The Stoke City Guide To Avoiding Second Season Syndrome

  Since the end of the 2008/09 Premier League season, a lot of people, from supporters of other teams to supposedly well informed media pundits, have been warning Stoke against the perils of “second season syndrome”. While I feel that many of these comments are coming from those embittered people, who still cannot accept Stoke as a top flight side, the sort that seek to ban the long throw, a technique which of course provided 37 of our 38 league goals last season, I also believe that there is a grain of truth to their words. It has been historically very difficult for clubs who overachieve in their first Premier League season to replicate this success the second time around. Since the nineties became the noughties we have seen both Ipswich and Reading relegated a year after finishing in the top eight, While in 2007 Wigan avoided relegation by just one goal, having finished in the top ten the season before.

Reading are the newest victims of the second season syndrome

  If Stoke are to repeat or even better out twelfth place finish from our inaugural Premier League campaign, or even simply avoid the drop, our home form will be hugely important. Last season, 35 of our 45 points were won at the Britannia Stadium, while we won more than half of our home games. Tellingly, even without the points we won away from home, we would have had 35 points, more than eighteenth placed Newcastle managed. I believe that a significant factor in our home success was the way that a number of teams came to play Stoke with the wrong mindset, such as Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham, expecting an easy game, and as a result defending poorly, missing their chances and ultimately falling foul of the constant windy conditions, oppresive atmosphere and Stoke players, who, as we’ve seen are no push-overs.

  These teams are unlikely to make the same mistake twice. They’ll travel to Stoke expecting to scrap, with many even content to play for a draw. This season we’ve seen we struggle to break down teams who try primarily to defend, only managing draws against the likes of Fulham, Newcastle and Portsmouth. We do have quality in the squad though, and I am hopeful that the goalscoring skill of Ricardo Fuller and James Beattie, and the creative talents of Liam Lawrence and Matthew Etherington, coupled with the additional input any new signings we make will be enough to help us to reproduce our superb home form.

Sides like Arsenal are sure to heed last season’s wake up call

  Just as our home form will be hard to replicate, however, it will be hard for us to do any worse on the road. For a long time it looked as though we would not win an away match all season, with our eventual only two victories coming in April and May. Towards the end of the season, with some improved tactics, we were better on our travels, and I fully expect us to carry this forward and make significantly more of our chances to rack up away points in 2009/10, which in turn would do our bid to remain a top flight club no end of good.

  The signings Tony Pulis makes this summer should also have a great effect on our ability to overcome the second season syndrome. The transfer window is still young, and unsurprisingly there has been no concrete news of players joining the Potters as yet, but we have, equally unsurprisingly been linked with a multiplicity of names. Some, of these, most notably Nikola Žigić and Paul Scholes would represent huge steps forward for the club, and would bring a previously unseen quality to the side which, like Newcastle, would begin to make us look like a team too good to go down.

More shrewd moves are needed

  A large factor in our success last season was, minus one bleak day at the Boleyn Ground, the togetherness and spirit of our squad, and the players’ ability to operate as a whole as far more than they could amount to as separate parts. If we are to continue to punch above our weight, and hence succeed in the Premier League, this must continue. How often have we seen the wrong sort of characters bring down the fortunes of their teammates and their club as a whole? Dimitar Berbatov at Spurs and Amr Zaki at Wigan are two good recent examples. Pulis has said that he is only willing to sign players with “the right DNA”, meaning those who are not just talented on the pitch, but can help to forge the squad into a more united battling front off of it.  Having the communal goal of exceeding outsiders’ expectations should also help our cause. We had it last season, determined to show the press and bookmakers they spoke so soon, and it’s important that we maintain it going forward. I feel that as long as as a club we have a point to prove, and players who care enough to give their all in proving it, we will push on and further establish ourselves as mainstays at the highest table of English football.

  Of course, the second season at the top is not always the graveyard of newly promoted clubs. After debuting in the Premier League in 2001, Fulham are now considered to be an established Premier League club, and will contest ther first ever European campaign next year. Bolton and Blackburn are two others who, having regained their Premier League status after prior relegations have kicked on to achieve very commendable top-half finishes. Stoke, in terms of style of football, size of club and budget, are often compared to Bolton, so there should be a good chance of us following in the footsteps they took under Sam Allardyce in their Premier League infancy.

Fulham have achieved that which Stoke must target

  Though the second season syndrome does pose a threat, I have little doubt that with careful planning and the assurance that the components of our formula for success are kept in place, we can succeed where Reading, West Ham, Ipswich, Middlesbrough and others have failed, and enjoy high achievement in our second season at the top and beyond.

11 Responses to “The Stoke City Guide To Avoiding Second Season Syndrome”

  1. Steven Goran Eriksson Says:

    Top article again VJ, interesting opinion and delightful vocabulary interspersed with sporadic moments of humour. At tmies, you do hit upon certain points which you have mentioned in previous articles, but I will absolve you from any blame.

    Personally, I think you will struggle next season and will be fighting relegation come the end of the campaign. I think that teams may suss out how to play against you, but with a few new signings, things could be different.

  2. I*T*P*L Says:

    Thanks a lot Steven, your comments are becoming an artform in themselves.

    I know I sometimes repeat myself, but only because I feel the points are valid, and I always try to express them differently.

    It would seem like a step backwards, but I’d be satisfied with 17th. If we can just stay up next season we’ll be established as a Premier League side then, and with that comes a lot of riches and exposure that can allow us to bring in the players that could really power us on.

