The Premier League has hosted the most dramatic relegation battles in football history. The 2022/23 season was no different, with the drama delivering until the last kick. Nobody could predict who would be facing the drop, as up to nine teams were named as part of the relegation fight as late as March.
This enthralling relegation battle got football fans talking about relegation battles of the past, where teams secured their Premier League status on the final day.
Clubs involved in this year’s drama looked back to times of salvation for inspiration, with Leeds United clawing themselves out of the bottom three last year, leapfrogging Burnley with a 2-1 win against Brentford on the final day.
Everton were the only team celebrating survival, and the Toffees had found themselves in this relegation predicament many times before. Abdoulaye Doucouré’s volley meant he joined Barry Horne and Gareth Farrelly in the list of Everton players to score final-day wonder goals to keep them in the division.
When thinking of great escapes, neutral fans tend to select West Brom’s in the 2003/04 season, starting the final day bottom of the league but somehow surviving thanks to their 2-0 victory over Portsmouth and other results going in their favour.
Another notable great escape is Bradford’s miraculous survival on a shoestring budget in the 1999/00 season, beating Liverpool 1-0 on the final day thanks to a first-half header from David Wetherall.
However, the 2010/11 season could fall into this same category. Controversy, comebacks, celebrations and calamities, this relegation story has it all.
It had come down to the final day to see who would survive. Wigan and Wolves started the day in the bottom three, with both teams on 39 points. This tally would be enough for survival in every Premier League season afterwards, demonstrating the harsh nature of this survival scrap.
The goal difference was unbelievably close too. Three goals separated 19th to 16th, something never seen before in the Premier League era. Goal difference would be a huge factor in the day, causing teams to panic whilst studying permutations to weigh up risk against reward.
One point was the gap between 19th and 15th, an incredibly small margin which would see every team involved ride the emotional rollercoaster of agony and ecstasy.
The blend of teams down the bottom were interesting, with Premier League new boys Blackpool starting the day in the bottom three alongside experienced escapists, Wigan Athletic.
Birmingham, Wolves and Blackburn sat just above the drop zone, knowing their fate was in their hands. West Ham were too far adrift to save themselves, so it was a five-team shootout.
Manchester United vs Blackpool
Stoke City vs Wigan Athletic
Tottenham Hotspur vs Birmingham City
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Blackburn Rovers
State of play at 4pm
15th Blackburn Rovers PTS 40 GD -14
16th Wolves PTS 40 GD -19
17th Birmingham PTS 39 GD -20
18th Blackpool PTS 39 GD -21
19th Wigan Athletic PTS 39 GD -22
20th West Ham PTS 33 GD -24
It took 21 minutes to see who would blink first, with Manchester United drawing first blood against Blackpool. Ji-Sung Park squirmed through the Blackpool back line, dinking the ball over Matt Gilks to put the champions ahead at Old Trafford.
Elsewhere, Blackburn scored two quick goals against Wolves, with Jason Roberts and Brett Emerton steering Steve Kean’s side closer to safety.
Returning to Old Trafford, Charlie Adam scored a trademark free-kick, curling his long-range strike past Edwin Van der Sar. The goal partnered with Wolves going two goals down meant the Midlands side dropped into the bottom three on goals scored as points and goal difference were now equal.
Mick McCarthy’s situation went from bad to worse, with Junior Hoilett dancing through the Wolves’ defence before firing past Wayne Hennessey to send the travelling Rovers fans delirious. Blackburn now looked safe, with Wolves needing to find multiple goals at Molineux.
Half time scores
Manchester United 1-1 Blackpool
Stoke City 0-0 Wigan Athletic
Tottenham Hotspur 0-0 Birmingham City
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-3 Blackburn Rovers
State of play at 3.45pm
15th Blackburn Rovers PTS 43 GD -11
16th Birmingham PTS 40 GD -20
17th Blackpool PTS 40 GD -21
18th Wolves PTS 40 GD -22
19th Wigan Athletic PTS 40 GD -22
20th West Ham PTS 33 GD -24
The state of play had already changed, with Ian Holloway’s Blackpool now above the drop zone, holding champions Manchester United to a draw. Blackburn were convincingly beating Wolves, whilst Birmingham and Wigan’s matchups were goalless.
The second half commenced, and the first goal scored came at White Hart Lane. Roman Pavlyuchenko curled a delicate shot outside the box over Ben Foster and into the top corner. Pavlyuchenko’s strike placed Birmingham into 19th, meaning Wigan rose a place, and Wolves were out of the bottom three despite losing.
This news also gave Blackpool more hope, partnered with the fact the Tangerines had gone 2-1 up at Old Trafford, with David Vaughan finding Gary Taylor-Fletcher in the United box, losing his marker before sweeping the ball into the bottom corner from close range.
