Relegation Battle: Why the Drop May Not Be the Catastrophe Tearful Fans Think It Is

The emotional scenes are inevitable. They happen year after year on these warm May days. Cameras scan stadiums looking for the flushed faces, for the tears, for the parent consoling the inconsolable child, for those whose hearts have been broken by relegation.

Stoke City are already down. West Brom are on their way, their fate possibly sealed on Tuesday night without even kicking a ball, as victory for either Swansea City or Southampton will condemn the Baggies to the drop. But neither of those sides are safe either.

While neither team will be relegated at the Liberty Stadium, defeat could have dire consequences heading into the final day of the season.

They are level on points, with Swansea's goal difference the only thing keeping their head above water in 17th place. Both teams do have a get-out-of-jail-free card, but the chances are slim.

Erik Pieters
Erik Pieters at Bet 365 Stadium, Stoke, England, May 5. Nigel Roddis/Getty

Huddersfield's surprise draw with champions Manchester City took David Wagner's team up to 36 points, three clear of Southampton and Swansea with two games remaining.

They travel to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea on Wednesday and host Arsenal on the final day of the season, and their poor goal difference leaves them vulnerable.

So the long lenses will search for the emotion on Sunday from whichever team ends up heading toward the Championship, for those fans with that apocalyptic feeling. But the future need not look so bleak.

An immediate return to the Premier League is possible and quite probable for at least one of the relegated teams, as history shows. In the 11 seasons between 2005/06 through to 2016/17, only three times has at least one of the relegated clubs failed to be promoted back to the top tier the following season.

Later this month, that could extend to three in 12 seasons, for Middlesbrough are in the play-offs having dropped to the Championship last summer. They face Aston Villa in the semi-final after finishing fifth, while Derby County and Fulham are on the other side of the draw.

The desperation to right the wrong and return to the Premier League as soon as possible has been clearest in this period. In the past 11 full Championship seasons, 11 of the teams promoted had only dropped down for one season before bouncing back.

Between 2002 and 2006, only two teams managed to climb back up the following year.

Newcastle were the last team to do so, under Rafa Benitez, finishing first in the Championship last season. The year before, Sean Dyche gave Burnley an immediate return as champions, while Hull City took the play-off route back to the Premier League.

In 2014, Norwich City used the play-offs to bounce back, as did Queens Park Rangers the year before. But others aren't quite so successful.

While Newcastle may have gone straight back up last year, Aston Villa finished 13th, unable to muster a place in the play-offs. Similarly, Queens Park Rangers were 12th in the Championship in 2016, while Burnley and Hull managed to get promoted back.

The year before that, Cardiff dropped to 11th in the second tier while Fulham fell to 17th.

Catastrophe is possible, of course.

We have seen that over the past 12 months up in the north east. While Newcastle have re-established themselves in the Premier League, their neighbors Sunderland are free-falling.

Relegated as bottom club last season, Sunderland followed it up by finishing as the worst team in the Championship this year. They will play in League One next season against the likes of Rochdale and Oxford United.

There is only one other team to have had a double relegation since the turn of the millennium. In 2013, Wolves dropped to League One after finishing 23rd in the Championship in the season after being relegated from the Premier League.

There is little hope at Sunderland's Stadium of Light at the moment, but Wolves' story offers a small ray of sunshine. For Nuno Espirito Santo's team will be back, once again, playing in the Premier League next season after finishing winners of the Championship.

So hope remains for Sunderland, hope remains for whichever teams join Stoke City in the Championship next season, and hope remains, too, for those tearful supporters.