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Football: Reading, Sheffield United, Watford 2006/07 - Staying put or straight back down?

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posted on Jul, 31 2006 @ 03:40 PM
If Premiership newcomers Reading need a good omen as they prepare for their maiden season in the top flight they should look no further than Wigan. The Latics began their first Premier League campaign as one of the favourites for relegation but astounded everyone by not only holding their own but contending for a place in Europe for much of the campaign. A 10th-place finish was beyond the wildest dreams of manager Paul Jewell and the rest of the squad and Reading will be happy if they manage to do half as well.

They ran away with the Coca-Cola Championship last season, setting a new record points tally of 106 to eclipse by one the previous mark set by Sunderland in 1998-99. Manager Steve Coppell worked wonders with a squad not big on star names and they dominated throughout, achieving the earliest promotion in the history of English football on March 25. A club-record run of 33 games without defeat also equalled Liverpool's long-standing mark in the second tier, set in the late 19th century. However, life in the rarefied atmosphere of the most exciting league in the world will be completely different.

Although Coppell got the best out of young talent such as Steve Sidwell and James Harper in midfield, while making the inspired signing of unknown striker Kevin Doyle from Cork City, he will need a huge slice of luck against the big guys. The manager knows he has to strengthen his squad to survive but, like Wigan, he may find it difficult to attract real quality. Doyle and Kitson scored 18 goals apiece last season but it would be pure fantasy to think they can repeat that feat against Premiership defences. The Royals are unlikely to find a 15-goal-a-season striker for what they can afford and so it is imperative they spread the load across the team, which means the likes of Sidwell and Leroy Lita have to chip in.

Sheffield United's key asset will be their manager Neil Warnock, a poor man's Jose Mourinho. Love him or hate him, what Warnock may lack in tactical nous he makes up for in passion and his players respond to that just as well. He will have to use all his tricks of the trade to cajole a squad which has a lot of experience but probably lacks the necessary quality to succeed. However, one thing any team turned out by Warnock will do is compete and they are capable of causing the odd upset. Unfortunately, that alone will not be enough to safeguard their survival and they will have to beat the right teams at the right time to stand a chance of finishing outside the bottom three - although their chances are not high.

Watford manager Adrian Boothroyd is also not short on confidence after his team, the surprise package of last season, earned promotion through the play-offs after defeating Leeds. The Hornets were neither exceptionally skilful nor elegant but their desire carried them through and when it came to the crunch matches they coasted through with ease against Crystal Palace and then the Elland Road club.

"I know we're going to be favourites to go down but that's okay. We won't go down," said Boothroyd, whose team are back in the top flight for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.

Then they also went up via the play-offs but under Graham Taylor finished bottom of the Premiership.

"I'm one of those weird people who doesn't need evidence to believe," Boothroyd added.

"But I'll also look to evidence - Wigan, Bolton, West Ham."

The 35-year-old will have been at the Vicarage Road helm for only 18 months but in that time he has managed to get players like striker Marlon King and defender Jay DeMerit to perform way above expectations. If he can maintain that in the Premier League he may stand a chance of emulating Wigan boss Paul Jewell in proving the critics wrong and keeping his side up against the odds.

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