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Which Of The Promoted Sides Has The Best Chance Of Staying Up?

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Last season’s promoted sides were a revelation. Swansea dazzled the league with an adherence to short passing football stronger than Elton John’s adherence to ill-fitting wigs, Norwich showed a tactical flexibility rarely seen in England before while QPR relied on more prosaic methods to fashion an impressive escape from relegation, almost causing one of the biggest upsets in British football history against Manchester City in the process. This season Reading, Southampton and West Ham will aim to emulate them.

All these sides have fairly recent Premiership experience. West Ham were relegated in driving rain at the DW Stadium 15 months ago, Reading went down in 2008 and Southampton were relegated in 2005 when a club run by an unpopular chairman, an ex-Portsmouth manager and a rugby coach who didn’t know a football from a basketball went down a division after a 27 year stay in the top flight.

The Road to the Premier League

These sides got promoted in dramatically different ways. Southampton, champions of League One just over a year ago would never have thought promotion to the Premier League was on the cards. But they were never out of the top two, played attractive football under the relentlessly positive Nigel Adkins and after a wobble at the end of the season thumped relegated Coventry on the final day to seal promotion.

Reading had lost the play-off final to Swansea the season before, were 16th in the table after 15 games but then went on the sort of run you usually only see on Football Manager when you sign Cherno Samba and Tonton Zola Moukoko. 15 wins from 17 lifted them from 8th place after Christmas to the Championship title. This success was marked with longtime owner John Madejski selling the club to young Russian billionaire (sound familiar?) Anton Zingarevich.

West Ham did things the hard way. Hiring ugly football merchant Sam Allardyce then giving Kevin Nolan a five year, £40,000 a week contract raised eyebrows. Owners Gold & Sullivan kept the nucleus of the squad relegated from the Premiership together, gambling desperately on promotion. Poor home form in the league led to them finishing 3rd, but in the playoffs a dominant aggregate victory over Cardiff and a nervy 2-1 win against Blackpool at Wembley saw the Hammers promoted.

Reading

Reading are perhaps the most unpredictable side of the trio. The sale of the club from the steady, competent, naming-a-stadium-after-himself chairman John Madejski to the young, Russian, mega-rich Anton Zingarevich (with a rather attractive wife) provides this unpredictability.

They have been a renowned well-run club who have been either in the Premiership or on the fringes of the Big League for the last decade and have perhaps not spent as much as expected under the new owner. Only £6m has been spent so far on Championship defenders Adrian Mariappa and Chris Gunter, with Garath McCleary, Nicky Shorey and Danny Guthrie arriving on free transfers. The only sign of financial excess has been the signing of Pavel Pogrebnyak after his solid loan spell at Fulham last season for a rumoured £60,000 a week.

Reading last season used a rather basic, Roy Hodgson-esque 4-4-2 with Mikele Leigertwood and one of Jay Tabb, Jem Karacan and Hayden Mullins creating a solid midfield partnership who defended more than they attacked. This led to them having the best defence in the division and the arrival of Jason Roberts at Christmas saw them start scoring the goals which allied to their defence saw them rocket up the table.

I fear this solid 4-4-2 may be becoming outdated in the Premier League. More fluid formations involving five midfielders and a lone striker up front are the fashion for most Premier League sides (Man Utd are a notable exception) and it’s hard to see two of Leigertwood, Mullins, Tabb, Karacan and Guthrie coping with the midfield trios of top sides. Reading are not a side who pass the ball as well as other sides their ilk, like say Swansea or even Southampton. They will rarely dominate possession and thus expose their defence more than is good for them.

Also it’s dangerous to expect a good defence at Championship level to be a good defence at Premiership level. QPR last season showed how the best defence in the Championship was woefully exposed at times in the Big League.

The defence has been manager Brian McDermott’s focus on the summer and it needs to be if Reading are to have a sufficiently good defence to give themselves a chance to win games. Up front, Jason Roberts excelled in the Championship but has rarely produced the goods in the Premier League. Noel Hunt, Simon Church and Adam Le Fondre did fairly well in the lower leagues but are unknown quantities at the highest level. Pogrebnyak is their big hope and will be relied upon for between 10 and 20 goals for the season.

Southampton

Southampton I think could be a surprise package. Like Norwich last season, they arrive in the Premier League on the back of two successive promotions. Like Norwich, they have a squad with few big names and are an attacking side who pass the ball nicely and who have bought mostly young players yet to prove themselves in the Premier League. Norwich and Swansea achieving Premier League survival with inexperience and QPR doing it with experience shows how both approaches can work.

The main strength of Southampton is their midfield. The likes of Adam Lallana, Jack Cork, Morgan Schneiderlin were superb last season and provide Southampton with the ability to retain possession which is becoming increasingly vital in the modern game. Steven Davis signing from the train wreck at Rangers will only help them further in this area. The 4-4-2 may be becoming outdated, but at least Southampton’s players can keep possession, something Reading for example can’t do as well.

