Football

Reading and Saints can expect Premier reception

Reading confirmed promotion with victory over Nottingham Forest. (©GettyImages)
Reading confirmed promotion with victory over Nottingham Forest. (©GettyImages).

Reading manager Brian McDermott would have been forgiven for thinking he'd been on the receiving end of an unsavoury joke after defeat to Hull City in January.

Not only was the Tigers' only goal allowed to stand despite Aaron McLean being in an offside position in most football rulebooks, but the goalscorer, Robbie Brady, was on-loan from Manchester United.

An infrequent appearance maker during his final days at Arsenal, but McDermott can't have helped feeling United had returned to bite him, following a succession of domestic cup successes in the 80s.

As it turns out, that controversial defeat to Hull was the turning point in the Royals' season. Nick Barmby's side left Reading 11 points off leaders West Ham United, and with the club's takeover unlikely to significantly benefit the club financially until the summer, supporters were staring sown the barrel of a sixth successive season without Premier League football.

The hangover from last season's play-off final defeat quickly developed into an Autumnal headache. Often slow starters, McDermott's side were battling the odds as well; just two sides have recovered from play-off heartbreak to finish in the top six the following season since their 106 point heroics in 2005/06.

Coupled with the success of Brendan Rodgers' Swansea City, their nemesis from Wembley and of a manager cast aside three years previous, and it wasn't hard to whiff the envy in Berkshire, and that's before you mention Paolo Di Canio.

However, it's McDermott who's earned the last laugh. Having earned 47 points from the last 51, kept 10 clean sheets and yet continued to produce the sort of football genetically inherited by their manager during his 12-year career at the Madejski Stadium, the club have surged to the promised land with two games to spare.

Despite being arguably the most unstoppable team in the division in full-flight last season, the facts and figures cloud any theory that a direct change of style has dictated this season's success. Less goals have been scored and conceded while more clean sheets have been recorded. However, there are more defeats than last term, but also more wins. Stats really do only tell half the story.

A change of personal hasn't been dramatic from that play-off defeat, but McDermott has clearly learned from the experience.

Shaun Cummings and Joseph Mills have both provided more mobility at the back after Andy Griffin and Zurab Khizanishvili toiled at Wembley, while Jason Roberts is a much needed pivot in attack. Perhaps accused of being one-dimensional in the final third, the former Blackburn Rovers man provides a real presence up front.

Further alternations are few and far between; with six of the personal who played against Swansea helping the club over the line against Nottingham Forest on Tuesday, a list you can add Jem Karacan too after his season ending ankle break.

The sales of club captain Matt Mills and top scorer Shane Long further emphasises the size of the achievement, and alongside Southampton, whose promotion is all-but confirmed, the pair will pose a dangerous test to the Premier League next season.

Neither bring with them a wealth of top flight experience, but what they lack in seasoned know-how they more than make up for in style.

If the success of Grant Holt, Steven Morison and Danny Graham this season is any indication, then the 27 goals of Saints' Rickie Lambert suggests he won't miss out next term, while the craft of Adam Lallana and Morgan Schneiderlin make them ready-made for the glitz of Old Trafford and the Emirates Stadium.

After seeing West Bromwich Albion thrill, but fail during their yoyo years between the Premier League and the Championship, Swansea have this season proved good-looking football can equal survival.

In addition, after the likes of Newcastle United opted for attritional football in search of promotion from the Championship, it's good to see two sides with open games topple this season's long-ball specialists; West Ham United.

Possessing a game-plan which can be sustainable alongside infrastructures tailor-made for the Premier League, as well as finances available to expand both stadia and playing staff, Reading and Southampton have the tools to make giant strides.

The Premier League is in for a rude awakening. No joke.

Topics:
Reading
Football
Championship
Southampton
Premier League

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