fewest points ever for a relegated team (at least in the Premier League era (1992-present). Derby County‘s 2007-2008 season – in which the Rams secured only 11 points all season – remains the low, and that Derby County relegation was the only previous time that a club clinched relegation in March.
Still, should the Terriers fail to garner any further points over the remainder of the season, those 14 points would be the second-lowest total since 1992. In the Premier League era, there are only four other seasons under 20 – Sunderland in 2005-06 (15 points) and 2002-03 (19), Aston Villa in 2015-16 (17) and Portsmouth in 2009-10 (19). Fulham could join them under 20 this season as well, with 17 points with only five matches remaining.
What Went Right
There were some bright spots in a terrible season.
Two of the Terriers’ three victories on the season came against Wolverhampton Wanderers. The first was their lone road win of the season, a 2-0 victory on 25 November at Molineux Stadium. Aaron Mooy scored two goals in the match, which elevated the club to 14th in the table, their highest spot during the season. The other victory against the Wolves was their only victory (thus far) in 2019, a 1-0 victory at home.
Recent English Football League History
This season was the Terriers second season ever in the Premier League… last season was their first. They finished in 16th position last season with 37 points, four points clear of relegation despite scoring a league-low (tied with relegation victim Swansea City) 28 goals. But they also won more games through nine matchdays last season then they’ve won thus far this season, so… the slow start this season wasn’t helpful.
They won promotion to the Premier League via the Championship playoff after the 2016-2017 season, though their last five seasons in the second tier saw an average finish of 15th. In the 27 seasons of the Premier League era, they’ve spent the most time in League One, with 13 of 27 seasons spent in Tier 3 of English football.
Their best overall finish – notwithstanding playoff victories resulting in promotion – was a third place finish in League One after the 2010-11 season, after which they lost in the promotion playoffs. Their average finish across all leagues in the Premier League era – assuming they finish in the 20th spot this season – is 12th, so they are a league-average club for the most part, and maybe the Premier League was just too big a leap too soon for the club.
Who’s Playing Elsewhere Next Season?
The final six matches of the season could be a glimpse into what next year’s Championship club looks like, but the Terriers will definitely feel the sting from some big name departures before next season.
First, Jonas Lössl, Isaac Mbenza, Danny Williams, Laurent Depoitre, Erik Durm, and Jason Puncheon will all be out of contract at the conclusion of the season. Lössl was brought in prior to the season after a strong performance while on loan last season, and started the bulk of games in net this season. However, he was noticeably absent in the match on Saturday that resulted in relegation, with manager Jan Siewert deferring to players that are more likely to be with the club next season.
Other players, including Australian star Mooy and Lössl‘s Danish compatriots Philip Billing and Mathias Jørgensen, could also find themselves with new clubs next season despite remaining under contract beyond this season. Losing these players via transfer would help offset some of the lost revenue from relegation, and keep the Terriers competitive next season as they aim to return to the Premier League.
Chances of a Quick Return?
It’s hard to say this early what it the Championship will look like next season, and if the Terriers will be immediately competitive back in the league. Two of Norwich City, Sheffield United, or Leeds United seem poised to earn automatic promotion, clearing out some of the bigger spenders from the top of the table.
Unlike even some Championship clubs that spend a lot of money fighting for promotion – the recently-penalized Birmingham City comes to mind – Huddersfield was actually pretty cost conscience on their promotion, turning what was a nearly $29M (£22M) loss their last season in the Championship (in 2016-17) into $30.2M (£23M) in profit in their first season in the Premier League (2017-18).
Financial results from this lost season won’t be known for quite some time, but the team seems prepared to keep the books clean next season, partially because they will receive a cushioning blow in the form of a $55M (£42M) parachute payment from the Premier League, as well as any gain during the offseason transfer window.
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