Huddersfield Town became the third team to win promotion from the Championship in the most dramatic fashion possible last week. Following a goalless 120 minutes at Wembley, David Wagner’s side edged out Reading on penalties to win the play-off final, lifting the club back into the top flight after a 45-year absence.
They will be joined in the Premier League by Newcastle United, who finished on top of the pile, and Brighton and Hove Albion, who ended the campaign in second spot. The former may have loftier ambitions than both Huddersfield and Brighton given their size and first-division experience, but all three clubs’ primary objective will be avoiding relegation back to the Championship. History suggests that it will be difficult for all three to succeed at the same time.
In terms of how each outfit should go about their task, the truth is that there is simply no set formula for guaranteeing survival; promoted teams who have avoided the drop at the first time of asking in recent years have employed different methods in search of the same result. The focus for Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield, then, should be on choosing a path which works for them.
Some sides slash the cash in the summer transfer market, believing that significant investment is required to bridge the gap between English football’s top two divisions. Southampton spent £35m on new additions in 2012/13 and stayed up reasonably comfortably, yet Middlesbrough invested a similarly hefty amount this term and were unable to keep their heads above water.
Burnley took a different approach under Sean Dyche in 2016/17, largely keeping faith with the group of players that had got them to the Premier League in the first place. It proved to be an excellent policy – the Clarets were never really in danger of relegation – but an altogether poorer one when Burnley first employed it two seasons previously. The same tactic also worked for Bournemouth in 2015/16, but failed for the likes of Norwich City in 2015/16 and Reading in 2012/13.
It is rare for a club to immediately change manager following promotion – although it has happened on occasion, including when Watford replaced Slavisa Jokanovic with Quique Sanchez Flores a couple of campaigns ago. Many have changed midway through the season, though, a move which brought success to Crystal Palace in 2013/14 but did not work out for Cardiff City that same year or Middlesbrough last term. Sticking with the same boss throughout paid off for Leicester City in 2014/15 and Bournemouth 12 months later, meanwhile, yet had the opposite effect for Blackpool in 2010/11 and Norwich in 2015/16.
The only conclusion to be drawn, then, is that there is no magic answer when it comes to surviving in the Premier League. Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield will have to come up with plans of their own if they are to finish above the bottom three. It will be fascinating to see how each of them go about it in the coming weeks and months.