So what must Reading and Southampton do?
In recent years, something of a trend has developed in the Barclays Premier League for promoted teams. Indeed, whilst many might perceive something of a struggle for teams bridging the gap from the Championship, the reality is that promoted teams seem to be more than adept at holding their own.
But as the Premier League seems to grow in competitiveness every season, next term is set to be just as cutthroat as ever. For both Reading and Southampton, the top flight of English football is hardly a walk into the unknown. But they’ll know better than anyone how ruthless this league can be and unless they start making some inroads in the transfer market, they could be served a painfully quick reminder.
The omens would look, on paper anyway, reasonably good for West Ham, Reading and Southampton. In the last five seasons, 11 of the 15 teams promoted from the Championship have remained in the Premier League at the end of their returning/debut season. That represents a pretty good survival rate for all involved and seems at odds with the bookies’ usual doom mongering at the start of the season.
And indeed, that trend hasn’t veered away much before the start of next term. Sky Bet will give you odds of 11/10 on Reading and 5/4 on Southampton being relegated, making them the unsurprising favourites for the drop. West Ham though, appear to be receiving a similar sort of backing that Newcastle did when they returned to the Premier League.
Popular opinion suggests that Sam Allardyce’s team and the seasoned top-flight experience of players such as Kevin Nolan and Carlton Cole, will be enough to see them safe this season. An interesting opinion, considering they had to resort to the play-offs to gain promotion, after finishing behind both Southampton and Reading.
But they do have Premier League pedigree in their ranks; the additions of Jussi Jaaskelainen and James Collins only boosts their chances. But most importantly, they have a manager in Sam Allardyce, who has been there and done it. He knows what it takes.
Again, you could ask whether managerial experience is really even that important in today’s world. Paul Lambert and Brendan Rodgers haven’t done too bad for themselves since they got promoted. Nigel Adkins and Brian McDermott won’t have too many worries about their failure to manage in the top flight as of yet.
But what they may be worrying about is the strength of their squads. Only last week, Adkins admitted: “We are looking to improve on what we have, and the players are aware of that. There is still a bit of work to be done.”
Southampton feel like something of an unknown quality going into next season. The likes of Rickie Lambert, who has been prolific within the lower leagues, as well as Richard Chaplow and Guly do Prado, have all lighted up League One and the Championship during Southampton’s epic journey under Adkins. Both Jack Cork and Adam Lallana are gifted footballers and with an academy as prolific as Southampton’s, prodigious talents such as that of James Ward-Prowse are never far away.
But how they all adapt to the top flight will be the defining element for Southampton’s season. Adkins has a lot of faith in his current team, many of which seem to have been tipped to a move to the top flight for an eternity.
But although many have spoken highly of Lambert, Lallana and co, no Premier League team has seen fit to take a punt on them. Lambert is now 30 and Lallana can’t be classified as a fledgling young player any more at 24. Richard Chaplow failed to really make the grade during his time at West Brom and both Kelvin Davies and Danny Fox have more than a point to prove in the Premier League. Comparisons will be made with Norwich, but if Adkins can keep them up, it could arguably supplant the efforts that Paul Lambert made last season – a lot of players are going to need to step up for him if this is going to happen.
Up at the Madjeski, Brian McDermott has done a fantastic job to get the Royals back into the Premier League and the ex-Arsenal midfielder sees his side go into the new season with at least a few familiar faces. Pavel Pogrebnyak didn’t spend long at Fulham, but he showed enough goal-scoring prowess to suggest he can knock a few in for Reading next season. Securing the Russian on a Bosman certainly seems like a safer bet than the £7 million that Adkins spent on Jay Rodriguez anyway.
Newly signed Danny Guthrie is someone who can do a decent job at Premier League level and the veteran Jason Roberts may well bring the experience to chime in with a few important goals. But there still feels like a lack of real quality in this Reading squad, especially defensively. Alex Pearce was superb at centre-back last season and how he handles the step up will be crucial.
But Shaun Cummings and the veteran Ian Harte will have a real job on their hands next season. McDermott has spoken of his pleasure at having two players for every position. But Nicky Shorey isn’t the player he was in his first term at the Madjeski, Chris Gunter’s game still needs to mature defensively and for Adrian Mariappa it could be a case of sink or swim following his switch from Watford. We’ve seen time and again how promoted teams can be undone by a shoddy defence – Ian Holloway’s Blackpool side were mercurial going forward, but that wasn’t enough to prevent relegation. McDermott could do with an experienced Premier League head back there.
A lot of what’s being discussed here, such as the need to step-up and the experience of their respective squads, may seem like a routine analysis of any promoted team. But Reading and Southampton seem to lack some of the stardust of the promoted three of last year bestowed – Brendan Rodgers’ brand of football, Paul Lambert’s golden mentality and in the case of QPR, a slew of investment come January. This isn’t to say that McDermott or Adkins don’t have the talent nor the drive to keep their teams up.
But you can’t help but feel that the pair could do with a few more, preferably Premier League experienced, acquisitions. Both teams are carrying a lot of talent that has been highly rated at Football League level – whether they can all do the trick within the Premier League remains to be seen. History suggests that luck may be on their side. Let’s hope the law of averages doesn’t work against them.
How do you feel about Reading and Southampton’s chances next season? Can they step up to the plate or will next season finally see the demise of the promoted team? Tell me what you think and how you see it on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and bat me your views!