Of all the cod-psychological theories that envelop the Premier League, the theory of Second Season Syndrome is one of those that has the most meat on it. It runs something like this. Upon their elevation to the Premier League, many newly-promoted clubs will have enough momentum that sees them pick up enough points to guarantee their survival in their first season. During the following summer, however, the challenge arguably becomes even greater. New signings, purchased with the first of that lovely Premier League lolly, may undermine the spirit within the squad of players. Complacency, as a sense of entitlement sets in and the memory of just how difficult it was to get into the Premier League and stay there starts to fade, starts to grow. These factors end up outweighing the actual ability of the players that the club has, and the second season becomes the one that sees them relegated back to the Championship.
There are, of course, plenty of examples to back this up. Two years ago, Hull City thundered up the Premier League with an extraordinary run before finding their level. Results elsewhere meant that they survived their first season, but the second proved to be too much for them. They now sit seventh from bottom in the Championship, with rumours of a potential financial implosion continuing to circle. The problem with such theories is that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that they are nonsense. It doesn’t explain why a newly-promoted team tends to get relegated every season, or why some clubs, upon getting promoted into the Premier League, establish themselves quite comfortably in the middle of the table. For every Hull City, there is a Fulham, who arrived in the Premier League and settled in with relative comfort. Second Season Syndrome feels like a media construct, created in order to keep teams that have managed to navigate their way through their first Premier League season in their place.
This season is Wolverhampton Wanderers’ second back in the Premier League, and last season saw them finish comfortably clear of the relegation places. They have started this season effectively, with a workmanlike win on the opening day against Stoke City followed by picking up a handy draw at Goodison Park against Everton last week. Today they take on a Newcastle United, who, like them, have been widely predicted to struggle this season. Newcastle remain enigmatic at the moment. They were predictably brushed aside by Manchester United on the opening day of the season, but last weekend they tore a demoralised looking Aston Villa apart at St James Park and will have arrived at Molineux flush with confidence. Wolves look sluggish in the early stages, with Andy Carroll forcing a save from the Wolves goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, Wayne Routledge getting around him from and crossing a couple of inches behind Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan stabbing the ball twice at Hahnemann from close range.
Wolves do start to rally, however, and come the closest of either team when Sylvan Ebanks-Blake heads against the far post from a deep corner, but a mix-up in their central defence gives Carroll a clear chance, but he shoots well over with only Carroll left to beat. Two minutes from half-time, however, it is Wolves that take the lead. Jelle van Damme crosses from the right-hand side and Ebanks-Blake, who has has an outstanding start to the season, brings the ball under control and shoots under Steve Harper. It’s a little tough on Newcastle to be going in behind at half-time, but Wolves have worked hard for their lead and neither team look very much like the relegation candidates that so many had predicted before a ball had been kicked this season.
For all the hard work, however, this is something of a rough and tumble match and referee Stuart Atwell manages to pull his yellow card from his pocket twelve times, although both teams do end the match with eleven players. The direction of the match, however, hangs on one incident that Atwell misses. Early in the second half, Matthew Jarvis charges down the left wing and James Perch brings him down. In such a situation, the only reasonable decisions that could be awarded would be a corner (assuming that Atwell believed that Perch played the ball) or, correctly, a penalty. A two goal lead may have finished the game off, but instead Wolves start to look jittery, and just after the hour Newcastle haul themselves level. Joey Barton swings a free kick over from the left hand side and Andy Carroll gets away from his marker to head wide of Hahnemann and in off the post. From here on, Newcastle look the more likely winners. Hahnemann makes a fine one-handed save from Kevin Nolan and Shola Ameobi, who comes on for Carroll, heads goalwards with his first touch, only to see the ball prodded away from under the crossbar. At full time, however, honours are even.
On balance, a point apiece feels like a fair enough result, but Wolves will feel hard done by over the Jarvis penalty incident and Newcastle will feel as if, having got themselves level and with half an hour left to play, they could have snatched all three of the points. Both teams may yet find this season to be a struggle, but for clubs like Wolves, who are likely to spend much of the season looking nervously over their shoulders at those below them, going the first three matches of the season unbeaten is a strong start and there was plenty about their performance to suggest that Mick McCarthy has got the balance of his team just about right. Those fearing a bout of Second Season Syndrome at Molineux this season might find that they have less to be concerned about than they had anticipated.