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How Many Points Will Brighton Need to Avoid Premier League Relegation?

Neil Warnock has never been what you would describe as laid back. The experienced manager goes very much for the stick over the carrot with his management style and won’t accept anything but the best from either his players or the officials. The Cardiff manager may have reached 70 during this season but he is showing no signs of mellowing just yet.

You can only imagine just how angry Warnock was in the away dressing room at Turf Moor during Cardiff’s recent match against Burnley. He would have told his players that the opposition was there for the taking and that doing all they can to push forward for the win was all the more important given that Brighton were losing at home to Bournemouth.

The Cardiff players came out for the second half with their manager’s voice still ringing in their ears. Unfortunately for the travelling Bluebirds fans, it was not enough to motivate them to come back from 1-0 down. They ended up losing the match 2-0 which was a major let off for Brighton who suffered a humiliating 5-0 loss in front of their own fans.

Premier League Relegation Betting Odds on the 16th April 2019

Despite the fact that Brighton’s loss to Bournemouth made it three defeats in a row for Chris Hughton’s men, the bookmakers believe that time is their friend. Cardiff have just five games to bridge the five point gap whilst Brighton have a game in hand thanks to their FA Cup exploits.

IS 40 Points a Requirement?

40 Limit Sign

Managers of teams who go into the Premier League season with the aim of avoiding relegation will usually talk about 40 points being the mark they are aiming for. That is a sensible target for relegation threatened teams to set as it is almost always more than enough to guarantee Premier League football for next season.

In fact, the average amount of points required to stay in the Premier League since it was cut to a 38 game season is 36. If you go strictly on that average, Brighton still have three points to secure but, subject to Cardiff’s form, 33 points could just be enough. Were Brighton to lose all of their remaining matches and retain their place in the top flight it would break the record for the lowest points tally to finish the season outside of the bottom three.

The West Brom team from the 2004/05 season currently hold the record for the fewest points of any team to finish 17th in the Premier League with 34. The end to that season has gone down in Baggies folklore with Bryan Robson somehow managing to engineer a miracle. The situation is very different for Brighton who have dropped like a stone whereas West Brom climbed out of trouble at the expense of Crystal Palace, Norwich and Southampton who finished on 33, 33 and 32 points respectively.

When you look at Brighton’s remaining fixtures there is no doubt the prospect of them not picking up another point is a real one. If that were to happen and Cardiff could somehow do enough to drag themselves to 34 points or more, it would be the fifth time in Premier League history that the 18th placed team finished on 33 points after Wimbledon (1999/00), Leicester (2003/04), Crystal Palace (2004/05) and Norwich (2013/14).

When 40 Points Wasn’t Enough

The 40 point mark as a target for safety is a relic from the earlier days of the Premier League. The three occasions on which 40 points was not enough to avoid the drop came in the first eight years since the top flight became a 20 team league. Sunderland (1996/97) and Bolton (1997/98) both went down with 40 points whilst Everton finished level on points with Bolton that season but stayed up courtesy of their superior goal difference.

League Position 1996/97 Season 1997/98 Season
17th Coventry City 41 points Everton 40 points
18th Sunderland 40 points Bolton 40 points
19th Middlesbrough 39 points Barnsley 35 points
20th N. Forest 34 points Crystal Palace 33 points

West Ham are the only team to be relegated from the Premier League having amassed more than 40 points. Glenn Roeder’s team were the original side labelled ‘too good to go down’ in the 2002/03 season with the likes of Paolo Di Canio, Trevor Sinclair, Frederic Kanoute, Joe Cole and Glen Johnson amongst the squad of players who were relegated with a record total of 42 points.

West Ham’s relegation was only confirmed on the final day of the season because of a fierce relegation battle. It was almost the perfect storm for the Irons with several teams still threatened by the drop going into the last few weeks of the season. Bolton eventually did enough to stay up by winning their final match at home – we all remember Sam Allardyce and Jay-Jay Okocha dancing – which saw them finish 17th with 44 points.

League Position 2002/03 Season
16th Aston Villa 45 points
17th Bolton Wanderers 44 points
18th West Ham United 42 points
19th West Bromwich Albion 26 points
20th Sunderland 19 points

Brighton fans can rest easy that they don’t have a team of the quality of either the 2002/03 Bolton or West Ham breathing down their necks. Cardiff have a rather meagre points tally of 28 from 33 matches. If they continue picking up points at the same rate they’ll end up with 32 points some 12 short of Bolton and 10 even of West Ham 16 years ago. If Brighton do manage to stay up they’ll likely have a substandard level of competition towards the bottom of the Premier League to thank rather than anything the Seagulls have done particularly well this season.

Are Lower Relegation Points Totals Going to Continue?

Downward Trend Arrow Green and Red Split

We’ve already seen that the three biggest points tallies required to stay up in a Premier League season came in the first eight years following the cut to 20 teams. Since West Ham’s relegation in 2002/03 the average points tally for the teams who finished 18th has gone down from 37.3 to 34.7. That’s a fairly significant difference but is the minimum number of points required to finish 17th going to increase or decrease in the coming years?

There is no major trend in the numbers for the most recent seasons. In the five Premier League campaigns between the 2017/18 season and 2013/14 two teams finished in 18th on 33 points, one of 34, one on 35 and one on 37. However, the long term trends suggest that points tallies well below 40 will continue to be the norm. Clearly, it will change on a year by year basis as it is dependent both on the strength of the teams in the relegation battle and of the Premier League as a whole but there are reasons to suggest the trend for lower points will continue.

Chart Showing Points Total of the 18th Placed Premier League Team

It is hard to make too many predictions about the strength of the teams battling at the bottom of the Premier League but there is no doubt that the quality of the Championship is improving all the time as more clubs invest serious money to try and get into the Premier League and the fate of promoted teams is steadily improving.

In the last 10 seasons, two promoted clubs have remained in the Premier League on average. That average goes down to 1.5 for the 13 20-team seasons which came before. That suggests that the teams winning promotion are better equipped for the top flight but the falling average points tally required to finish 17th suggests that the quality of the top half of the league is improving and that there are fewer points on offer for the teams in the relegation shake up.

Of course, it’s not just promoted teams who find themselves in trouble. Indeed, as the quality of the teams coming from the Championship increases the number of established Premier League sides who get into trouble has also increased. The net result of the improved quality of teams, players and managers in the Premier League has been that the bottom half teams struggle to pick up as many points as in years gone by so don’t expect to see any team relegated with 40 points or more in the years to come.