Longest Pointless Starts in the Premier League

Shattered Football Pattern ZeroThe Premier League is considered to be the toughest division in world football, with all clubs able to take points off the others if the circumstances are right. It attracts the best players in the world and has seen the likes of Jürgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti manage in the division at one point or another.

During the Klopp v Guardiola era at Liverpool and Manchester City respectively, the title winning club would have to break 90 points if it were to have even a hope of winning the title, whilst there were several occasions on which both teams did exactly that, with only one of them able to lift the trophy.

If teams at the top are hovering up all the points, of course, then it means that those at the bottom are more likely to be struggling to get any. There have been some genuinely dreadful sides that have made their way into the top-flight over the years, with the play-off system meaning that the club that finishes sixth in the Championship could still be promoted if they play just a couple of good games or results go there way. The result of this is that some sides come in the Premier League and struggle to cope with the standard of football being played, waiting weeks to get even so much as a draw on the board. The question is, which sides have waited the longest?

Quick Answer: Which Teams Have Had the Longest Pointless Starts to a Premier League Season?

The record for the longest pointless start to a Premier League season is jointly held by Portsmouth in 2009-10 and Crystal Palace in 2017-18 who both lost their first seven games of those campaigns. Portsmouth were relegated in 2009-10 but Crystal Palace recovered to stay in the Premier League.

What We’re Talking About

Premier League Form Guide Table

In the Premier League, a side is awarded three points for a win and one point if they draw a match. The number of goals that are scored and conceded is irrelevant in terms of points being given, even if it might end up being relevant at the end of the season. The nature of the fixture list is such that teams can endure genuinely difficult starts to the season, failing to either get a draw or achieve a win at the beginning of the campaign. If this is the case, they will have zero points on the board until they manage to either win or draw in a game, at which point their pointless start will be be over and they’ll have a point on the table.

You might think that a team with an incredibly long pointless run might struggle to remain in the Premier League, with the other sides in the division pulling away from them. In reality, however, the competitive nature of the English top-flight us such that other teams might be doing marginally better than the pointless starters, but still within touch of them once they get going with some points on the board. What we’re looking for is information about the sides that have gone for the longest period of time in terms of weeks, months and games at the start of the season without being able to add a point to their tally in the Premier League table.

Looking at the Pointless Starters

Having established what it is that we’re looking at, here is a look at the teams that have gone the longest amount of time without getting a point in the Premier League. We will look at how long they went in terms of games as well as days, plus whether or not they managed to stay up at the end of the season:

Longest Pointless Premier League Starts – 1992/93 to 2023/24

Team Season Matches Days Relegated?
Portsmouth 2009-2010 7 49
Crystal Palace 2017-2018 7 63
Norwich City 2021-2022 6 49
Southampton 1998-1999 5 34
Sunderland 2005-2006 5 35
Swindon Town 1993-1994 4 14
Aston Villa 1997-1998 4 21
Middlesbrough 2001-2002 4 28
West Ham United 2010-2011 4 35
Southampton 2012-2013 4 34
Bournemouth 2017-2018 4 34
West Ham United 2018-2019 4 35
Sheffield United 2020-2021 4 34
Fulham 2020-2021 4 34
Luton Town 2023-2024 4 42 TBD

It is fair to say that the results are mixed in terms of whether or not a team that endures a poor start to the season is able to remain in the top-flight at the end of the campaign. Portsmouth and Crystal Palace both lost their opening seven games of the season, but one survived whilst the other got relegated.

Ten sides lost their opening four games, with four of them being relegated and five surviving, whilst Luton Town’s outcome at the end of the 2023-24 season is unknown at the time of writing.

