Relegation. Some see it as a severe setback to a club’s masterplan. Others see it as an opportunity for renewal and a chance to arrest the rot inside a club. Whatever spin is put on it, the fact is that all relegated clubs need to readjust their sights quickly when considering their new surroundings. While league tables lack any real meaning until at least ten games have been played, can we find any clues as to who is coping most adeptly after the first four league games?
Burnley, so prudently marshalled to promotion by Sean Dyche in 13/14, have reacted to relegation and losing Danny Ings, Jason Shackell and Kieran Trippier by being the club who took the definitive bite on Andre Gray at his ludicrous asking price. A muted start, two draws and a loss, before Saturday’s win over Gray’s former employers Brentford sees the Clarets the lowest placed of the three relegated clubs currently. Dyche’s experience of seeing them to promotion previously, coupled with a still strong squad plus Gray, who – however overpriced – will score goals, should see Burnley somewhere near the top six come May.
Steve Bruce, a man who has previously guided Birmingham and Hull safely out of the Championship, is attempting to refashion a team at the KC to repeat their 2012/13 elevation. Exciting additions Moses Odubajo and Sam Clucas seem to have added fresh impetus to a squad that never seemed to recover mentally from throwing away a 2-0 lead in the 2013/14 FA Cup final. Two wins out of two at home so far, plus a solid draw at Wolves, suggests that Bruce has rebooted the Tigers’ resilience.
The circus that is Queen’s Park Rangers has taken on a more serene air since solid citizen Chris Ramsey took charge – his plain-speaking manner serving as a more reassuring commentary for Rs fans. Their start has been solid, an impressive comeback win at Wolves serving as a springboard for Saturday’s win over Rotherham. However, a continued heavy reliance on Charlie Austin for goals and a defence that has shipped eight goals in four games, are both huge causes for concern. If Austin leaves, the defensive problem suddenly looks an even bigger issue. A year of consolidation while Ramsey turns this outfit into his team might be in order before QPR can have another crack.
Two of the clubs relegated from the Championship into League One – Millwall and Wigan – are in a similar situation. These two clubs contested the final of the JPT’s forerunner, the Auto Windscreens Shield, as residents of this division in 1999. They now both find themselves back at this level with inexperienced club legends in charge and expectations of strong performance coming from the bookies. Both have one win and four points from four league games, a return that serves as a reality check to anybody who expected either to streak away with immediate effect.
Gary Caldwell at Wigan might be feeling the pressure of his team’s indifferent start more than Neil Harris is at the Den. Lions fans have largely been in agreement all summer that an immediate return to the Championship is unrealistic given the large scale rebuilding job, involving some very green youngsters, that Harris is attempting. Wigan fans, having seen proven League One performers like Will Grigg and Craig Morgan join, might feel entitled to expect a better start. However, Caldwell has signed 15 new players; any squad with that many new faces takes time to gel. For that reason, the Latics may have to make do with consolidation this time.
Fans of both clubs can at least be content that their clubs are not Blackpool. It is pointless discussing the Tangerines’ on-pitch exploits; their one point from four sees them bottom of the table already – a position they look likely to occupy all season given the extent to which the club has been engulfed by its off-field travails.
In League Two, Orient’s 100% start is slightly unexpected, given the shambolic circumstances surrounding their relegation last season. However, their Italian owners appear to have learned from the disastrous managerial appointments of last season. Ian Hendon, a club legend and a highly regarded coach, has the air of a man who can get the most out of a squad who, on paper, should be strong challengers. Notts County and Crawley are two clubs who have had their share of upheaval recently, which is possibly reflected by the indifferent starts they have made. Both should have enough quality to keep away from the trapdoor, but uneven seasons seem to be in the offing.
Yeovil’s consecutive relegations were followed by three losses from their first three games, before they finally broke their duck on Saturday against a Luton side who have issues with conceding late goals. An unwanted hat-trick of relegations at Huish Park seems eminently avoidable, but it is clear from their start that a period of recalibration after flying too close to the sun is the order of the day.
Do you think any of the relegated clubs have what it takes to bounce straight back? What do you make of your own club’s start?
Follow Tom at @TallulahonEarth