Crunch Time for Reading and Southampton

October 22, 2012 in Premier League

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Everyone always says that a newly-promoted team needs a good start to the Premier League season, otherwise they are pretty much consigned to relegation back to the Championship. Looking back through recent years, you see the likes of Hull, Norwich and Swansea, who all started well and managed to survive their first season in the top flight. Sadly, Reading and Southampton have not started well, and as I travelled back from Anfield yesterday, both myself and some Southampton fans were jeered by a few West Ham fans who condemned us to relegation. All we did was laugh, but the fear that they were right was plain to see.

Both Reading and Southampton haven’t exactly had easy starts to this campaign. The Royals have played a game less than everyone else but have already played Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, West Brom, Newcastle, Swansea and Stoke. The Saints too have had it tough by playing Manchester City, United, Everton and Arsenal, although they have also played rivals Wigan, Aston Villa and West Ham. It is not easy to get a good start when you have these kind of games early on in the season but now it comes to the crunch point in both their seasons.

Reading especially have got to start winning games soon, and their next few fixtures certainly give them an opportunity to do this. They have to play Fulham (H), QPR (A), Norwich (H), Everton (H), Wigan (A) and Villa (A). You have to say that five of those games are very winnable. Fulham always struggle away from Craven Cottage, we beat QPR at Loftus Road in the cup a few weeks ago, Norwich have looked poor despite their win over Arsenal on Saturday, and Wigan and Villa are also struggling. The lack of a win this season is clearly affecting confidence and the pressure is on manager Brian McDermott. Despite the score line, the loss to Liverpool again highlighted our lack of ambition; with Noel Hunt injured, McDermott should have played Jason Roberts alongside Pavel Pogrebnyak, but he chose to play Danny Guthrie instead, who once again struggled to realise that playing as an attacking midfielder means you have to play behind a striker, not behind the rest of midfield. McDermott has said time and time again this season that apart from Tottenham, we have only narrowly lost, and while this is true, our defeats at West Brom and Liverpool were bad because we showed no ambition. I would rather we played like we did against Chelsea and lose 4-2 because we have given it a go rather than lose 1-0 and have just two meaningful shots on target.

Southampton, meanwhile, have shown plenty of ambition in their start to the season. They were excellent in their games against both Manchester sides, combining attacking threat with clinical finishing. It is not too bad to concede three goals to both Manchester teams because they are both quality teams, but to concede six against Arsenal, four at West Ham and then two against Wigan and Fulham shows that they have problems at the back which they need to fix quickly. I admire Nigel Atkins for his attacking mentality, I really do; he is a good manager but he hasn’t found that balance yet and it seems that his team do not know what to do once they take the lead. You cannot sit back but you also shouldn’t push forward too much, you have to keep it tight and remain level. If they can get balance in their mentality, then the tide could turn and their results can change. They too have some key fixtures coming up with games against Swansea, Norwich and QPR. To win those games, though, they really need to stop dropping Rickie Lambert, who I still rate as one of the best strikers around. He is a clever player, is brilliant in the air and has good feet, so why leave him on the bench and play Jay Rodriguez? Jay is a decent player but he is finding it tough in the Premier League, whereas Lambert has caused problems in every game so far - you have to say with Lambert in the team, they stand a much better chance of winning.

One last word about West Ham, who have started off brightly. Yes, they have won games, but look at the teams they have played. Villa, Swansea, Fulham, Norwich, Sunderland, QPR, Arsenal and Southampton. Five of those games have been at home too, so they have been dealt a much easier hand than Reading and Southampton. They now have to face the tougher teams during the busy winter period which is a very hard task.

These next few weeks are going to be excruciating as a fan, but this is what being one is all about.