Play-off winners are no longer at a disadvantage
Before this decade, the Championship play-off trophy might as well have come emblazoned with the words “one season wonders”. Six of the eight victors between 2003 and 2010 made an instant return to the Football League, with West Ham and 2008/09 final-day survivors Hull the mould-breakers.
However, the trend has flipped fully since to the extent that QPR’s relegation less than 12 months on from Wembley delirium was very much the exception. Their three predecessors – Swansea, West Ham and Crystal Palace – not just stayed up but prospered, finishing 11th, tenth and 11th respectively.
They have recent Premier League experience
Most of the play-off winners who fail to achieve any longevity are surprise success stories that have never been in the Premier League before like Burnley in 2009/10 and Blackpool in 2010/11. Norwich were there as recently as last year and were a mid-table team for two years before their demotion.
They did a good job keeping their squad together after going down too, with Robert Snodgrass and Leroy Fer the only ones to leave permanently for better things, and even those “better things” turned out to be dropping down a division all over again with Hull and QPR respectively.
In terms of retaining a solid spine and adding to it, they acted similarly to West Ham in 2011/12 and, when the Irons belatedly made it up through the play-offs, they followed it with a top-half finish in the top tier. Norwich ranked 12th in their first post-promotion campaign last time – missing out on tenth on goal difference – and on that occasion they had come all the way from League One.
The other point to make on this subject is that they have done the hard bit now in getting back up at the first attempt – something just five of their 21 predecessors in the past seven years managed. Four of those did more than cling on once they got back, placing 12th or higher with 46-plus points. QPR this term were again the exception to the established formula.
The manager is a master of adaptation
Norwich’s promotion is a narrative in which 33-year-old boss Alex Neil is the undisputed protagonist. His managerial career started a mere 25 months ago at Scottish Championship side Hamilton, who he guided to the Premiership in his first full season in the dugout.
How did they do on arrival at a level that they hadn’t played since 2011 and Neil had never filled out a teamsheet in before? Fantastically. The Accies set the early pace courtesy of seven wins and two draws in their first ten games. Naturally, one of those was against champions Celtic at Celtic Park.
They were still third, four points off the top after 20 matches, when Neil moved on for Norwich in January, and he cracked the English Championship every bit as easily as its Scottish equivalent.
The first ten fixtures delivered eight triumphs – two of them away to the eventual top two – and a draw, and took the most points of any second-tier club during his 22 regular season encounters, climbing from seventh to third before bossing the play-offs.
Having been an immediate hit in three different leagues at such a young age, who could argue against him doing it all again in a fourth?
Do you agree? If so, Norwich are [2.5] favourites to be the top-performing promoted side in 2015/16. If you aren’t so sure, they are [2.2] to be relegated.