Relegated Reading kick-off life back in English football’s second-tier with a home fixture against Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich Town.
The Royals, who pipped Southampton to the Championship title two years ago, endured a thoroughly miserable 2012/13 campaign, with a lack of sufficient signings largely to blame for their relegation from the Premier League after just one season.
Popular manager Brian McDermott was controversially relieved of his duties in March and replaced by Nigel Adkins, who has since set about implementing his trademark brand of aesthetically pleasing football at the Madejski Stadium.
Despite the often devastating impacts of relegation accompanied by a somewhat indifferent pre-season, Reading are being tipped by many to make an immediate return to the top flight. Such a belief would appear to be rooted in the fact that, bar the possible exception of talented goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, director of football Nick Hammond is unlikely to have to spend the next few weeks desperately trying to fend off interest in the club’s biggest assets.
Indeed if anything, Reading appear to be heading into the new season with a squad improved by three seemingly excellent signings. Former England full-back Wayne Bridge was signed on a free transfer after the expiration of his Manchester City contract, while midfielder Danny Williams was brought in from Bundesliga strugglers Hoffenheim.
But perhaps the most intriguing Championship signing of the summer was that of Dutch midfielder Royston Drenthe. 26-year-old Drenthe, who was signed by Real Madrid in 2007, is an undeniable talent but his colourful off-field antics have led to him never quite fulfilling his considerable potential. If he can tone down his often undesirable behaviour during his time in Berkshire, Drenthe can arguably claim to be the finest player in the division.
Additionally, in Adkins, the club have a manager with an excellent track record of securing promotion in the Football League. At Scunthorpe, he was able to guide the Iron to two League One promotions while he also presided over Southampton’s rapid rise from the third-tier to the Premier League in just two seasons.
After a pre-season of experimenting with various tactics and combinations, Adkins’ starting lineup for their opening game isn’t quite clear. With Adam Le Fondre and Pavel Pogrebnyak the only fit out-and-out strikers currently available, it is likely that Reading will field only one forward with Drenthe tipped to play in a central supporting role.
Bridge should certainly make his debut at left-back, while Chris Gunter and Stephen Kelly will be vying for the right-back role. A combination of Sean Morrison, Adrian Mariappa and Alex Pearce will get the nod in central defence while in midfield Adkins has plenty of options, with Williams competing with Jem Karacan for a starting berth alongside playmaker Danny Guthrie.
It is in the wide positions where Reading are strongest, with Drenthe, captain Jobi McAnuff, Hal Robson-Kanu and Jamaican international Garath McCleary all expecting to start.
For visiting Ipswich, who are the Championship’s longest-serving club, expectations ahead of the coming season are higher than they have been for quite some time. After suffering several years of infuriating mediocrity, McCarthy appears to have injected a much-needed sense of confidence and stability at Portman Road since taking over in November 2012 .
The former Wolves boss has certainly been busy in the transfer market this summer. As well as saying goodbye to the likes of Michael Chopra and Jay-Emmanuel Thomas, McCarthy has brought in a raft of new signings that include Scottish international defender Christophe Berra, battling former Reading midfielder Jay Tabb, striker David McGoldrick ex-Bristol City duo Paul Anderson and Cole Skuse,
Despite the renewed sense of expectation around the Tractor Boys, McCarthy would surely be pleased with a point from this weekend’s encounter. For the hosts, who were slightly goal shy during pre-season, much will depend on the quality of service that their plethora of talented midfielders are able to deliver to the lone frontman.
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