The Championship is renowned for being one of the most difficult leagues to gain promotion from. For most teams at the start of the season there is the aim, or hope, of claiming one of the two automatic promotion places, or one of the four play-off places come the end of the campaign.
However, there have been occasions where sides, who were unfancied for promotion and even amongst the favourites for relegation before the start season, have secured promotion to the Premier League either automatically or through the play-offs. Here are five of those surprising promotions.
Hull City 2007-08
Hull City secured promotion to the Premier League for the first time in their history in May 2008, beating fellow unlikely play-off finalists Bristol City 1-0, in only the second Championship play-off final to be staged at the New Wembley.
The Tigers were playing in League 2 less than four years earlier, but they secured consecutive promotions from to the Championship between 2003 and 2005. Hull finished 18th, ten points clear of the relegation zone, in the Championship in their first season back in 2005/06, before finishing in 21st place the following campaign.
It was expected that The Tigers would struggle against relegation once again, but under Phil Brown they excelled finishing in third place, with 21 wins and 75 points just four points off second placed Stoke City. Brown’s side thrashed Watford 6-1 on aggregate in the play-off semi-finals, before club legend Dean Windass scored an iconic volley to beat Bristol City in the final.
Blackpool’s promotion to the Premier League in 2010 was one of the most surprising promotions in the history of England’s second tier. Ian Holloway’s side secured promotion at Wembley beating Cardiff City 3-2 in a pulsating play-off final.
The Seasiders, like Hull, had spent most of the early 2000’s in League’s 1 and 2, but they secured promotion to the Championship via the play-offs in the 2006-07 season. Blackpool finished just two points clear of the drop in 19th place in their first season back in the Championship, before finishing 16th the following year.
They were once again expected to struggle, but with a possession-based attacking style Blackpool managed to perform well beyond expectation. They qualified for the play-offs finishing in 6th place a point clear of Swansea City, before beating Nottingham Forest home and away, 6-4 on aggregate, in a dramatic play-off semi-final. That put them a game away from promotion to the top-flight where they overcame Cardiff at Wembley in a classic final.
Burnley remarkably secured automatic promotion to the Premier League in the 2013/14 season, finishing runners-up to Leicester City having lost just five league games and accumulating 93 points.
The Clarets started the season amongst the favourites to be relegated, with the club still feeling the financial effects of relegation from the Premier League in 2010. Sean Dyche was forced to sell the previous campaign’s top scorer Charlie Austin to pre-season promotion favourites Queens Park Rangers in the summer, and it looked likely to be a season of struggle ahead.
However, Burnley made a flying start to the season winning 10 of their opening 13 league games and never really looked back. A strike partnership of Sam Vokes and Danny Ings flourished as both reached well over double figures in the league, while Dyche’s side were also very solid in defence conceding just 37 goals in 46 matches.
Huddersfield Town 2016-17
Huddersfield’s promotion to the Premier League was confirmed with penalty shoot out victory over Reading, after a 0-0 draw in a tense Championship play-off final at Wembley in 2017.
David Wagner’s side were, like the others on this list, amongst the pre-season favourites for relegation after being involved down the bottom end of the table in the previous seasons. The Terriers were operating on a small budget and Wagner, an unknown quantity in English football, needed to use his knowledge of the German market to find value for money signings.
The German did just that, with his signings mainly from the German second division adding to the squad he had inherited and becoming a very dangerous opponent, with a high pressing style causing problems for their Championship opponents. Huddersfield finished in 5th place with 25 wins, before beating Sheffield Wednesday on penalties after drawing 1-1 on aggregate in the semifinal, before beating Reading at Wembley.
Cardiff City 2017-18
Like Burnley in 2014 Cardiff defied the odds to secure automatic promotion to the Premier League last season. Neil Warnock’s side finished second behind Wolverhampton Wanderers, with 90 points just two points clear of third placed Fulham.
The Bluebird’s had been in relegation trouble the previous campaign, with Warnock taking over with the club second from bottom in October. The former Sheffield United and Crystal Palace boss managed to improve Cardiff’s fortunes and guided them to a 12th place finish.
Cardiff though were not expected to challenge for automatic promotion last season. However, a strong start brought them in to contention, and Warnock’s experience of the Championship proved to be key, as they held off a challenge from Fulham, who went 23 games unbeaten in the run up to the end of the season, to secure promotion back to the top-flight.