Premier League Preview - Reading
FA Cup: Third Round
League Cup: First Round
A return to the Premier League for Reading following a four year absence did not seem a likely eventuality last season when they were languishing 16th in the Championship during November and in mid-January, 11 points adrift off then league leaders Southampton. However, the Royals superbly climbed the table and overturned this deficit under the masterful guidance of Brian McDermott, clinching the title courtesy of 15 wins from their last 17 games.
Just as this run of form was beginning to gather momentum in early February, McDermott was approached by Wolves as they sought a manager capable of preserving their own, Premier League status. However, by signing a new three-and-a-half year contract, McDermott emphatically committed himself to Reading’s cause, which from that point onwards grew in strength and yielded promotion, confirmed by a 1-0 victory over Nottingham Forest.
Whilst sparking celebration amongst those at the forefront of its orchestration, this achievement also facilitated the finishing touches being put on the takeover of the club by Russian tycoon Anton Zingarevich. Although former chairman John Madejski initially announced in January that Zingarevich’s company Thames Sports Investments would assume a 51% share, this could not officially be completed until the fate of Reading’s promotion push was determined. Its success meant Zingarevich’s proposed takeover was subject to Premier League approval which has subsequently been granted.
Zingarevich has authorised investment in several new players, each of whom have the potential to enhance Reading’s competitiveness during the season ahead. The new recruits include Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, who became the player to take the least amount of games (three) to score five Premier League goals during his loan spell with Fulham last season, former Nottingham Forest duo Chris Gunter and Gareth McCleary and Nicky Shorey and Adrian Mariappa.
Newcastle’s well documented but failed pursuit of Mariappa during last winter’s transfer window indicated the ex-Watford is held in high regard among illustrious peers. However this alone will not be enough for him to displace either Kasper Gorkss or Alex Pearce in central defence. The pair, alongside goalkeeper Adam Federici, who recently signed a contract extension until the summer of 2015, helped Reading record 10 1-0 wins and 20 clean sheets last season. McDermott will hope for similar solidity this term.
The chances of that may be regarded as slim within many quarters but McDermott will be quietly confident of proving any doubters wrong following the modest strengthening of his squad. The manager has also retained those players prominent in last season’s Championship winning side. One such player was Jason Roberts, whose superb all-round play and contribution of six goals in 16 games, gave reason to believe he can be a top-flight goal threat again.
Whilst the potency or otherwise of Roberts may prove to be a key factor in determining the fortunes of Reading on their return to the Premier League, his experience of playing at this level, along with that possessed by the likes of Danny Guthrie, Ian Harte and Shorey will be vital for the Royals to enjoy their return.
Manager - Brian McDermott: As someone who takes pride in practicing a football philosophy admired by others, McDermott can to use both his man management skills and eight years’ experience as a scout for the Berkshire club to prepare his carefully constructed squad for the challenges that lie ahead.
Key Signing - Gareth McCleary: Every season in the Premier League a clutch of relatively unknown but exciting players burst onto the scene and this year McCleary has the potential to be one of them. The 25-year-old winger played a pivotal role in helping Nottingham Forest avoid relegation from the Championship last year, producing the type of performances which will have the chance to prosper under McDermott.
Key Sale - The club to Anton Zingarevich: Although Reading have managed to retain the key players from their Championship winning side, the completion of John Madejski’s sale of a 51% share Zingarevich is likely to see the Royals adopt a new strategy off the field, one designed to firmly establish them in the top flight.
Keep an eye out for - Jimmy Kebe: Throughout the first half of last season the future of Kebe was shrouded in doubt. He could not agree the terms of a new contract with club but the issue was resolved at the turn of the year, allowing the winger to devote his attention to matters on the field, where he is a mercurial talent.