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Greatest last-day relegation escapes in PL history

Alex Keble 28 May 2023

Alex Keble looks back on the most dramatic final days as we preview another exciting conclusion

Everyone loves a relegation fight that goes right to the wire, complete with nerve-jangling position swaps throughout the final day as clubs dance above and below the dotted line.

So it might come as a surprise to learn that only seven times in the Premier League’s 30-year history have a team starting the final day in the relegation zone hauled themselves up to safety by the final whistles.

Perhaps the feat is rare because being 17th or above on Matchweek 38 means the narrative is within your control, simplifying the task and focusing minds, whereas those requiring certain permutations that are out of their hands face an uphill battle psychologically.

That’s certainly the case for the three clubs hoping to avoid relegation this Sunday.

The fact that the bottom three has only ever changed seven times on the final day may provide some relief to Everton supporters but anxiety for fans of Leeds United and Leicester City, both of whom must win their respective matches against Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United - and hope the Toffees drop points against AFC Bournemouth - if they are to stay up.

Then again Leeds fans know what’s possible. They are the most recent of the seven, jumping above Burnley this time last year in a dramatic finale at Brentford.

Let’s start here, as we look back at the last-day great escapes in reverse chronological order:


Leeds and Burnley were level on points on the final day in 2021/22 but Burnley’s superior goal difference put them in 17th and in the driving seat, as did a supposedly simpler task: they had mid-table Newcastle United at Turf Moor whereas Leeds travelled to a Brentford side who had won back-to-back matches.

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Burnley interim manager Michael Jackson had overseen three wins from three after taking over from Sean Dyche in April, but the spark had gone and by the last match at Turf Moor, Burnley had claimed one point from nine.

After 19 minutes a moment of madness, of sheer panic, took place when Nathan Collins handled the ball in the area to gift Newcastle the lead, before Callum Wilson scored his second of the afternoon from open play on the hour mark.

It was at around the same time that over at Brentford, Raphinha converted a penalty to put Leeds 1-0 up and three points clear of Burnley. That, it seemed, would be that.

There was further symmetry, and another twist, when Maxwel Cornet got one back for Burnley in the 69th minute and Sergi Canos equalised for Brentford, meaning just one more goal for the home side at Turf Moor would put Leeds back in the bottom three.

No goals were scored in the next 20. The minutes must have felt like hours. And then, right at the death, Jack Harrison scored a 94th-minute winner to spark wild scenes in the away end at the Gtech Community Stadium, captured in that iconic photo of Raphinha celebrating with the Leeds fans. 

Raphinha, Leeds

One of the most dramatic escapes came in one of the craziest years for the Premier League relegation battle. On the final weekend of the 2010/11 season five clubs, between 15th and 19th, were separated by just a single point.

Few thought Wigan Athletic, starting the day in 19th, would be one of the ones staying up. Roberto Martinez’s side had been rooted to the foot of the table for the vast majority of the campaign but, having come back from 2-0 down to beat West Ham with a 94th-minute winner the previous weekend, Wigan had a fighting chance.

They knew a win would probably do it. Wolverhampton Wanderers (16th) faced Blackburn Rovers (15th) in a six-pointer, while Birmingham City (17th) travelled to Spurs and Blackpool (18th) were at Old Trafford, and ultimately it was the two teams with the toughest matches who went down.

Blackpool were 2-1 up at Manchester United on the hour-mark, only for their dream to fade as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side relegated them with a 4-2 win. At White Hart Lane, a 92nd-minute winner from Roman Pavlyuchenko sent Birmingham into the Championship. 

It turned out that Wigan only needed a draw, but a Hugo Rodallega strike sealed victory at Stoke to make it 11 points from their final six matches: a fairytale ending without which Wigan would surely not have gone on to win the FA Cup two years later.


The 2010/11 season was not Wigan’s first flirtation with the drop. Their first came in what was one of the purest relegation six-pointers we’ve seen.

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Sheffield United were three points above 18th-placed Wigan on the final day when the teams went head-to-head at Bramall Lane, and with their goal differences just one apart, any victory for the visitors would be enough to squeeze above their hosts.

Wigan’s shock finish in 10th in their inaugural top-flight season in 2005/06 was among the most stunning achievements in Premier League history but second-season syndrome had left Paul Jewell’s side on the brink.