Nathaniel Clyne is a very promising young full back who could be an excellent signing, while Jay Rodriguez will look to form a little ‘n’ large partnership with Rickie Lambert up front. Lambert is Southampton’s talisman, a Grant Holt figure in both shape and goalscoring ability but without the public transfer request and support for the Conservative Party. He may be 30 but is currently at his peak and in old fashioned parlance could be a ‘handful’ for Premier League defenders.

Like Norwich last year, the strength of the club may be the manager. Nigel Adkins worked minor miracles twice getting Scunthorpe on paltry attendances into the Championship, and at Southampton in a season and a half has led the club to two promotions, playing sparkling football along the way.

Adkins is the optimist’s optimist, someone who radiates good vibes while being a thoroughly modern coach in terms of training methods, playing style and even the use of statistics and ProZone style tools in coaching. He could be the main factor in Southampton’s survival if he doesn’t do so well that he’s poached by a rival.

West Ham

Another coach famous (or notorious) for his use of ProZone and statistics is ‘Big’ Sam Allardyce. Unlike McDermott or Adkins, Allardyce has been there and done it. He led Bolton to the brink of the Champions League, was solidly mid-table with Blackburn and Newcastle and has the friendship with Sir Alex Ferguson, good relationship with the press and the parody Twitter account that are seemingly the prerequisites for many Premier League manager nowadays.

Last season West Ham didn’t really click until near the end of the season.  They were favourites to win the Championship, had the largest wage bill in the division but also the largest expectations. A litany of home draws to inferior opposition saw them slip to 3rd, and some impressive showings near season’s end were not enough to catch up to Southampton and Reading. In the playoffs though they battered Cardiff and hung tough to beat Blackpool to win promotion and save many of the players and possibly Allardyce himself from the sack.

His transfer policy this summer though has been bizarre. Having signed Nicky Maynard, Sam Baldock and Ricardo Vaz Te last season he’s already signed Modipo Maiga from Sochaux and is currently trying to sign Andy Carroll. Why Big Sam is trying to assemble more strikers than British Leyland circa 1976 is unknown. Whether he’s trying to adopt the 4-3-3 formation with three out and out strikers that worked so well on Championship Manager 01/02, or trying out a new style where defenders hoof the ball to strikers and eliminate the concept of a midfield, who knows.

Aside from building the world’s largest footballing strikeforce, his other signings aren’t particularly encouraging. Spending £2m on James Collins who’s almost 30 and who lacks pace, skill and the ability to pass the ball to a teammate won’t have fans in paroxysms of delight. George McCartney has been around almost as long as Paul McCartney while Mohamed Diame pulled up few trees at Wigan. Jussi Jaaskelainen looked past it at Bolton and may struggle as Robert Green’s replacement in goal.

Nonetheless you would expect West Ham to stay up. For all of his faults, eccentricities, at times ugly football and tendency to be a comic figure Allardyce knows how to keep teams up in the Premier League. He’s done it before with on paper worse sides than the one he currently manages. He’s never been relegated from the Premier League, some achievement when you manage Bolton and Blackburn.

Also despite his reputation for preaching long ball football, West Ham at times last season played some excellent football while a Bolton side that had Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff in it can’t have been too bad to watch.

Tactically West Ham are unlikely to deviate from 4-4-2, particularly given the boatload of strikers they’ve assembled. Carlton Cole will hold the ball up while Maiga and Vaz Te will partner him with Baldock and Maynard the back-ups.

The midfield looks fairly solid. Mark Noble has always been a good player, Jack Collison is a player of promise who’s seemingly overcome injury problems now. Kevin Nolan struggled at times last season and attracted the ire of fans, but he’ll always contribute goals to whoever he plays for. Gary O’Neil and Matthew Taylor are solid performers experienced at Premier League level while Diame will be a useful addition.

The defence perhaps oddly for a Sam Allardyce side was at times a liability last season. The back four lacked cohesion and organisation and was particularly weak at full back. James Tomkins has shown some talent but is error prone, Winston Reid rarely excelled last season while the likes of McCartney, Guy Demel and Joey O’Brien were nothing special either.

Allardyce has rather surprisingly not really strengthened his defence, showing either impressive faith in his charges or stubbornness. It will need to improve, because West Ham should have the firepower and the experience to stay in the Premier League. The defence needs to be strong enough to ensure West Ham are not having to score two, three, four goals a match to win games.

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Comments (20)

  1. Nonsense.

    West Ham won’t deviate from 4-4-2? Are you mad?

    Allardyce only ever plays with one up.

    • West ham will go down with a Defence of Demel Tomkins Reid or Collins and Mccartney..Sorry but that defence lacks pace and ability…there will be many a horrific Saturday for them in the PML i’m afraid to say..!!

      Dreading it!!!

      S & G SORT THE DEFENCE OUT !!!

  2. As a Saints fan i obviously believe Saints can stay up, we play well and finished 2nd in one of the hardest Championships in a long time. Reading i think will do ok, theyve got quality players and are well organised, West Ham, not the biggest fan of theres but everyone seems to think they are already safe, they will struggle but i think the promoted teams from last year might have the 2nd year blues. Personally the 3 teams that went up went up because they were the best in the Championship and I think we can do better than some of the teams in the PL. Hopefully none of us go down and we establish ourselfes as PL teams. Good Luck to my fellow promotees (except for when you play us ;) ) WE ARE PREMIER LEAGUE

  3. 1) West Ham will play a 4-3-3 system, as that is the system we have always played under Big Sam. We occasionally went to a 4-3-1-2 formation at the back end of last season but we certainly won’t operate a 4-4-2.

