While recent trends have been for newly promoted sides to be positive in their approach, either through playing attacking football (Norwich, Blackpool) or dominating possession (Swansea), Reading will look to survive through organisation and a tight defence. Brian McDermott’s side kept an impressive twenty clean sheets last season on their way to their surprise Championship triumph, but will be hard-pressed to continue that form in the Premier League. Equally worrying is that their record of sixty-nine goals is the fewest accrued by the second-tier champions since Sunderland in the 95/96 season.
Reading’s strength in attack is down the flanks, and both wingers Jimmy Kebe and Jobi McAnuff registered over ten assists last season. They supplied a quartet of strikers – Adam Le Fondre, Noel Hunt, Simon Church and Jason Roberts – who scored nearly half of the team’s league goals. It remains to be seen if McDermott will continue with a pair of strikers or look to add an extra man in midfield. Teams playing with genuine wingers are in decline in the Premier League and it would certainly be refreshing to see Reading continue to play to their strengths. Should they remove a striker, the wingers’ roles tend to change as they have to provide more support to the lone striker and cannot focus on hugging the touchline and attacking the opposition full-back.
The purchase of Pavel Pogrebnyak has demonstrated Reading’s ability to pay Premier League wages, having seemingly stolen the Russian striker from under the noses of Fulham, but that signing aside there seems little indication that the club’s new owner, Anton Zingarevich, intends to fund a spending spree in the way that Tony Fernandes has at QPR. It therefore looks as though McDermott will begin the campaign with a similar side that won promotion. Last season Reading started slowly, finding themselves in 16th place after the first ten games before hitting form after Christmas with a run of fifteen wins from seventeen games. The feeling is they cannot afford the same start in the Premier League even with the possibility of reinforcements in the January transfer window. With other possible contenders for relegation either adjusting to new management (Aston Villa, Norwich, Swansea, West Brom), perennial slow starters (Wigan) or fellow newcomers (Southampton and West Ham), the teams that survive are likely to be those that settle the quickest.
Reading’s season may well depend on the ambition of Zingarevich and how much he is willing or capable of investing in the club. If winning promotion last season was a surprise, it will take a monumental effort for essentially the same team to stay in the Premier League. McDermott has so far demonstrated his motivational powers and ability to organise a side, but it may have been his eye for a signing that won them promotion last year with new arrivals Le Fondre and Roberts scoring important goals in Reading’s charge to the title. If McDermott is given money to spend this season he will need to use it wisely.