Few expected them to get the job done at Sheffield United, having failed to win any of their previous eight matches, but a penalty by former Sheff Utd player David Unsworth in first-half stoppage time was enough to take the points. A frantic and nervy second half, culminating in a red card for Lee McCulloch, could easily have led to the Blades grabbing an equaliser, but Wigan held on.

There was still a route to safety for Sheff Utd if West Ham had lost at Man Utd, but a goal for Carloz Tevez earned the Hammers the win.


At the halfway point of the 2004/05 season West Bromwich Albion were bottom of the league with 10 points. They were bottom at Christmas and no team in that position had yet navigated a path to safety.

By the time they faced Portsmouth on the final day Bryan Robson’s side had scrabbled together 30 points but, rock bottom and winless in six matches, it looked too little, too late.

West Brom are the only team in Premier League history to start the final weekend in 20th and stay up, and with good reason: they needed four separate results to go their way. Implausibly, they did, with Norwich City, Crystal Palace, and Southampton all failing to win and therefore all finishing below the Baggies.

The day was not particularly dramatic, though it had its moments. Southampton took the lead at home to Man Utd within 10 minutes courtesy of a John O’Shea own goal, although the visitors were level shortly after and went on to win 2-1.

Palace led 2-1 at Charlton until an 82nd-minute equaliser from Jonathan Fortune, from which they could not recover. Meanwhile, Norwich had a disaster, losing 6-0 at Fulham.

It opened the door for West Brom. The hero was substitute Geoff Horsfield, who scored a brilliant volley before backheeling an assist for Kieran Richardson to provide the cushion. 


The relegation picture was very simple on the last day of Bradford City’s first year in the Premier League. With just one place in the bottom three left and only two clubs in contention, Bradford were level with Wimbledon on 33 points – but it looked as if they needed a miracle to stay up, given the quality of their opponents at Valley Parade.

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Yet it was Wimbledon who dropped out, never to return, thanks to Bradford’s remarkable 1-0 win against UEFA Champions League-chasing Liverpool, who were denied a place in Europe's premier competition by a stubborn defensive performance from the hosts.

Bradford, buoyed by winning seven points from their previous four matches, took the lead early on through David Wetherall and somehow clung on, whereas Wimbledon conceded twice in the second half to go down 2-0 at Southampton.

It remains one of the most impressive late-season rallies in Premier League history, and although Bradford would be relegated the following year their manager Jewell would perform a similar escapology act at Wigan seven years later.


Considering the rarity of the feat in question it is hardly surprising that Everton are the only side to have climbed out of the bottom three on the last day without actually winning. It was, all in all, an anticlimactic day.

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With one match remaining only Everton and Bolton Wanderers were still in a battle against the drop, and although Bolton had a one-point advantage their significantly tougher fixture made them favourites to go down.

Sure enough, Bolton limped to a 2-0 defeat at Chelsea (who were guaranteed fourth), but still Everton almost made a meal of their home match against mid-table Coventry City.

Gareth Farrelly gave Everton the lead in the seventh minute and things were going smoothly enough, before Dion Dublin’s goal in the 89th minute suddenly put the hosts in a difficult position. Another Coventry goal would have sent the Toffees down.

It remains the closest that the ever-present Everton have come to being relegated – until this Sunday, that is.


Like in 2022/23, there were three clubs – Coventry, Sunderland and Middlesbrough – hoping to avoid the two remaining relegation spots on the closing day of the 1996/97 season, and despite being 19th at the start of play, Coventry were the only victors, leapfrogging both their rivals.

Sunderland were beaten 1-0 by Wimbledon with a late Jason Euell goal and Middlesbrough came from behind to draw 1-1 with Leeds, but in neither match were the relegation-threatened side ever really in control of proceedings.

Coventry, by contrast, took the game to Spurs and were rewarded with a famous 2-1 win that came, coincidentally, just five days short of the 10-year anniversary of their 3-2 win against the same opponents in the 1987 FA Cup final.

Strikes from Dublin and Paul Williams gave Coventry a 2-0 lead, the goals – typical of a Gordon Strachan team – both coming from corners, and, despite Paul McVeigh pulling one back, Coventry were able to hang on through some anxious final minutes.


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