Well, here we are. That didn’t last long, did it? Our Premiership spell wasn’t the worst – *scratches head for the select few highlights*, but it certainly could have been better – namely not ending in relegation.
So we move on. Relegation was confirmed with a wet lettuce draw against QPR which condemned both sides to the second tier, and since then the preparations have begun for another crack at the promotion whip. We’ve got new faces (ooh), a new manager (aah), a new kit (kerching), and an awful new Twitter slogan (#cringe), so bring on the Tractor Boys, staying up late to disagree with Claridge, and the latest odds sponsored by SkyBet, ’cause Reading are back in the Championship!
The last time I was writing here I was talking about the euphoria and immense pride at the team’s achievement. We battled against the odds and tips of others to quite literally romp up the league table and take the title without so much as batting an eyelid post-Christmas. Looking back now, I’d still tell you to put your money elsewhere. Games against Brighton, West Ham, Southampton, Leeds were all real slogs. Tough on paper, and tough on the pitch, but we overcame whatever barriers, riding on a wave of togetherness and team spirit. It’s okay, you can put your pukebag away now, cause that’s all in the past. But if this current crop of players are to be just as successful this year, replicating that feat and bouncing back up at the first try, they may have to rely on those league-winning members to harness some of that attitude, as we’ve seen just how important it is. In terms of the players and their abilities, I still don’t think we should have won the league back in 2012, but it goes to show what a mix of luck and spirit can produce, as well as the unpredictability of this fantastic league.
With the forthcoming season, it’s important to address what went wrong during the last campaign. One of the key reasons behind our relegation was some incredibly poor (or even lack of) business in the two transfer windows. In terms of this year, it’s not often you get to (or should be able to) say that your team are better equipped post-relegation, but that’s where we find ourselves now. When you take last season’s crop and this summer’s three additions of Royston Drenthe, Danny Williams and Wayne Bridge, we actually start to resemble a tidy looking side.
Drenthe, once known somewhat more for his off-field misdemeanours, arrives after a spell in Russia with Alania Vladkavkaz and has been quoted as saying he is ready to get back to the basic love of football after being released from Real Madrid. His blistering pace and pinpoint left boot is a mouthwatering prospect. Williams is a USA international, carrying the praises of manager Jurgen Klinsmann and someone with Bundesliga experience, having joined from Hoffenheim. He’s featuring sparingly in pre-season so far, but is said to be a solid presence in the middle of the pitch. Wayne Bridge plugs the gap at left-back vacated by the departures of Ian Harte and Nicky Shorey. While his legs might not be what they used to at 32 years old, he made it into the Championship team of the year last season, so he’s clearly still got something to give.
It also shouldn’t be forgotten that the club have retained the services of two players already on the books. Alex Pearce and Hal Robson-Kanu, both academy graduates, have signed new deals this summer. Pearce’s contract had essentially expired after rejecting several new offers throughout the season, citing parity issues behind his decision. He must have got his wish, because with Liverpool and Newcastle rumoured to be interested, Alex put pen to paper on a new two year deal. It’s great news for the club, not only because Pearce has been at the club for so long and worked his way through the youth ranks, but also because he played every single minute of our last Championship campaign and was rewarded as our Player of the Season. His renewal is a vital boost to our defensive ranks and promotion bid. The same could be said for Robson-Kanu, who signed a new contract after a stellar year in the Premier League. He knocked in 7 goals from the wings, and could really make a big impact if he gets another decent run in the starting team. HRK’s rumoured to have turned down an opportunity to join Cardiff, and along with Pearce, tying the two of them down on new deals feels like two new signings.
Of course, no relegation would be complete without a few issues on the pitch, and there were certainly more than a few at the Madejski last year. Brian McDermott, for so long the apple of the Reading fan’s eye, suffered a fall from grace with his tunnel-vision tactics and poor player management. The long ball game which was regularly deployed was based on an ability to hit opponents on the counter attack. That rope-a-dope technique worked fine in the Championship, but was criminal in the top flight, and the results concur. Take nothing away from McDermott and all he achieved in his time as Reading manager, it was nothing short of a miracle that we were promoted, but he looked thoroughly out of his depth in the Premier League.
His successor, Nigel Adkins, adapted to the pressures of the Premier League during his brief stint leading Southampton through the top flight. He was relieved somewhat controversially of his duties in January, and after getting the Reading job in March, has been on the longest pre-season in the history of time. The feeling amongst the fans at the time was that we’d simply left too much to do to stave off relegation, and even though the club wouldn’t ever say as much, I imagine Adkins was told those final six weeks were more about performance and regaining some dignity than necessarily staying up. You’d have to say that was probably achieved. We began to see changes with each passing game, as the long ball game became a…passing…game. It was refreshing to see on the pitch, and it’ll be fascinating to see how well that ethos has been implemented over the summer ahead of Saturday.
Speaking of the summer, and our pre-season has been indifferent to say the least. A draw and a win on a short trip over to Portugal looked promising, but since being back in the UK we’ve suffered consecutive losses to Bristol City, Swansea, and Bristol Rovers. A large concern could be that we’ve yet to score at home since Adkins took charge, but the manager has been clear in his pre-season aims, stating fitness over results is ultimately his goal. Every available player has had at least a full 90 minutes, and it seems like the group are raring to go for Ipswich on Saturday.
Ipswich spells the start of a long, hard, arduous campaign. The Championship is unpredictable at the best of times, but this year exceeds itself as one of the strongest years I’ve ever seen. Forest, Leicester, Watford, Leeds, QPR, Wigan, Bolton, Doncaster, Blackburn and ourselves all surely have to be contenders for promotion this year. There’ll be the odd upset too, no doubt about it. The thing we as Reading fans can take solace in is that the majority of this squad have been there and done it before, and even those that haven’t played in the Championship have experience from around Europe. That continental diversity, added to the likes of Alex McCarthy, Chris Gunter, Adrian Mariappa, Garath McCleary and Adam Le Fondre, and we surely have one of the strongest teams to boot.
Yes, relegation last season was a fitting end to a poor campaign. It’s not the be all and end all though, cause we’re back in the greatest league in the world with a strong squad core ready to give promotion another bash. God I’ve missed football.
Written by Ben Barker, We Are Going Up’s Reading blogger
Ben tweets at @benjambarker