Brian McDermott's Royals secured promotion from the Championship by beating Nottingham Forest and return to the top flight for the first time since the 2007-08 seasonPROFILE
By Ed Aarons
Mikele Leigertwood's late header against Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night was the goal that sent Reading back into the Premier League for the first time since 2007-08.
Indeed, thanks to the Royals' 2-2 follow-up draw with Crystal Palace four days later and Southampton's shock defeat at Middlesbrough, Brian McDermott's men have been confirmed as the winners of the Championship with a game to spare.
So what's the story on the newest member of the top-flight family? Goal.com gives you the lowdown on how they got here - and how they could get on in 2012-13.
|KEY MAN - ALEX PEARCE
With the emphasis very much on the team as a whole at the Madejski Stadium, it’s hard to single anyone in particular out. Astonishingly, winger Jimmy Kebe was the only member of Brian McDermott’s squad to be named in FourFourTwo’s list of the Football League’s 50 best players, while promotion rivals Southampton boasted two of the top three.
But, despite superb contributions from the likes of Adam Federici, Ian Harte, Kaspars Gorkss, skipper Jobi McAnuff, Jem Karacan and Jason Roberts, it’s a player who first joined the Royals as a 12-year-old who has impressed most this term. Now 23, Alex Pearce has marshalled the Championship’s meanest defence with a poise and maturity that belies his tender age and is now odds-on to earn a call-up for the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2012 squad after he decided to turn his back on Scotland.
The Premier League awaits, although if Pearce performs like he has this season against Italy and Spain, Reading may find it tough to keep hold of their best player.
|MANAGER - BRIAN McDERMOTT
‘Brian who?’ was the common reaction when McDermott took over as Reading’s caretaker boss in November 2009 after the departure of Brendan Rodgers. Yet after claiming his first victory in the Royals’ shock win against Liverpool at Anfield in the FA Cup, the former Arsenal player, who cut his managerial teeth at Slough and Woking, has shown that he is a class act.
The devastating experience of losing last season’s playoff final against Swansea City clearly had an effect on Reading’s slow start to this season. But, after being forced to sell defender Matt Mills and striker Shane Long for a combined total of nearly £13 million in the summer, the way in which McDermott has turned things around has been nothing short of remarkable.
His acquisition of Jason Roberts from Blackburn in January was a masterstroke that gave his squad the cutting edge when it mattered most. And having created such a tight-knit bunch, who’s to say that McDermott can’t follow in the footsteps of predecessor Steve Coppell and lead Reading to a top-10 finish in their first season back in the top flight?
|WHAT TO EXPECT
Organisation. With goalkeeper Federici and central defenders Pearce and Gorkss in place, Reading have conceded just 29 goals in 40 Championship matches and their solidity underpins the entire side. Left-back Harte’s experience and dead-ball delivery has also played a crucial part, with Shaun Cummings dependable on the other flank.
In midfield, Mikele Leigertwood provides further defensive protection (and the odd goal) in the holding role, with Karacan, Jobi McAnuff, Hal Robson-Kanu and Jimmy Kebe all capable of providing a creative spark but also ingrained with the work ethic demanded by their manager. In particular, the passing ability of London-born Turkey Under-21 international Karacan will ensure that he thrives in the top flight.
Strikers Roberts, Noel Hunt, Simon Church and Adam Le Fondre have only contributed a total of 33 goals between them but all add something different to the Royals’ front line. The latter - a £350,000 snip from Rotherham last summer - has now scored a remarkable 66 times in his last 117 league starts.
|HOW THEY GOT PROMOTED
After a disastrous run that saw them lose four matches on the trot in August and September, it looked like the Royals may have had a relegation fight on their hands. But Gorkss’ arrival from QPR helped steady the ship and McDermott’s side began to find their feet, although a run of five draws in seven matches still left them near the bottom at the end of October.
But two injury-time goals against Ipswich on November 26 in a 3-2 victory were the catalyst for an astonishing run of 23 wins out of their next 28 matches that catapulted Reading ahead of both Southampton and West Ham. Aside from a 1-1 draw against Doncaster and a surprise 3-1 loss to Peterborough, the Royals have now picked up three points at every single league fixture since January 28 – a remarkable haul of 50 points from a possible 54.
Leigertwood’s winner against Nottingham Forest last week saw them finally clinch promotion, with Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace confirming that they will go up as champions.
|WHAT THEY NEED TO STAY UP
During their first spell in the top flight back in 2006-07, Steve Coppell kept faith with the team that had romped to the Championship title with a record 106 points and guided Reading to a superb eighth-placed finish. But, while there are many similarities with this year’s edition under McDermott, the presence of new Russian owner Anton Zingarevich could make it a different ball game this time around.
The 29-year-old with a supermodel wife (look her up) has ambitious plans to expand the Madejski Stadium and has already drawn up a shortlist of summer targets designed to help Reading compete at the higher end of the Premier League. In the short term, reinforcements in defence, central midfield and up front are needed, although Le Fondre could be their answer to Grant Holt or Danny Graham next season.
Elsewhere, McDermott will be loath to make too many changes to the winning formula that has served him so well. Yet the pressures of the Premier League may call for a different approach if things aren’t quite working out come January.
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