With the fixture list for 2012/13 released at 9am tomorrow, it’s time for us to roll out reports on the three promoted clubs. Up first in our analysis, then, is Championship winners Reading. Written off by many after losing their top scorer, Shane Long, and captain, Matt Mills, in the summer transfer window, Brian McDermott’s men pipped Southampton to the title by just a single point, with a rock-solid defence the foundation of their success:
Back in November, avoiding relegation seemed like the Royals’ most pressing concern. Sitting in sixteenth position in the league table, they failed to flatter in the first few months but an abrupt changes in fortunes saw them surge up the table after harvesting 23 wins from their next 29 league matches. Reading never looked back and clinched promotion to the top-flight back in mid-April, after a four-year absence from the Premier League:
CS = Cleansheets
Over the course of the previous campaign, Reading’s returns in front of their own fans were fairly similar to those produced on the road – but this doesn’t tell the full story. McDermott’s side were sluggish out of the blocks at home, conceding 13 goals in their first 10 games at the Madejski Stadium before shipping a mere five in their final 13 home fixtures. They conceded more than one goal in seven of their home fixtures, chalking up a total of 12 clean sheets and, from an attacking perspective, scored more than a single goal on 11 occasions and failed to find the net three times.
On the road, the Royals netted just three goals less than at home. McDermott’s men scored more than once on nine occasions and failed to notch in six of their 23 clashes. At the back, they racked up eight clean sheets and conceded more than a single goal six times.
Brian McDermott arrived at the club as chief scout 12 years ago but was thrust into the spotlight in 2009, taking over the managerial reins following the dismissal of Brendan Rodgers. Working wonders on a shoestring budget, he’s reached the FA Cup Quarter Finals on a couple of occasions and has the highest post-war win percentage of any Reading manager.
His tactics are based around a 4-4-2 formation, with the central midfielders both sitting deep in front of the back-four and breaking up the opposition play. Reading rely on speed out wide to quickly break on counter-attacks, though a high work-rate is also demanded of all their players, with the wingers tracking back to defend whenever the opponents are in possession. Up front McDermott prefers a conventional front two, utilising a target man to take advantage of crosses from the flanks, while the second striker tends to play on the shoulder of the defence and looks for knock-ons. Similar to new Villa boss Paul Lambert, McDermott has also proven to be a canny manager when it comes to substitutions – many of his switches late on in games have been decisive in winning the three points.
The Promoted Squad
Here’s a rundown of the main men for the Championship winners last term, with a brief analysis of those players who managed 10 or more starts in their successful league campaign:
Adam Federici (46 starts) Been with the club since the 2006/07 season but only established himself as the Royals’ first-choice stopper over the past three campaigns. Started every one of their league matches last term and is nailed-on between the posts.
Alex Pearce (46 starts. 5 goals, 2 assists) Established himself as a first-choice central defender for the Royals last time round, playing every game of their outstanding season. While many Fantasy managers will target Ian Harte due to his set-piece ability, Pearce outscored the left-back in 2011/12, finding the net five times and also chipped in with a pair of assists. From a EA SPORTS Player Performance Index perspective, he’s the man most likely to put his body in the way of the ball and could be a magnet for blocked shots – a crucial part of the bonus point allocation.
Kaspars Gorkss (42 starts. 3 goals) Sold to the Royals by QPR last summer, the Latvian missed just four games in the heart of defence. His ball-winning ability was a crucial factor in his side’s defensive record and he also offered a reasonable threat in the opposition area, with three goals accrued.
Ian Harte (30 starts, 2 sub apps. 4 goals, 8 assists) Despite making 30 starts last term, the left-back produced four goals and eight assists from his left-back berth. With set-piece and spot-kick duties part of his repertoire, he’s likely to be pencilled in by many Fantasy managers when the player lists are revealed next month by Fantasy Premier League (FPL).
Shaun Cummings (32 starts, 2 sub apps) The first-choice right-back seems to offer the least threat going forward of the Royals back-four. Cummings failed to produce any attacking returns whatsoever last season, making his acquisition considerably less appealing than any of McDermott’s defence for Fantasy managers.
Joseph Mills (13 starts, 2 sub apps. 1 assist) Signed in August last year, he’ll mainly be used as back-up for Ian Harte in the left-back position. His adaptability means he could also feature on the left of midfield, though his starts are likely to be minimal unless injuries to others play a significant part.
