Season Preview: Reading

August 9, 2012 in Premier League

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There’s few more devastating games to lose in club football than the Championship play-off final. 90 minutes away from the ‘best league in the world’ in the Premier League, with all its prestige and financial reward, promotion can change the fortunes of a club forever. Outclassed by Swansea in May 2011, Reading reacted to that disappointment the way great clubs do. It gave them the fire to not just equal the achievement of making the play-offs, but go one step further and be promoted as champions. With a great manager in Brian McDermott, and solid financial backing that has lead to plentiful summer strengthening in the transfer market, Reading return to the Premier League on sure footing.

McDermott puts great stock in defensive stability, a trait that will serve him well heading into a league with some of the strongest attacking forces in the world. Centre-back Alex Pearce, a mainstay last season with 45 starts throughout, is an extremely promising young centre-back and you’d expect him to rise to the occasion, but McDermott has brought in cover in Adrian Mariappa and Chris Gunter, not to mention the acres of experience Ian Harte has provided to the back line. Given the strength of their defence, I’d expect Reading to be more West Brom than Swansea, soaking up pressure and counter-attacking through the pace of wingers Jobi McAnuff and Jimmy Kebe.

The signing of Pavel Pogrebnyak was an incredible piece of business for the club to pull off. The striker was imperious in his short spell at Fulham last season, and his clinical finishing may prove to be invaluable asset to a team that will absolutely have to take its chances. While Reading are a disciplined team with a lot of promise and work ethic, Pogrebnyak may lend them that extra bit of quality when they need it, and snaking him from under Fulham’s nose is, in my opinion, one of the transfer coups of the summer, for any team.

The concerns I would have is there doesn’t seem to be a wealth of Premier League experience in the squad. The signings of Danny Guthrie and Nicky Shorey should help leaven this, but there are lot of players, young and old, that have spent either no time or little time in the top flight, and while this could be said of Swansea and Norwich last year, Reading can’t count on history repeating itself. While McAnuff and Kebe are hard workers, I personally have doubts about their ability to be as effective as they were in the Championship. I think they will be heavily reliant on Pogrebnyak for goals, and if he falls into poor form or gets injured, I think goals could potentially be a problem, with the rest of their attacking options not exactly looking Premier League quality.

I think Reading look a well run ship, and their run of form in the second half of last season was exceptional, but it’s a defensive-minded team will face much sterner tests of its capabilities in the Premier League, and for that reason I can only really see Reading being involved in a relegation battle, but I think there should be enough weak teams for them to survive their first season in the Premier League. But they’ll have to work for it.

Key Man: Pogrebnyak. If he doesn’t score, Reading are probably going down. If he does, they will survive.

Prediction: 16th

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