Bottom at Christmas - so can City become lucky number four?

With 21 games for Norwich City to save their season, David Freezer takes a look at some survival stats

David Freezer

David Freezer | 11 Jan 2022, 15:09

The history books offer little encouragement to Norwich City’s survival hopes as the team bottom of the Premier League on Christmas Day – but there is a good omen in the Canaries’ favour. 

Managing a paltry eight goals is a low rarely seen at this stage, with City becoming just the eighth team to not break double figures during the opening 17 games of a Premier League season. Six of those teams were relegated. 

The exception was Everton in 2005-06 after a slow start to the campaign followed impressively finishing fourth the previous season. 

David Moyes’ squad had only scored nine goals but had managed five wins and two draws despite that, so eventually kicked on to finish 11th and comfortably clear of trouble, finishing with 34 goals and 50 points. 

However, the other six all went down. The dreadful Derby team of 2007-08 had only managed six goals and six points from their opening 17, on their way to finishing bottom on the record low of 11 points. 

The Rams also scored a record low – since the top flight’s relaunch in 1992 – of 20 goals during that horrendous campaign, which was matched by Sheffield United last season. 

The Blades had the same as the Canaries currently have, eight goals, but were in a far worse overall position on just two points. Some improvements did arrive but they finished bottom on 23 points, 16 adrift of safety. 

The remaining four teams all had nine goals at this stage and went down, although Manchester City were only relegated on goal difference in 1996 after surging to 33 goals and 33 points. 

Sunderland finished on 21 goals and 19 points as they finished bottom in 2003, 25 points from safety, but Swansea in 2018 and Watford in 2020 both came close to pulling off great escapes only to fall short. 

Assistant to Nigel Pearson at Watford that season was Dean Smith’s right-hand man at City: Craig Shakespeare.  

The Hornets decided to dismiss Pearson and Shakespeare despite being three points above the relegation zone with two games remaining, amid reports of Pearson having an argument with the club’s owner after a 3-1 loss at West Ham during the Project Restart period. 

They had earned five wins and five draws in 21 games but the problem was that the final two matches were against Manchester City and Arsenal, both of which were lost with club legend Hayden Mullins in charge as relegation was confirmed. 

Pearson and Shakespeare had been brought in thanks to their remarkable achievement at Leicester in 2014-15, the season before the Foxes won the Premier League title. 

Their Leicester team became only the third Premier League side to survive after being bottom at Christmas, having only taken 10 points from their opening 17 after promotion – the same situation Norwich are currently in. 

A much better second half of the campaign culminated in winning seven of the final nine to pull off the great escape and join West Brom (2004-05) and Sunderland (2013-14) in avoiding the drop having been bottom at Christmas. 

Pearson was replaced by Claudio Ranieri but Shakespeare remained as assistant for the unforgettable title triumph and then inspired a survival surge of his own when Ranieri was dismissed in February 2017. 

After 3-1 home wins over Liverpool and Leicester, his caretaker status was made permanent. Five wins and two draws from the remaining 11 league games secured safety in 12th place. 

Despite all of the obvious worries after three successive defeats and one goal in five games, City aren’t yet in need of a miracle. 

In spite of their troubles, the Canaries are only bottom on goal difference and are six points adrift of Leeds in 16th with a game in hand. Beat Arsenal on Boxing Day and they could draw level with Watford in that coveted 17th place. 

With players including Mathias Normann and Milot Rashica hoping to return, full focus will be on ending those goal-scoring woes as a starting point in the search for momentum. 

The 26 managed during the relegation of 2019-20 was the lowest goal return in any of City’s 26 seasons in the top flight. Fail to better that total and it very much will be miracle territory. 

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