Reading: The Best Equipped To Survive?

They've certainly done the most strengthening of the promoted clubs and Philip Cornwall believes they've done enough to stay out of trouble. Does mid-table beckon?

Last Updated: 13/08/12 at 14:37 Post Comment

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Last season:
Championship
Winners; FA Cup Third round; Carling Cup First round
Manager Brian McDermott (since December 2009) Odds on being first out of his job 16-1 (joint seventh)
Transfers in Garath McCleary (Nottingham Forest), Danny Guthrie (Newcastle), Pavel Pogrebnyak (Stuttgart), Nicky Shorey (West Brom), Adrian Mariappa (Watford), Chris Gunter (Forest)
Transfers out Michail Antonio (Sheffield Wednesday), Mathieu Manset (Sion), Karl Sheppard (Accrington)

Reading's two-season stay in the Premier League under Steve Coppell - from 2006 to 2008 - was one of the oddest of recent years. Some fans say that in the relegation season the players believed the hype after almost qualifying for Europe the previous campaign when new to the top flight; equally you could argue that a desire not to get carried away caused the players to doubt themselves in the second season in situations where they had prospered a year earlier.

Brian McDermott's rise, culminating in promotion in his second full season, has also been a tale of the unexpected. The date at Anfield on 20 October will throw up a number of easy reminiscences. First, McDermott's first victory as Reading manager, while still caretaker, was in an FA Cup replay at Anfield in January 2010. Second, the man he had just succeeded was Brendan Rodgers. Third, the following season, Rodgers' Swansea City beat Reading in the play-off final.

McDermott, like Rodgers, worked his way up inside the game. His previous management positions were at non-League level in the 1990s and he has had a series of jobs at Reading, starting as chief scout in 2000. He will have seen and absorbed what happened under Coppell and will know, too, the potential of a club that suffers from being in easy reach of London but otherwise has a well-off hinterland with ostensible local rivals such as Swindon and Oxford left far behind. There are limits to progress in an era when so much of big clubs' income is derived from fans who rarely if ever visit the ground, but the home sections of the stadium should be reliably packed.

The ground is of course named after John Madejski, an unimaginably good advert for football club chairmen, who after saving and transforming Reading has sold a controlling interest to a Russian, Anton Zingarevich. How much the billionaire's son will spend is unclear but of the three promoted sides' squads, Reading's has been improved the most so far.

The moves include Bosman transfers for Pavel Pogrebnyak, Danny Guthrie, Garath McLeary and the returning Nicky Shorey. They have spent £2.5m each for Adrian Mariappa and Chris Gunter, to strengthen an already-solid defence that managed 20 clean sheets last season.

You could be forgiven for thinking Ian Harte had retired - he was clubless briefly a few years back - but his set-pieces remain a threat. McDermott has width at his disposal, too, from Jimmy Kebe and Jobi McAbuff.

McDermott will get to test his team at home to Stoke and away to Sunderland this month before matches at Chelsea and then against Spurs at the Madejski. Reading know, though, how deceptive starts to seasons can be: they began their relegation season with a goalless draw at Old Trafford and last year had only four points from their first six games.

Forced to take a guess I think Reading have what it takes, if not to prosper, then at least to avoid the worst of the trouble. Pogrebnyak was on loan at Fulham last season and he may well have landed at a similarly postioned club.

Philip Cornwall

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