Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 29 October 2020

When Derby County became the worst team in Premier League history

Relegation seemed inevitable as players seemed to have given up well before the end in 2007-08

Twelve years ago on this day – March 29 – Derby County took what remains their last Premier League point. It is unlikely to be the cause of too much celebration at Pride Park. Derby’s 11th point of the 2007-08 season came as they were relegated, down in March, with a 2-2 draw against Fulham confirming what manager Paul Jewell said was “inevitable for a while.”

Perhaps it had been inevitable even before the season started. Captain Matt Oakley gloomily reflected the previous summer that players were not going to join a club they expected to go down. Prospective signings showed a survival instinct; Derby did not.

They limped in 24 points behind 19th-place Birmingham. They only took three points away from home all season. They conceded 89 goals. They scored just 20. They finished the season on a run of 32 games without a win. Jewell was in charge for 24 of them and got just five points.

Amid a litany of unflattering records, perhaps the most resonant were the most obvious. Derby’s tally of 11 points remains the lowest in English top-flight history. Their one win – secured in September, against Newcastle, by Kenny Miller with a spectacular long-range strike – was the fewest since Loughborough had mustered a solitary one 108 years earlier.

There is a debate about who is the best Premier League team ever. There is none about the worst. It is Derby. It was in part because they were not a top-flight team at all, but a side who had come 20th in the Championship in 2006.

Billy Davies performed a feat of alchemy to take them up via the play-offs in his first season but Derby won 24 games that season by one-goal margins; they were not a class above Championship teams.

Unsettled by a takeover, the combustible Davies talked his way into the sack in November. “This team is not good enough for the Premier League, they know that,” he said, in one of the most pessimistic statements any manager can have produced. New chairman Adam Pearson had a successor in mind. Jewell’s stock was high after masterminding Wigan’s great escape six months earlier.

Jewell was impressed by Derby’s facilities and ignored David Moyes’ advice about their team. “He said Everton had played them not long ago and that Derby wouldn’t win another game all season. I laughed it off at the time but it turned out to be true,” Jewell told FourFourTwo. “Some players seemed resigned to [relegation]. That’s the thing I found difficult, the way we went down without a fight at times.”

Derby conceded six goals four times, four or five a further five. Meanwhile, their top scorer, Miller, got just four goals, though the most potent player in Derby games that season was Emmanuel Adebayor, with two hat-tricks for Arsenal.

Robert Earnshaw, Davies’ biggest summer signing, did not get a league goal until they were already relegated. Jewell made eight January signings and admitted honestly that none of them succeeded. Robbie Savage came in as the new captain; he was not rapturously received. “You listen to people saying 'you're awful' and it's not nice," he said.

Relegation, his manager hoped, would draw a line in the sand. “It’s been a terrible season,” said Jewell. It got worse. Derby conceded 14 goals in three home games. They lost 6-0 to Aston Villa. An out-of-form Stilian Petrov scored with his weaker foot from 45 yards. “If anything could go wrong, it did,” Jewell said. There was no fresh start, no revival. “I think this team would struggle in the Championship,” he concluded after the thrashing by Villa. And under him, they did.

Updated: March 29, 2020 03:39 PM

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