Sheffield United Look to Avoid Premier League’s Christmas Curse
Following their 1-1 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday, Sheffield United will be bottom of the Premier League on Christmas Day. That does not bode well for the Blades’ survival hopes, as only three clubs have avoided relegation after being last in the table on December 25.
The Blades were the division’s surprise package last time out, finishing ninth in their first campaign after securing promotion to the top flight. They have looked short of spark this season, though, with the problems coming at both ends – United are yet to keep a clean sheet and are the Premier League’s second-lowest goalscorers. With just two points to their name, they are the -560 favorites to go down with DraftKings Sportsbook, ahead of West Bromwich Albion at –265 and Fulham at –150.
We have taken a look back at the three teams who bucked the trend of December 25, as United look to avoid the so-called Curse of Christmas.
West Bromwich Albion (2004/05)
In the Premier League’s 13th season, West Brom became the first side to stay up after propping up the table when Santa delivered his presents. The Baggies had been promoted the previous campaign, and they looked out of their depth for much of the first half of 2004/05.
Bryan Robson replaced Gary Megson as a manager in November, but there was no immediate upturn in results. By Christmas Day, West Brom had won only one match all season and lost each of their last four. There was little festive cheer to be found at The Hawthorns.
It took until their 23rd game for West Brom to collect another victory, beating Manchester City 2-0. Robson’s side then lost just one of their next four outings, before following a 1-0 loss to Chelsea with back-to-back wins over Charlton Athletic and Everton.
The Baggies were still bottom going into the final day when victories for either Norwich City, Crystal Palace, or Southampton would send them back to the second tier. Yet all three teams above them slipped up, allowing West Brom to celebrate survival after a 2-0 triumph over Portsmouth.
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Sunderland gave themselves considerable ground to make up right from the start of 2013/14, taking just one point from the first 24 available. Paolo Di Canio was replaced by Gus Poyet in October; the Uruguayan made the team harder to beat, but they had just two wins to their name by Christmas Day.
Sunderland was four points adrift of safety on December 25, but a 1-0 win over Everton the very next day was a major boost for Poyet and his players. The Black Cats then won three and drew two of their next five outings to climb out of the bottom three for the first time all season. A 1-0 victory over arch-rivals Newcastle United saw them rise as high as 14th.
They were not out of the woods just yet, though. Sunderland lost seven of their next nine matches, a run that sent them right back to the foot of the table. With a few games to go, the Black Cats looked dead and buried, with various bookmakers agreeing to pay out on their demotion.
However, an extraordinary run of four consecutive victories pulled Sunderland out of the drop zone and secured survival before the final day. This was a stunning escape by Poyet and his players.
Leicester City (2014/15)
Leicester won promotion to the Premier League in style in 2013/14, racking up more than 100 points in the Championship to seal a return to the top flight. They enjoyed a good start to their first season back, with a 5-3 victory over Manchester United leaving them seventh in the standings after five games.
That proved to be a rare bright spot in the first half of the campaign, though. By Christmas Day, Leicester were bottom of the table and favorites for relegation, with five points separating them from Crystal Palace in 17th place.
Unlike West Brom in 2004/05 and Sunderland in 2013/14, Leicester did not change their manager in 2014/15. Nigel Pearson remained popular at the King Power Stadium despite his side’s struggles, and the board was willing to keep faith in him even if the Foxes fell through the trapdoor.
Leicester’s fate seemed to be sealed with nine games left to play, as a 4-3 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur left them seven points adrift. Remarkably, Pearson’s side won seven of their remaining matches to finish 14th, before carrying that momentum into their title-winning season of 2015/16. You would get some serious money on Sheffield United finishing top of the Premier League next term.
Almost Bottom… Swansea City (2016/17)
Swansea were not 20th in the table when the nation was opening its presents on Christmas Day 2016, but they were above the last place (occupied by Hull City) on goal difference alone. It was a turbulent season for the Swans, who went through three permanent managers yet still managed to retain their place in the division.
Francesco Guidolin was replaced by Bob Bradley in October, but the American head coach lasted only two months in the job. After winning just two games, including a thrilling 5-4 defeat of Crystal Palace, Bradley was dismissed on December 27.
Paul Clement was next through the door. Carlo Ancelotti’s former assistant led Swansea to wins against Liverpool, Southampton, Leicester, and Burnley to keep them in contention. A miserable run from mid-March to mid-April left them in a precarious position, but Swansea ended the season strongly by taking 13 points from the final 15 on offer. That was sufficient for a 15th-place finish – something Sheffield United would gladly settle for right now.