Fulham, Stoke and Sunderland Seek to Maintain Premier League ‘Mainstay’ Status

The current top-flight stays of Fulham, Stoke City and Sunderland have now extended to 12, five and six years respectively.

Wigan Athletic’s relegation (after eight seasons) has left the above trio as the Premier League’s longest serving clubs outside of this season’s top seven and Aston Villa.

As achievements go, developing resilience and staying power are not among football’s most glamorous. For those teams without a longstanding foothold in the sport’s upper echelons and/or substantial financial backing, it is the most realistic marker of success.

Of late, the initially mentioned clubs have been contemplating their appreciation for this self-achieved consistency, and a natural desire for wanting more.

Owner Mohamed Al-Fayed has (for the most part) striven to ensure Fulham have not punched above their weight. His decision-making has largely been marked by an adherence to the practicalities of survival in the Premier League.

In dealing with the six managers he has gone through since his club were promoted in 2001, the first half of that run saw Al-Fayed demonstrate a ruthless streak typical of his other life as a businessman.

After each enjoying strong starts, Jean Tigana, Chris Coleman and Lawrie Sanchez were all dismissed when the specter of relegation grew ominous.

Roy Hodgson’s appointment marked an upturn in Fulham’s fortunes. After guiding them to safety in 2007-08, he took the West Londoners to their highest-ever finish of seventh and a Europa League final.

That two-and-a-half year spell moved the goalposts for Fulham. The Craven Cottage faithful are not demanding success, but it is fair to say there is a greater expectation of the club’s capabilities.

Recent speculation in various media outlets over current manager Martin Jol’s future looks to have been unfounded. There was a general acceptance this season was a transitional one for Fulham, despite its underwhelming nature.

The upcoming campaign will be when the Dutchman is properly judged on how successfully he has replaced the successful team Roy Hodgson (and to a slightly lesser extent, Mark Hughes) assembled.

After over a decade in the Premier League, it will be intriguing to see how Fulham and Al-Fayed react to Jol’s progress—one way or another. Survival is undoubtedly a priority. But we may find out, the limit to which mediocrity will be tolerated.

Stoke City’s current situations bears resemblance to the cautionary tale often cited when regaling the story of Charlton Athletic’s top-division stay.

The Addicks parted ways with long-term manager Alan Curbishley after six consecutive seasons in the Premier League. Though he stressed his desire for a break after 15 years at The Valley (as seen in this contemporary BBC Sport report), the supporters had begun aspiring for more than the mid-table security Curbishley had provided them.

Charlton were relegated the very next season (2006-07), something Stoke fans would do well to remember. Like their South London counterparts, the Potters fans too began wanting more than what they deemed their manager was providing.

His replacement Mark Hughes could well prove to be the man to take them forward. Regardless, it was unfortunate Pulis was not given the opportunity to make the adjustments that might have continued to see Stoke progress under his management—as he had done before.

After two years of gritty, sometimes downright ugly consolidation, Pulis set about evolving in 2010.

The pairing of Matthew Etherington and the newly-acquired Jermaine Pennant was deployed on the flanks, giving the team different attacking outlets to the primarily direct routes they had previously utilized. As well as another year in the Premier League, it helped Stoke to an FA Cup final.

Pulis’ attempt at introducing another new element to his team’s play this season—namely the signings of the more creatively-minded midfielders Charlie Adam and Michael Kightly—was not so successful.

Still, Stoke again avoided relegation. Pulis surely had earned another chance to tinker with the formula heading in 2013-14.

He had not.

Stoke have hedged their bets on managerial change being what they need most. Sunderland is an example of how this does not always pay dividends.

After a great start, Roy Keane was not long for the Stadium of Light. While Ricky Sbragia was not cut out for senior management, Steve Bruce had already proven himself to be.

He was removed at the first sign of trouble in 2011 (and this following a 10th place finish, their best since being promoted), to be replaced by Martin O’Neill.

The well traveled and much-successful Northern Irishman was meant to be the long-term answer for Sunderland. The harsh realities of Premier League football saw those plans come undone.

Now Paolo Di Canio is in charge of the Black Cats’ fortunes. Despite the frequent upheaval on Wearside, Sunderland is enjoying their longest, uninterrupted top-flight stay since the 1960s.

Like Fulham and Stoke, they have shown there is no single method to developing staying power. Sometimes, it is a case of enjoying the good fortune of more clubs being worse than you (something Wigan could no longer rely on this time).

Whatever it is, for now, they do not care. They just know, on 19 June, their names are going to be in the fixtures announced for another Premier League season.

By Thomas Cooper

Join the Discussion