Saints Alive

Ralph Hassenhüttl did not mince his words after the 9-0 shellacking Southampton suffered at Old Trafford on Tuesday. “We lost again in a horrible way,” the Austrian admitted, after this nightmarish déjà vu came back to haunt his team, having been similarly humbled at home by Leicester last season.  “The same story, one man down early and so 90 minutes can be long,” Hassenhüttl added wearily before striking a note of defiance. “But the team is a different one now. Let’s see how the season ends.”

The manager is justified in pointing out that Southampton are not facing the same situation as they were after that Leicester defeat in October 2019, when the expectation was that there was no future for him at St. Marys. His imminent departure was anticipated  with the Saints in the relegation places after 10 games. Next up they had the daunting task of being away to champions Manchester City, where they had the temerity to take the lead but having lost to a late Kyle Walker goal they had restored their self-respect. 

Slowly but surely they climbed away from the bottom of the table, eventually ending up in a comfortable 11th position on 52 points, 18 clear of trouble. They actually collected more points from their remaining 28 games than their conquerors that night, Leicester and indeed only six clubs secured more over that period. After Tuesday’s hammering they are 12th with 29 points and with odds of 500/1 on being relegated; clearly the bookmakers do not envisage a meltdown.

History also offers their battered morale some hope as clubs that suffer the heaviest defeat of the season very rarely go down. As you can see from the chart below in the last sixteen seasons, there have been only three occasions when the club that has lost by the largest margin have been relegated – Norwich in 2013/14 who finished 18th, Aston Villa in 2015/16 who finished 20th and the following year Hull City who finished 18th.

In contrast to this trio, there have been three seasons in Premier League history when the clubs suffering the biggest loss have actually finished as high as third in the final table. In the very first year of the Premier League Norwich were the early pace setters and after 10 games were top the table. On 3rd October the league leaders travelled to Ewood Park to face second-placed Blackburn Rovers who beat them 7-1. 

Despite this jolt to the system Norwich still ended up third and in the process qualified for Europe the next season where they achieved something that very few English clubs have ever accomplished by beating Bayern Munich away. Strangely the Canaries ended the 1992/93 season with a negative goal difference of -4, setting a Premier League record that has never been emulated, in reaching the highest position by a club that has conceded more goals than they have scored.  

In 2011/12, just like Southampton this week, Arsenal came unstuck at Old Trafford going down 8-2 in only their third game of the season but they recovered to finish the season behind only the two Manchester clubs albeit by a pretty massive gap of 19 points. In their other 37 matches Arsenal conceded 41 goals, with a positive goal difference of +25. It was a similar story for Chelsea in 2018/19 who were also on the wrong end of a drubbing in Manchester when losing 6-0 to eventual champions City. They also had a decent goal difference of +24, conceding 33 in their other 37 games, at the rate of less than a goal per game. 

Added to these notable three, there have been four clubs that have reached the top half of the Premier League table when recording the biggest loss. In 1995/96 Nottingham Forest lost 7-0 to Blackburn Rovers and finished 9th; in 2001/02 West Ham lost 7-1 to Blackburn and finished 7th while in 2004/05 Everton lost 7-0 to Arsenal and finished 4th, which remains their highest Premier League position. The last of this quartet are Manchester City who finished ninth but were humbled 8-1 by Middlesbrough on the final day of the 2007/08 season, in what turned out to be Sven Göran Eriksson’s last game.

Assuming no other team suffers a worse defeat than Southampton this season they will have the dubious honour of becoming the first club to record the heaviest defeats in three different Premier League seasons. Their other one was in 1996/97 when losing 7-1 at Goodison Park, but at least they shared the ignominy that season as Tottenham were also thumped 7-1 by Newcastle. Southampton finished 16th while Spurs were tenth, so yet again proving that the club who suffers the worst defeat will more often than not survive. 

Over all Premier League seasons the club with the worst loss has finished a respectable fourteenth on average and only a third of those teams have gone down. So as Hassenhüttl rallies his players for their next game at Newcastle, as well as the remainder of the season, he can be relatively safe in the knowledge that the 9-0 loss will be viewed in isolation rather than a catalyst for disastrous slide down the table.   

Published by richardfoster60

Author, broadcaster, historian, journalist. A regular contributor to the Guardian, Sky Sports and talkSPORT, my latest book is highly acclaimed Premier League Nuggets - "brilliantly written" - Darren Fletcher, "I love Premier League Nuggets" - Guy Mowbray, "the book is a labour of love" - Peter Drury.

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