Taking a Closer Look

Now that we know which teams have struggled to get points on the board in the Premier League at the start of the season, it is worth taking a closer look at each of their campaigns to see how things played out, apart from the Luton Town campaign that we don’t know how it ended at the time of writing:

Portsmouth, 2009-10: 7 Pointless Games

Match Date Opponent Result
1 15/8/2009 Fulham (H) 1-0 loss
2 19/8/2009 Birmingham City (A) 1-0 loss
3 22/8/2009 Arsenal (A) 4-1 loss
4 30/8/2009 Manchester City (H) 1-0 loss
5 12/9/2009 Bolton Wanderers (H) 3-2 loss
6 19/9/2009 Aston Villa (A) 2-0 loss
7 26/9/2009 Everton (H) 1-0 loss

The 2009-10 campaign was actually Portsmouth’s seventh consecutive season in the English top-flight, so supporters might well have expected the club to know what it was doing by that stage. Having finished 14th in the division the year before, after Harry Redknapp was brought in to replace Tony Adams, Pompey fans were dreaming of a top-half finish. Avram Grant had come in to replace Redknapp, overseeing losses to Fulham, Birmingham City, Arsenal, Manchester City, Bolton Wanderers, Aston Villa and Everton, with only wins in the League Cup offering some respite as they conceded 13 and scored just three goals as they got relegated.

Crystal Palace, 2017-18: 7 Pointless Games

Match Date Opponent Result
1 12/8/2017 Huddersfield Town (H) 3-0 loss
2 19/8/2017 Liverpool (A) 1-0 loss
3 26/8/2017 Swansea City (H) 2-0 loss
4 10/9/2017 Burnley (A) 1-0 loss
5 16/9/2017 Southampton (H) 1-0 loss
6 22/9/2017 Manchester City (A) 5-0 loss
7 30/9/2017 Manchester United (A) 4-0 loss

Crystal Palace had been in the Premier League for four consecutive seasons by the time the 2017-18 campaign got underway, finishing 14th the year before. That was thanks to Sam Allardyce coming in after a poor start by Alan Pardew, with Frank de Boer given the job in the summer. Palace lost to Huddersfield Town, Liverpool, Swansea City, Burnley, Southampton, Manchester City and Manchester United, not only conceding 17 times but also failing to score a goal of their own. Little wonder Steve Parish decided to sack the Dutchman, appointing Roy Hodgson instead. He did a brilliant job and they finished 11th.

Norwich City, 2021-22: 6 Pointless Games

Match Date Opponent Result
1 14/8/2021 Liverpool (H) 3-0 loss
2 21/8/2021 Manchester City (A) 5-0 loss
3 28/8/2021 Leicester City (H) 2-1 loss
4 11/9/2021 Arsenal (A) 1-0 loss
5 18/9/2021 Watford (H) 3-1 loss
6 25/9/2021 Everton (A) 2-0 loss

The Canaries had been yo-yoing between the Premier League and the Championship for a few years when the 2021-22 campaign got underway, so it would be untrue to suggest that their fans expected the club to stay up comfortably at the end of the season. Even so, they might have been holding out hope for at least a point in the first month or so of play. Instead, defeats to Liverpool, Manchester City, Leicester City, Arsenal, Watford and Everton meant that Norwich City were rock bottom. They had conceded 16 times and only scored twice. A change of manager in November couldn’t help them avoid relegation.

Southampton, 1998-1999: 5 Pointless Games

Match Date Opponent Result
1 16/8/1998 Liverpool (H) 2-1 loss
2 22/8/1998 Charlton Athletic (A) 5-0 loss
3 29/8/1998 Nottingham Forest (H) 2-1 loss
4 8/9/1998 Leeds United (A) 3-0 loss
5 12/9/1998 Newcastle United (A) 4-0 loss

Having finished 12th under Dave Jones the year before, Saints fans might well have wondered whether they had an outside chance of Europe under him in the August of 1998. A 2-1 loss to Liverpool won’t have been too concerning, but when newly promoted Charlton Athletic won 5-0 in game week two it properly set alarm bells ringing. They lost another three after that to Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Newcastle United in what was a miserable start to the season. They eventually got a draw with Tottenham Hotspur on the 19th of September, but swiftly lost their next two. They did survive, though, finishing 17th by five points.

