Second-season syndrome: can Leeds avoid the fate of Huddersfield, Ipswich and Reading before them?

Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United impressed everyone on their return to the Premier League but the EFL is littered with teams who followed up one good season with one really bad one.

Marcelo Bielsa helped Leeds United to an impressive ninth place in their first season back in the Premier League since 2004.

Beating Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City along the way, they recorded the highest points tally of a newly promoted side since Ipswich Town in 2001.

With even neutrals won over by Leeds' gung-ho style, the task now for Marcelo Bielsa is to deliver on the promising sophomore season.

And, while United may be setting their sights high, they will do well to avoid the fate of these dazzling debutants who crashed and burned when tackling their difficult follow-up season.

Ipswich Town

One of the most extreme examples of second-season syndrome concerns Ipswich Town in the early 2000s.

George Burley's men were favourites for relegation ahead of their return to the top flight but were soon upsetting the odds, rising as high as third before eventually finishing in a hugely respectable fifth place. 

This secured UEFA Cup soccer for The Tractor Boys and they owed a lot to Marcus Stewart, whose 19 goals also helped him to second place in the Premier League goalscorer charts.

The following season, though, proved an extremely tough one for the Suffolk-based club.

One win from their opening 18 matches left them in serious relegation trouble before a run of 21 points from a possible 24 gave rise to survival hopes. However, a further collapse followed, with Ipswich only scoring seven goals in their remaining 13 fixtures to finish 18th and on a one-way ticket to the Championship.

Reading

Reading were promoted to the Premier League for the first time in their history in record-breaking fashion. They recorded an incredible 106 points in the Championship under Steve Coppell, the highest number in a professional league season.

Their form continued into the top flight, winning four from their first seven matches and continuing to impress in their first season at that level.

With Kevin Doyle and Steve Sidwell at the top of their game, they finished in eighth position, just one spot outside of European qualification.

The tables quickly turned in their second season, however, and Reading's form after Christmas sealed their fate. A run of eight straight defeats, starting with a crazy 6-4 loss at the hands of Tottenham, saw them plummet down the table.

Come the end of the season, The Royals had accumulated only 36 points, with an inferior goal difference sealing their fate despite a 4-0 final-day win.

Birmingham City

Birmingham City became the first team to win a major trophy and be relegated from the Premier League in the same season, in what was a bitter-sweet campaign for Alex McLeish's side.

The previous season was certainly a success for The Blues, finishing comfortably in the top half of the table and deservedly so after staying in the top 10 from the start of December.

They only lost two home matches, with current manager Lee Bowyer and striker Cameron Jerome key components to their success.

The Midlands club had an extremely up and down second season though, finishing as the lowest scorers in the top flight and only picking up eight victories during the campaign, culminating in an 18th-placed finish.

They did have the League Cup in their trophy cabinet on their return to the Championship, however, with Obafemi Martins the Wembley hero against Arsenal.

Huddersfield Town

In 2017, Huddersfield earned promotion to the Premier League for the first time by winning the Championship play-off final. A season on from finishing 19th in the second tier it was quite the turnaround.

With a low budget, a lot of the success was down to manager David Wagner, with his high-tempo style of play catching many teams out.

This continued in their maiden Premier League season too, with draws against big-spenders Chelsea and Manchester City helping them to a 16th-placed finish.

Their high-tempo approach did not have the desired effect in their second top-flight campaign, however, as they were relegated by March - only the second Premier League in history to achieve this feat.

Wagner had already departed and fellow German Jan Siewart was unable to right a sinking ship, with Town only just hanging on to their Championship status the following season.

Sheffield United

Another Yorkshire-based team that suffered second season syndrome was Chris Wilder's Sheffield United.

Tipped for relegation in their first season back in the top flight since 2006/07, the Blades defied expectation to finish with 65 points. Becoming the second promoted team in as many seasons to finish with at least 50 points (after Wolves the previous year), they did not lose an away game until December against Manchester City.

After flirting with European qualification for the bulk of the season, Chris Wilder's men eventually finished tenth, winning 14 league matches and reaching the quarter-finals of the FA Cup before losing to Arsenal.

However, the 2020/21 season was best forgotten as Sheffield United started breaking records for all the wrong reasons.

With just five points in their first 19 fixtures, Sheffield United set a record for the worst-ever Premier League start. They also broke the Premier League record for the most consecutive games without a win to start the season, with 17.

A shock win away to Manchester United was arguably the highlight of their season, but it wasn't enough to save Wilder's job - he left his role in March, with relegation looming.

Caretaker-boss Paul Heckingbottom duly completed the job, overseeing United's relegation with just 23 points.

Leeds, you have been warned. 

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