    2) not sure how you can say West Ham’s defence was a “liability” last season? We had the fourth best defensive record and our “nothing special” LB won Players Player of the Year! Winston Reid was one of our best players and Tomkins was voted in the top two CB’s in the division.

    Very strange analysis.

  4. west ham down for sure

    • I wasn’t so sure, but you have presented a very convincing case with lots of thoughtful analysis and wealth of knowledge. Oh wait, no you haven’t.

  5. Big Sam has a history of making average players perform way above their ability and he will do the same yet again this season.

  6. I found this article very biased. The author completely grilled west ham. Last time i checked, 5 strikers is a very normal amount to have in your squad. Another thing I found baffling was the review on the defence, last season our liability was the lack of goals we scored. We often didn’t beat teams because we couldn’t score, also justifying Big Sam’s move for more and better firepower. Plus we must remember this is West Ham United not Manchester United, we were competing in the Championship and for those who are actually familiar with the division, playing proper football will not get you promoted. The division is extremely physical and if you look around you won’t find that many skillful players there. We have gotten rid of many players and are bringing in many so Big Sam is obviously looking to change something.

  7. West Ham wont go down, 100%!

    Reading WILL go down, and Saints will struggle but probably just avoid it!

    Reid was absolutely brilliant last year, amazing improvement and shows great promise! Tomkins will be an England CB one day no doubt about it and McCartney was probably the most consistent player all season! (So yes strange analysis)

    And the reason he’s searching for a new striker is because he knows our current one’s just arnt good enough, simple as! If Vaz Te continues his current form he will get goals, Cole is so hot and cold its hard to know how you feel about the guy! Apart from that we have nobody, hopefully Maiga proves to be the next Papisse but we will see!

    West Ham will sign another striker and our owners are more than willing to splash the cash….. because we can… and because we will always be a bigger club than most… just need to remove the memory of some SHOCKING managerial choices!

    I agree though, we will stay up… and we need a new RB!
    Thats all i agree with though!

  8. Sorry only one major thing is disagree with in this article.
    Winston Reid was our BEST player last year! He absolutely excelled in the middle of defense last year and is still relatively young.
    James collins was fantastic for us and looked like an international defender. and a player who has relied on intelligence and strength and not on pace will find approaching the 30 mark less of a hinderance.
    According to Sam himself the Carroll saga and other related striker rumours are mere rumours. We attempted to get Carroll on loan and the approach reportedly ending over two weeks ago. Now the defense we MUST improve. I do like Mccartney but we need an understudy, Taylor will not cut it as a EPL left back, he didn’t cut it as a championship left back. And if we can’t get rid of demel then maybe give spence a chance?

  9. Oh and any of Swansea, Norwich, Reading, Stoke, Sunderland and wigan to go down next year.

  10. West Ham UTD

  11. Give’s West Ham the worst probability of staying up yet it fails to mention that West Ham were the least beaten team in the Championship last season, and attacking football against the current top six like Southampton and Reading will try and playing probably won’t do them too many favours.

  12. my prediction for prem league
    1 Man City 2 Chelsea 3 Man U 4 Newcastle 5 Arsenal 6 Tottenham 7 Everton 8 Liverpool 9 Aston Villa 10 Fulham 11 Swansea 12 Sunderland 13 West Ham 14 QPR 15 Norwich 16 West Brom 17 Reading 18 Stoke 19 Southampton 20 Wigan

    Relegation: Wigan go down somewhere in April, Reading, Stoke and Southampton battle for survival but Reading stays up. West Brom have a wobbly season but confirms survival late April.

    Promotion: Blackpool champions easy with Middlesbrough and Leeds battling for 2nd place but both gets promoted one way or other. Probable play off places are Leeds (3) smashing Leicester (6) and Birmingham (4) squeezes past Cardiff (5) and Leeds beating Birmingham in Wembley.

    Champions:
    Man City to win with 1 match to spare. Man U out of the race in winter and Chelsea just out in May.

    Champions League: The top 3 teams qualify and Newcastle just squeezing past Arsenal.

    Europa League: Arsenal to qualify as 5th while Tottenham wins place as 6th after one of the top 5 winning FA Cup, and Liverpool or a different lower club taking the League Cup berth.

    • anas, mystic meg back to the day job saints wont go down while i’m in charge, it’s as simple as that.

  13. Do some proper research into the respective clubs before writing such an article.

    The three clubs that did go up we’re the best of that division, so I wouldn’t be surprised if all three stayed up.

  14. West ham will stay up only if we get a new Quicker RB-LB-ST-reading wiLl not get relagated but southampton and wigan will struggle

  15. Super Saints will stay up after a steady start. Won’t win against City but max points against Wigan and United will send them on their way. All 3 promoted teams will stay up this year. Future is bright – future is red and white. Could be worse though – could be a carlisle fan