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How Reading established themselves as promotion hopefuls:

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With a large proportion of the season behind us, the top and bottom of each league is becoming ever more competitive, with even the slightest dip in form potentially costly both to finances and club morale. The two Manchester clubs appear to be fighting it out for Premier League dominance, Charlton Athletic and Swindon Town look set to move away from the pack in the leagues 1 and 2 respectively, however the Championship seems well and truly up for grabs.

In recent times, talk about the battle between Southampton and West Ham for Championship leadership has dominated news headlines, with both teams looking set to fight it out between themselves just a few weeks ago. However, in the shadows of these two clubs, Reading have made themselves surprise contenders to snatch an automatic promotion place away from one of them, and shock many by adding themselves to what was previously considered a two horse race. However with the top 3 all due to play each other in coming weeks, and Reading lacking stand out ‘match winners’, is it going to be a case of playoff agony once more for Brain McDermott’s Royals.

Working at Reading Football Club week in week out, watching optimistic supporters advance towards the stadium and watching the suited up players turn up nonchalantly a few hours before match time, there is a real sense of togetherness at the club. It seemed the general consensus this year was to seek playoffs, however with the loss of captain Matt Mills at centre-half to Leicester, and ‘Super Shane Long’ West Brom, it seemed a top half finish would be more than adequate based on these events.

This seemed the best that Reading could fight for, and start of season results supported this prediction, however with a post-christmas pick up in form, similar to that of last year, Reading F.C. have made a very real bid to nick an automatic promotion spot at the expense of West Ham and Southampton.

A lot of credit for the situation needs to be offered towards Brain McDermott. The players, although few are of ‘Premier League’ quality like in the West Ham or Birmingham squad, the likes of Gorkks, Roberts and Le Fondre have fitted in comfortably into a rotation system within the squad. It is widely considered therefore that, although lacking these ‘Premier League’ players, they have enough squad depth to compete and win against those with supposed better quality players.

This concept is key to success, and with teams such as Chelsea falling to the likes of West Brom recently, the key of togetherness within squads can earn points, whereas a team of individuals may not achieve all that is expected of them. Furthermore, bringing in the likes of League 2 top scorer last year Le Fondre and Premier League experienced Jason Roberts, many were sceptical of the impact these players would have in filling the void of Shane Long. However these players have fitted in perfectly for little money in comparison to what West Brom paid for Long, showing good, sensible business in the Royals camp.

Thinking back to the start of the season, West Ham appeared favourites for immediate promotion back to the Premier League and back to the heights of English football. With money supporting them, enough so to keep their star players, along with new recruits, including Kevin Nolan and more recently purchased, highly rated, Nicky Maynard, champions of the Championship is still very likely, with players and fans expecting nothing less.

Other challengers Southampton were however considered far from challengers at the start of the season, with a mid-table finish highly satisfactory in Nigel Adkins’ first full season at the Saints. However for the Saints, the likes of Lambert and Lallana at the club have boosted the squad, and with match winners oozing throughout the squad, the Southampton side has shocked many, yet deservingly find themselves at the top of the table.

Reading F.C. however seem to be a relative success story during the hard times currently hitting lower English divisions this season. Recently taken over by a very wealthy Russian millionaire, and boosted by the loyalty and commitment of Brain McDermott, the Royals increasingly appear more attractive to fans and the footballing world as a whole, with fans and players alike seeing automatic promotion as a very real possibility. With around a quarter of games left remaining in England’s second tier of football, it seems there may be a very interesting and very competitive three horse race developing.

Reading are maintaining promotion chasing form, leading the form table and securing some big wins to catch the top two. However Reading will need to maintain this form in the coming weeks, and with a very important away game to West Ham coming at the end of March, it seems a loss to them, and perhaps more importantly Southampton early April, Reading could once again be forced to succumb to battling out, once again, a very competitive playoffs in order to try and find promotion to the English Premier League once more.

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