Jem Karacan (36 starts, 1 sub app. 3 goals, 2 assists) A tough-tackling central midfielder, he tends to sit deep in front of the back-four. Missed a handful of games through injury but is vital to McDermott’s tactics and occasionally chips in with the odd goal.
Mikele Leigertwood (41 starts. 5 goals, 1 assist) Karacan’s partner in the central midfield, the Antiguan international is the more impressive all-round performer of the pair and offers a superior attacking threat going forward.
Jobi McAnuff (40 starts. 5 goals, 11 assists) The club captain was brought to Reading by new Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers back in 2009. McAnuff was the Royals’ chief creator last term, with his contribution from the flank providing 11 assists in addition to five goals, though his shooting can at times be a little wayward.
Jimmy Kebe (30 starts, 3 sub apps. 3 goals, 10 assists) His pace on the wing is vital to McDermott’s counter-attacking philosophy. Kebe’s attacking returns almost mirrored that of McAnuff’s but his place on the right looks to be under threat this coming season after the arrival of Garath McCleary.
Jay Tabb (10 starts, 9 sub apps. 1 assist) Signed for the Royals by Steve Coppell but no more than a squad player under McDermott, the former Brentford and Coventry midfielder is a versatile performer who is likely to struggle for game time unless injuries strike the first-team regulars.
Hal Robson Kanu (19 starts, 17 sub apps. 4 goals, 4 assists) Another adaptable squad player, he can play on the flank or up top for the Royals. Whether he can nail down a regular role in the Premier League is perhaps debatable, with new signings likely to push him further down the pecking order.
Simon Church (19 starts, 12 sub apps. 7 goals) Started the season as one of the first-choice forwards but the signing of Jason Roberts saw him drop down the pecking order, with his game time reduced as the campaign progressed.
Noel Hunt (33 starts, 8 sub apps. 8 goals, 9 assists) Although he’s never been a prolific goalscorer, his industry up front is a crucial aspect of his side’s tactics. Hunt’s high work-rate can go against him late on in games, though, with McDermott tending to sub him off when he needs to refresh his forward options.
Adam Le Fondre (17 starts, 15 sub apps. 12 goals, 3 assists) A series of significant performances from the bench have earned him the moniker “super sub”. Somewhat frustratingly for Le Fondre, he’s therefore likely to continue in that role, with McDermott handing him a chance to impress later on in games an opposition backlines tire.
Jason Roberts (17 starts. 6 goals, 5 assists) Purchased from Blackburn in the January 2012 transfer window, his arrival proved crucial in Reading’s push for promotion. Roberts perfectly fits the bill as target man within McDermott’s system; his aerial prowess and strength up top offers an out ball to the wingers and allows Noel Hunt to play on the shoulder of the last defender.
Although the Royals have been recently acquired by Russian tycoon Anton Zingarevich, they are unlikely to change their transfer policy; there will be no “big name” players on the radar. McDermott tends to target players with a point to prove – his capture of Gorkss and Roberts typifies his thinking; both dropped down a division to sign up for the Royals and more than made up for the loss of Mills and Long, with the pair’s contribution vital in propelling the club out of the Championship.
So far, they’ve picked up highly-rated winger Garath McAuley from Nottingham Forest on a free transfer. The 25 year old was out of contract in the summer and will offer stiff competition for Kebe on the right flank. Again, he’s the typical McDermott signing; only four years ago, McAuley was playing non-league football.
Over the past few days, the transfer rumours are beginning to heat up. A bid for Watford’s Player of the Year Adrian Mariappa has reportedly been turned down; the centre-half has also been on the radar of Newcastle and Wigan in recent months.
Danny Guthrie and Pavel Pogrebnyak are also said to be of interest to McDermott as he looks to add top-flight experience to his squad – the pair are out-of-contract after their respective deals with Newcastle and Fulham ended recently. While both would fit into Reading’s system, reports of a move for former player Gylffi Sigurdsson look highly unlikely – the Icelandic star prospered under Rodgers’ passing game at the Madejski but looks ill-suited to McDermott’s more defensive style of play, with a move to Anfield to reunite with the new Liverpool boss surely more of a reality.