Battle to secure elusive place at top table
I’d like to take a little break from the norm and look at the contenders trying to get out of the Championship and into the Holy Grail that is the Premier League. I have fancied Reading from the early part of the season.
If you remember right last season, they made a late run to the play-offs and got beaten in the final by a good Swansea team who are now taking the Premier by storm. Reading were always going to have a bit of a hangover from last season’s heartbreak but, in Brian McDermott, they have a manager who is great with his man-management skills.
I know a few lads that have played for him and they all give him glowing references as a man, coach and manager. Along the way in January, I believe he made the signing of the season in any division by bringing in the quality and experience of Jason Roberts. He has come in and hit the ground not just running but sprinting and the knowledge he has in the game has no doubt helped the younger players in the Reading dressing-room.
It’s a great club and apparently a great club to play for, with no pressure on the players – which, at this time of year, helps no end to enable them to express themselves. They have one huge advantage over their rivals, which is electrifying pace going forward on the wings and through the middle.
They have a counter-attacking system that they use at home and away to devastating effect and which can lead the opposition into a false sense of security. They get a bit relaxed and, before they know it, Reading are down the other end of the pitch and putting the ball in their opponents’ net. I thoroughly believe that not only will Reading get promoted automatically but they will win the league as well.
On to West Ham. This is a completely opposite story with their fans expecting them to get promoted while also playing the so-called West Ham way, which Sam Allardyce has come out and said doesn’t exist. The problem at West Ham, like many clubs just relegated from the top league, is that they are expected to go straight back up. They have brought in a significant amount of players who have cost a fair bit, and also will be on ridiculous wages for the Championship, and that does nothing but heighten the expectancy to go up.
After the signings were made in the summer and in January, I fully expected them to go up as champions, but the way I see it now is that they will have to settle for the play-offs and that’s a whole new ballgame. When the fans turn at Upton Park, you have had it. Over the years when I have played there for various clubs, the last instruction the manager would give you on your way out was always keep West Ham quiet for the first 20 minutes and the fans will start to get frustrated and that, in turn, will get the players edgy. It worked in our favour on many occasions.
Now more than ever, West Ham will need their fans behind them. When I have played there before and West Ham have scored early on, there are not many more intimidating places to play as a visiting team. So the fans will have a bigger part to play than they could imagine and it should not be underestimated. Allardyce not only has to keep his players going but he also has to keep the fans on his side, otherwise I can see them going no farther then the play-off semis.
On to Southampton. I must admit that when they faltered a while back, I feared for their automatic promotion credentials, but they picked themselves up, dusted themselves down and kicked on. OK, so they had a bad result on Saturday, losing 3-0 at Blackpool, but they are getting the results that I feel will see them promoted automatically along with Reading.
Look at their goals for column. It’s incredible. They have scored an outstanding 72 goals and the main reason behind that has been the form of Ricky Lambert, who has taken to the Championship like a duck to water. They have also conceded only 38, which also shows a great defensive unit.
When you add those two strengths together, you are looking at a succesful team. It would be great to see all three of these teams in the top division but I feel that it will end in huge disappointment for the Irons. Only time will tell, I guess, but it’s safe to say that this time of the season is always the most exciting at the top and bottom of all divisions.
I thought it would be good to talk about another division this week instead of the Premier because, in it, I don’t see the final standings of the top two and bottom three changing come the end of the season. I maybe wrong – Manchester United may implode – but it’s very unlikely and, also at the bottom, I think that although there were some good results over the weekend for some of those clubs in trouble, I don’t see it altering.