Sunderland 2005-06: 5 Pointless Games

Match Date Opponent Result
1 13/8/2005 Charlton Athletic (H) 3-1 loss
2 20/8/2005 Liverpool (A) 1-0 loss
3 23/8/2005 Manchester City (H) 2-1 loss
4 27/8/2005 Wigan Athletic (A) 1-0 loss
5 10/9/2005 Chelsea (A) 2-0 loss

Having won the Championship with 94 points, Sunderland fans would’ve been forgiven for thinking that they could at least have a go at finishing in the top-half of the Premier League. An opening day loss to Charlton Athletic was followed up with defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City to cause a big re-think. When two more losses to Wigan Athletic and Chelsea also happened there will have been a sense of panic in the corridors of power at the Stadium of Light. Remarkably, Mick McCarthy stayed in position until the middle of February and Kevin Ball was up against as caretaker, with the club eventually being relegated.

Swindon Town, 1993-94: 4 Pointless Games

Match Date Opponent Result
1 14/8/1993 Sheffield United (A) 3-1 loss
2 18/8/1993 Oldham Athletic (H) 1-0 loss
3 22/8/1993 Liverpool (H) 5-0 loss
4 25/8/1993 Southampton (A) 5-1 loss

If everyone is being honest, clubs like Swindon Town don’t tend to be thought of as Premier League sides and with good reason. They made it into the Premier League after finishing fifth in what was then the First Division, making it up through the play-offs. An opening day defeat to Sheffield United set the tone for what was to follow, with defeats also coming against Oldham Athletic, Liverpool and Southampton. The club’s first point was against Norwich City, then they lost to Manchester City. Saints’ first win didn’t come until the 24th of November when they best Queens Park Rangers 1-0, unsurprisingly finishing bottom.

Aston Villa, 1997-98: 4 Pointless Games

Match Date Opponent Result
1 9/8/1997 Leicester City (A) 1-0 loss
2 13/8/1997 Blackburn Rovers (H) 4-0 loss
3 23/8/1997 Newcastle United (A) 1-0 loss
4 27/8/1997 Tottenham Hotspur (A) 3-2 loss

When Alex Ferguson arrived at Manchester United, the club had won the same number of top-flight tiles and European Cups as Aston Villa. It says something about the Scot’s ability as a football manager that the 1997-98 season saw United trying to win their fifth title whilst Villa’s season began with defeats to Leicester City, Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur. There was an upturn in form from then on, though, although the Villains remained in danger of relegation until Brian Little was sacked and replaced by John Gregory. He was a revelation, eventually taking the club to a seventh-place finish.

Middlesbrough 2001-02: 4 Pointless Games

Match Date Opponent Result
1 18/8/2001 Arsenal (H) 4-0 loss
2 21/8/2001 Bolton Wanderers (A) 1-0 loss
3 25/8/2001 Everton (A) 2-0 loss
4 8/9/2001 Newcastle United (H) 4-1 loss

Middlesbrough had seen Bryan Robson and Terry Venables act as joint managers for a period in the previous season, finishing 14th. That was somewhat misleading, however, given that they were one of four teams that ended the season on 42 points. The 2001-02 campaign began with back-to-back defeats to Arsenal, Bolton Wanderers, Everton and Newcastle United, with some questioning new manager Steve McClaren’s ability to get them out of the muck. In the end, the club finished in a comfortable 12th position, all whilst making it to the semi-final of the FA Cup, which is impressive after one of the worse starts on record.

West Ham United 2010-11: 4 Pointless Games

Match Date Opponent Result
1 14/8/2010 Aston Villa (H) 3-0 loss
2 21/8/2010 Bolton Wanderers (H) 3-1 loss
3 28/8/2010 Manchester United (A) 3-0 loss
4 11/9/2010 Chelsea (H) 3-1 loss

The Hammers appear on this list twice, with Southampton being the only other club with that honour. The manager, Avram Grant, also appears here twice, having been responsible for Portsmouth’s dreadful start to the 2009-10 campaign. West Ham lost to Aston Villa, Bolton Wanderers, Manchester United and Chelsea, conceding 12 times and scoring just twice. For some reason, the Hammers stuck with Grant until the 15th of May, with the end of the season begin even worse than the start as they lost seven times out of their last eight matches. Unsurprisingly they were relegated at the very bottom of the table.