  3. Steven Goran Eriksson Says:

    Well, my hero is Plattsy, so if I’m anything like him, I’m truly honoured

    Personally, I don’y think anyone is a Premier League club if they step up for just 2 seasons. I think about 4/5 should be enough!

    Check the bottom of the Wikipedia pages for Stoke and Man City - Rishi gave us both a mention!! Oh, and he added ‘Sanjeev Gupta Singh’ into Glauber Leandro Honorato Berti’s name, but Wikipedia have since cancelled it!!

  4. I*T*P*L Says:

    Well I’ve always said I’m along for the ride and I’ll enjoy it as long as it lasts (hopefully many years).

    That’s great, he even got the accent on my name!

  5. Steven Goran Eriksson Says:

    Only because I told him to do it!!

  6. Rob Says:

    I’m a Reading fan who has been through the second season syndrome. Just to say that have got the 2 main challenges nailed on the head. Teams won’t underestimate you so much any more and your squad’s togetherness must remain. There’s nothing you can do about the first problem. Teams will turn up at the Britannia prepared for a scrap. Thankfully for you, there don’t appear to be any Nicky Shoreys or Stephen Hunts being bigged up and made out to be better than they really are. Maybe Beattie has had a lot of media attentiion but it’s a trap he has fallen for before and he should have learnt. That should keep your squads egos under control. Likewise you won’t lose many decent players in my view, like we lost Sidwell.

    You have another big advantage over us. When West Ham and Wigan stayed up, it was fairly obvious that West Ham at least would improve dramatically. I’d say you’re twice the team Hull are (maybe more like 5 times) and I’d be amazed if you finish below them. Sunderland could improve I guess, but at the same time I don’t think the Premiership next season will be as strong as it was when we went down. (For the record I think our team of 07/08 would walk over Hull’s side from last season - the worst ever side to stay up) As for promoted sides, Brum came up for both of us. Wolves won’t be as strong as Sunderland were, and Burnley are already punching above their weight enough.

    Don’t expect an easy season, it will be a scrap but you have enough to stay up.

  7. Lakeland Potter Says:

    VJ - a good article. However I have to take you to task for repeating a commonly held myth. Our home form alone would NOT have kept us up. If we had lost all our away games we would have had, as you said, just ten points fewer. But Newcastle would have had two points more (given that we shared the points at their place)- so we and not Newcastle would have occupied 18th spot!

  8. Lakeland Potter Says:

    Oooops! I forgot to point out in my post above that Hull would have had three points more!

  9. Steve Says:

    I’m an Ipswich fan and read this via a link on Newsnow. It’s a good piece but a couple of comments from our perspective:

    Firstly, and obviously, team spirit suffered from expensive new signings. Finidi George and Matteo Sereni were actually two of our better players in 2001-02 in terms of contribution on the pitch but the togetherness of the previous season wasn’t there. A lot of players reached their peak in 2000-01 and couldn’t match it.

    Equally importantly, everyone from the board down to the fans seemed to forget how much hard work had gone into every match the previous season; games when we had had to battle against teams like Charlton and Leicester before getting deserved goals very late on were largely forgotten to be replaces by a sense of expectation that we deserved to win every home game (depressingly, that was still there even last season).

    That a majority of football fans lack perspective is obvious from listening to fans of the big four whinge about their lot but it will be important for Stoke fans to keep behind the team and to remember that this season just gone counts for nothing once the new one starts.

    Good luck.

  10. I*T*P*L Says:

    Lakeland, very good point, I hadn’t thought of that, I’ll rephrase it to account for it.

    Rob and Steve - Thanks for commenting, it’s good to see fans of different clubs reading this blog.

    Rob, I agree that 08/09 was a weak season, and 09/10 may be weaker still, but that’s fine with me, we have to use it to our advantage. I think that the difference between your squad and ours was that yours was/is full of promising young players, Doyle, Hunt, Shorey, who had a lot of hype surrounding them from the media and may have suffered from it. Ours is largely made of more experienced heads, and all the players who get most media attention, Beattie, Fuller, Faye, Delap, are wily campaigners who should be able to cope with it. Hopefully that will work to our advantage.

    Steve - It’s interesting you should mention players reaching their peak and not being able to produce again to the same level. I worry that our squad is getting to be on the old side. Of our regular first team players, Sorensen, Amdy Faye and Delap are 32, Abdoulaye Faye and Beattie are 31, and Fuller is 29. Ithink this could work both ways for us though, as experience is a key part of a squad looking to cement itself in a league. I’d like to see what happens to us at home next season. Having won a lot of home games, the expectation will be high. Our home support gets a lot of praise, but I worry that if we lose a few games attendances will start to drop and the crowd will turn negative, which will not help the players one bit.

    All the best to both of you for next season, let’s hope for Stoke, Reading and Ipswich all in the Premier League 2010/11.

  11. Lakeland Potter Says:

    As far as the age of our squad is concerned, it will be interesting to see how TP’s future recruitment takes account of this. You’d have to hope that the average age of this summer’s signings will be slightly less than last summer. Hopefully that would see the older players moving down to the bench on occasions to be replaced by younger blood. You’d have to hope that by the time each of the over 30s are past their peak, younger (hopefully better) players will ready to make the step up.

    We don’t have the money to make a perfect job of this in one season but Coates and TP seem to be in it for the long haul.

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