In our third and final part of previewing the new boys in the Premier League we take a look at Reading as they prepare to take on the big boys of English football.
The Madjeski Stadium welcomes back Premier League football after a gap of four years. This will be their second rendezvous with the Premier League, with the previous one being a short two-season affair between 2006 and 2008. Steve Coppell guided the Royals to an unprecedented 8th place finish in their debut season. They were however condemned to the Championship the very next year after suffering from what is known as the “second season syndrome” in English football. Their players had clearly overachieved the previous season and were sent plummeting down to the Championship the following season.
A lot has changed since then, only Brynjar Gunnarsson remains of the team that challenged in the Premier League last time around. They have been desperately unlucky in their quest for a return to the big league as they got knocked out twice from the Championship playoffs twice in this space of 4 years. So, they just bypassed the event this time around as they claimed an automatic promotion place by winning the Championship.
The times may have changed but ‘work ethic’ and ‘team football’, the bedrock to their success in the past still remains. Thames Sport Investment led by Russian-born Anton Zingarevich have added a boost in terms of cash-flow into the club after John Madejski sold 51% of the club shares to them. Yet their manager Brian McDermott has decided not to not to spend big and spend money just for the sake of it. While new signings have been made, McDermott certainly hasn’t undermined Reading’s long term future.
Brian McDermott has moulded his team into a well drilled unit. The team certainly doesn’t have much of a star appeal or a standout player, but their team football mentality and discipline have brought them success. Reading had the stingiest defense in the Championship last year, allowing a meager 37 goals in the 46 game season. McDermott has already been busy in the transfer market and preparing for the biggest test of his managerial career: ‘It’s all a little bit surreal, but we’ll be ready’ he said in a recent interview. He remains relaxed yet focused on the job in hand. He enjoys the word ‘trust’ and tries to instill it into each member of his squad. He knows that trust for the players, in their own abilities and among each other is going to play a vital role if they are to secure their place in the League. McDermott, in his 34 years associated with football, has developed the art of being relaxed yet focused while being quietly confident. He needs to translate it to his players if they are to stay up.
As I have pointed out earlier, there certainly isn’t much star power in the Reading line-up. Still they do bode of a few players which you may keep a look out for next season.
The Aussie goalkeeper Federici was certainly a vital part of the stringiest defense in the championship last season. He was a certainly a feel-good factor for the Royals and certainly was one of the contenders for their player of the season. If he continues to perform at the level he did last season between the post at the Madjeski, he will have a long and fruitful future at the highest level.
He is quite well rounded in terms of being a goalkeeper. His command inside the box, distribution and shot stopping were quite sound last season. Fedirici certainly came into his own last season and cemented his position as the no.1 for the Royals after a superb campaign which was suffused with stunning saves. The Aussies will be called into action more often than not this upcoming season; and his performances will certainly be vital towards Reading’s fight for survival.
Pearce is yet another prodigious talent at the defensive end of the pitch in the Reading side. He has been a colossus figure at the back for Reading while also notching up a few handy goals. His partnership at the back with Kaspars Gorkss was immense to say the least and a vital factor in Reading’s success in moving up the ladder.
None at Reading ever doubted his talents on the field but it was high time that he delivered in the League and deliver he did. With Zurab Khizanishvili, Ivar Ingimarsson and Matt Mills departing the club before last season, he was entrusted as the spearhead of the Royal’s defense. He certainly played with a chip on his shoulder and excelled as a leader at the defensive front. He has a certain maturity in his play and a good positional sense. But does he have it in him to step another level and excel? Only time will tell.
This will be Gunter’s second attempt at making it big in the Premier League. Tottenham had paid £2million to Cardiff to secure the right-back’s services back in 2008. He never really established himself at White Hart Lane, only playing 16 times in 1 and 1\2 years at the club. The arrivals of Kyle Naughton and Kyle Walker meant that he was soon released and secured a move to Nottingham.
He was ever present in Nottingham but the lure of playing at the Premier League certainly proved too much. The Royals signed him for £2.5 million to provide cover for a part of the pitch which was troublesome for them last year. Though they had a water tight defense, McDermott never seemed to have full faith in Shaun Cummings.
While is a solid player,Reading fans shouldn’t put their hopes too high on him to provide much flair for them on the right hand side. He has a wealth of experience having already had 37 caps for Wales, which will serve the Royals in good stead.
Jobi McAnuff was certainly the mainstay of the Reading midfield last season. Being the captain of the side always has an added pressure and he rose to the task. He decided to lead by example and certainly came up trumps. It will be McAnuff’s first turn at the top. He has mostly spent the majority of his career in the Championship hovering from one club to another. Now, he certainly seems to have found a home at the Madjeski.
He is not the usual explosive winger that one may assume an English winger to be but has enough craft to find room to deliver the final ball. His work-rate and determination are one of his best qualities and it seems to rub off on his team-mates who have always spoken highly of him. His contribution in Reading’s engine room will have to be immense as more often than not, games are won and lost in the midfield. He, along with his fellow midfielders mainly in the form of Danny Guthrie and Mikele Leigertwood, will have their tasks cut out. His leadership mettle will be severely tested in a campaign that will in most probability be stained with a large number of losses.
One of the most difficult things to do for teams coming out the Championship is to fire in enough goals for them to survive. Most clubs spend many a million to find a guy that can grab a guy that can deliver a dozen goals on the club’s ’coming out’ season. Clubs like Ipswich and Sunderland in the past who had certain players like Macus Stewart and Kevin Phillips respectively, found it much easier to survive once they were able to pump in the goals.
Reading will certainly hope that their new signing Pavel Pogrebnyak is able to find the back of the net with the regularity with which he was able to in his short stint at Fulham. A product of the Spartak Moscow youth system, Pogrebnyak burst on to the scene with Zenit St. Petersbug. He has had fair success wherever he has gone regarding finding goals for his team barring Stuttgart where he really did struggle, which was even more glaring to the eye as he was brought in to replace a certain Mario Gomez. Even during this period, he certainly worked hard for the team. Pogrebnyak certainly hit a purple patch with Fulham and Reading and will hope that that the colour of the purple becomes even deeper.
Honurable Mentions: Danny Guthrie, Jason Roberts, Mikele Leigertwood, Adrian Mariappa, Kaspars Gorkss