Southampton 2012-13: 4 Pointless Games

Match Date Opponent Result
1 19/8/2012 Manchester City (A) 3-2 loss
2 25/8/2012 Wigan Athletic (H) 2-0 loss
3 2/9/2012 Manchester United (H) 3-2 loss
4 15/9/2012 Arsenal (A) 6-1 loss

Southampton’s second appearance in our list of pointless starts to the Premier League saw the club in the top-flight thanks to a second-place finish in the Championship the year before. A tough start to the season saw them play Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal in the first four matches, with a game against Wigan Athletic coming in there too. They conceded 14 goals in the opening four matches of the campaign, including a 6-1 defeat to the Gunners, scoring five times. Nigel Adkins was sacked in the January with the club toying with relegation, but eventually finished 14th under Mauricio Pochettino.

Bournemouth 2017-18: 4 Pointless Games

Match Date Opponent Result
1 12/8/2017 West Bromwich Albion (A) 1-0 loss
2 19/8/2017 Watford (H) 2-0 loss
3 26/8/2017 Manchester City (H) 2-1 loss
4 9/9/2017 Arsenal (A) 3-0 loss

The 2017-2018 season was Bournemouth’s eighth consecutive one in the top-flight, so everyone knew what to expect from one of the toughest divisions in the world. It is why there was no panic from the owners when Eddie Howe oversaw defeats to West Bromwich Albion, Watford, Manchester City and Arsenal in the club’s first four matches of the season. A win was eventually found over Brighton & Hove Albion, with three losses in their next five following. Even so, the Cherries were able to get enough wins on the board to mean that they were able to finish in 12th come the end of the season, 11 pints clear of relegation.

West Ham United 2018-19: 4 Pointless Games

Match Date Opponent Result
1 12/8/2018 Liverpool (A) 4-0 loss
2 18/8/2018 Bournemouth (H) 2-1 loss
3 25/8/2018 Arsenal (A) 3-1 loss
4 1/9/2018 Wolverhampton Wanderers (H) 1-0 loss

West Ham United’s second appearance here came in 2018-19, with the Hammers having finished 13th the season before. As Manchester City and Liverpool were battling it out at the top of the table, getting 98 and 97 points respectively, former City Manager Manuel Pellegrini oversaw West Ham’s joint-worst start to a campaign. They lost 4-0 to title-challenging Liverpool on the opening day of the season, losing 2-1 to Bournemouth and 3-1 to Arsenal in the games that followed before also falling to a 1-0 loss against Wolverhampton Wanderers. They did get back on track, though, eventually finishing 10th.

Sheffield United 2020-21: 4 Pointless Games

Match Date Opponent Result
1 14/9/2020 Wolverhampton Wanderers (H) 2-0 loss
2 21/9/2020 Aston Villa (A) 1-0 loss
3 27/9/2020 Leeds United (H) 1-0 loss
4 4/10/2020 Arsenal (A) 2-1 loss

In terms of bad starts to the season, 2020-2021 saw two clubs struggling enough to make the list. Sheffield United were expected to do well, having finished the previous season in the top-flight in ninth place. The season began with a defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers, before defeats to Aston Villa, Leeds United and Arsenal followed. A draw with Fulham briefly stopped the rot, but the Blades lost 11 of their next 12 to all but cement their place at the bottom of the table. It was something of a binary season for them, with just two draws across the 38 games on their way to 29 losses and a 20th-place finish.

Fulham 2020-21: 4 Pointless Games

Match Date Opponent Result
1 12/9/2020 Arsenal (H) 3-0 loss
2 19/9/2020 Leeds United (A) 4-3 loss
3 28/9/2020 Aston Villa (H) 3-0 loss
4 4/10/2020 Wolverhampton Wanderers (A) 1-0 loss

The only good news for Sheffield United as far as the 2020-21 campaign is concerned is that they weren’t the only poorly performing side. Fulham also began with four straight defeats, with Scott Parker’s side losing to Arsenal, Leeds United, Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers. It’s interesting that it was Sheffield United that they stopped the rot against, showing that both teams were poor rather than doing well to get the draw. The end of the campaign was nearly as bad as the start for Fulham, losing nine of their last twelve before finishing the season in 18th, 11 points shy of safety and dropping back into the Championship.