The dream scenario looked to be unfolding for Blackpool, who had been the neutrals’ favourite to say up because of their entertaining style of play, demonstrated by their forward-thinking attitude displayed at the home of the champions, despite the position they found themselves in.
The travelling Tangerines were in dreamland, but this dream would soon evaporate. Five minutes after Blackpool took the lead, Anderson levelled the scoreline, shooting into the top right corner after being allowed to stride into the box unmarked.
Meanwhile, there was still a seismic story to unfold at Molineux. A well-worked free-kick routine saw Stephen Hunt lay the ball off to an unmarked Jamie O’Hara, blasting past Paul Robinson to reduce the deficit on 73 minutes.
Disaster would strike Blackpool at the same time as the Wolves goal, with Ian Evatt slicing a clearance from a Chris Smalling cross into his own net. This condemned Blackpool to 19th spot, an incredibly uphill task for Holloway’s team to overcome.
Wigan’s game was still goalless, but the Evatt own goal meant Roberto Martinez’s Latics went up to 17th place, the first time in the day that Wigan were outside the bottom three.
This joy from the Wigan fans at the Britannia Stadium soon got better on the pitch as Maynor Figueroa’s cross found Hugo Rodellega, heading past Asmir Begović to give Wigan a 78th-minute lead. Wigan had started to get a name for themselves as survival specialists, so it was no surprise that despite the odds not being in their favour, Martinez was conjuring a path to safety. Wigan moved to 16th place, and if their score stayed the same, they would be safe.
A couple of minutes after this goal, there would be a goal at White Hart Lane, an equaliser. A Birmingham corner headed out by Tottenham defenders landed at the feet of Barry Ferguson, whose deflected shot fell to boyhood Birmingham fan Craig Gardner, unleashing a piledriver that landed in the bottom right corner of Carlo Cudicini’s goal, sending the travelling Birmingham fans behind the goal into scenes of ecstasy.
It was visible from all the fan and player celebrations on this day that survival was imperative, a do-or-die situation in which viewers were glued to their seats to see what direction the day would go.
When Gardner scored for Birmingham, the Blues were safe alongside Wigan, with Wolves knowing one more goal would take them out of the bottom three, putting Birmingham back in. This wasn’t because of points or goal difference but on goals scored. That’s how close it was. Broadcasters and fans were scrambling around to place all the permutations together, and even more excitement and drama was about to unfold.
Michael Owen scored United’s fourth goal at Old Trafford, a 4-2 scoreline personifying Blackpool’s gung-ho approach to the Premier League, but ultimately not enough to stay afloat.
The minutes were ticking by, and Wolves still needed one more goal. Then, in the 87th minute, a long kick from Hennessey was nodded down by Steven Fletcher to Hunt, taking a touch with his right foot and scoring with his left as the ball inched past a stationary Robinson. Circumstances would alter again, with Hunt’s goal lifting Wolves above Birmingham to 17th.
News of the late goal filtered through to White Hart Lane, meaning Birmingham had to chuck everybody forward in the hope they could snatch a late winner.
Foster came up for a late corner which evaded everybody, with Spurs hitting Blues on the counterattack. From an identical position to his first goal, Pavlyuchenko would net again, sending Alex McLeish’s Birmingham down to the Championship. These events happened in the same season Birmingham lifted the League Cup and reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, a season that left Blues feeling fatigued in the end.
Pavlyuchenko’s 93rd-minute goal would be the last of the day, closing out a dramatic 90 minutes of highs and lows.
Manchester United 4-2 Blackpool
Stoke City 0-1 Wigan Athletic
Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Birmingham City
Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-3 Blackburn Rovers
State of play at 6pm
15th Blackburn Rovers PTS 43 GD -13
16th Wigan Athletic PTS 42 GD -21
17th Wolves PTS 40 GD -20
18th Birmingham PTS 39 GD -21
19th Blackpool PTS 39 GD -23
20th West Ham PTS 33 GD -27
This final table makes for fascinating reading, with every team from 19th to 16th switching places from the start of the day. The 15 goals in these four decisive games made for entertainment on the final day, with Blackburn, Wigan and Wolves surviving whilst Birmingham and Blackpool went down.
Since this day, neither Birmingham nor Blackpool have returned to the Premier League. Blackburn and Wolves faced relegation the following season and Wigan the season after. Since Blackburn and Wigan’s relegation, both teams have not made it back to the Premier League, even dropping down as far as League One. Wolves faced the same fate but bounced back up to the Premier League in 2018, a league they’ve remained in ever since.
Financial issues have also plagued all of these clubs, incompetence the clubs have paid the price for, with every team involved except Birmingham going down to League One at some stage.
The 2010/11 campaign seems like a lifetime ago, but the intriguing chain of events made for relegation drama that is rarely seen and should be remembered for this.