They are three words to strike fear into the supporter of any promoted team which has survived for a season in the top division.
I say “top division” and not “Premier League” because – despite what Sky might tell you – there was football before 1992, and this scenario existed then. Since the Premier League was formed, “second season syndrome” has affected Middlesbrough, Bradford City, Ipswich Town, Reading, Hull City, and Birmingham City and all have been relegated after their second season back in the top flight, and of that list, only Hull City will be playing in the Premier League next season. Scary stuff.
Of course, we’re used to this effect too. Looking back to the Carlos Tevez/Alan Curbishley 2006/7 season, we only avoided relegation on the final day, after finishing ninth the previous season. I still remember that well, since I had no fingernails for some time afterwards. The question is, though – is it going to affect us this time around? The answer will lie in what happens at the club over the summer. We’ve had a very solid season and are going to finish in or around mid-table.
But next season, we’ll need to be better again and so we will need to strengthen to remain competitive. Big Sam will need to look at strength in depth. We were badly hampered by injuries for parts of the season. There’s an excellent core of the side with a solid defensive line, players such as Mo Diame and Mark Noble in midfield, and Andy Carroll up front with Kevin Nolan behind, but if any of these players lose form we run into problems.
In particular, if Andy Carroll leaves or gets injured, who scores the goals? Decent support players in these positions are needed. Our away form needs serious attention over the summer. Eleven goals scored from eighteen away games is an embarrassing statistic. We secured 13 points away from home this time around, and 30 so far at home, so as you can see, if we repeat the away form over next season, and if the home performances drop away even by a few points, we’ll find ourselves in the bottom reaches of the table.
Having said all that, I’m personally optimistic that we will have a solid second season back in the Premier League. I think we need to manage our expectations a little but Sam Allardyce has never had a team relegated from the Premier League, and I believe he will do what’s needed to survive in 2013/14. What with inexperienced teams coming up from the Championship who might struggle, we should not even be uttering the words “second season syndrome” next time around.