It has been widely predicted over the last few days, and for once the managerial merry-go-round rumour mill has proved accurate. Nigel Adkins was officially unveiled as Reading’s new manager this morning – but can the former Southampton boss get the better of Queens Park Rangers, Wigan Athletic, Aston Villa and Sunderland to keep the Royals in the Premier League against all the odds?
Adkins takes over at the Madejski with his new club in a bleak position. With just eight games left, Reading are joint-bottom with Queens Park Rangers on 23 points and seven adrift of Aston Villa in 17th place. bwin’s odds of 1/25 on an immediate return to the Championship tell you all you need to know about their prospects.
Five straight league defeats did for Brian McDermott, the man who won promotion for Reading last season via a memorable Championship title win, with costly home losses to relegation rivals Wigan and Aston Villa forcing the hand of owner Anton Zingarevich. Nevertheless, the sacking of the former youth team coach was deemed harsh by many.
I was certainly one of those people: I thought the timing, so close to the end of the season, seemed nonsensical and left the club open to following Wolves’ doomed example (let’s not kick Terry Connor any further, it just seems cruel).
I also thought that McDermott, the man who signed the players and knew them inside out, would be better equipped than anyone else to get the best out of a squad that, whichever way you look at it, is short on Premier League class. Zingarevich thought otherwise – but after a move for Brighton’s Gus Poyet fell through, does Adkins represent a smart move?
In many ways, swapping McDermott for Adkins is like saying you don’t care for Ant but you like the look of Dec. There are many similarities between the two managers – both seem genuinely nice men, overachieved in their previous job and have been harshly sacked at the hands of eccentric foreign owners – but the most startling parallel to me is their ability, and as such it seems like a slightly odd appointment.
Fine manager though he has proved so far, I don’t see Adkins as a genuine upgrade on McDermott. The pair have only enjoyed a few months of managing in the Premier League, and it remains to be seen if the former Scunthorpe boss can really cut it at the top: he spent heavily while at St Mary’s don’t forget.
And to me, it seems like an appointment designed with promotion next year in mind. Will there be any takers for the 8/1 that Reading stay up? It is doubtful, although the effect of a new manager has proved galvanising on many squads down the years and a quick look at Reading’s fixtures makes you more hopeful than you might otherwise have been.
After making his debut against Arsenal at the Emirates this Saturday, Adkins faces an emotional home bow against – you couldn’t make it up – Southampton (he is 7/4 to beat his old employers) before the run-in throws up ‘winnable’ games against Norwich, QPR, Fulham and West Ham.
A home match against erratic Liverpool is Adkins’ other assignment, and he will feel that he has been handed a favourable run of games. But I maintain the gap is too big for Reading’s limited squad to bridge, and I would not be advocating a play on the 8/1.
I feel QPR, 9/50 to be relegated and 33/10 to stay up, are as doomed as Reading, and even though they are above Wigan (evens to go down, 18/25 to stay up) and Aston Villa (7/4 to drop, 2/5 not to) Sunderland to be relegated at 7/2 remains my top bet at the bottom of the table.
I wrote last week before the international break that the Black Cats look like a team on an irreversible slide and should be backed to go down at 7/2 – and that was before Martin O’Neill was handed a hammer blow thanks to the injury to top scorer Steven Fletcher, who has been ruled out for at least six weeks with knee ligament damage suffered while playing for Scotland on Friday.
The £12 million man is the only player who can score a goal in a team that hardly ever scores, and with O’Neill now relying on Danny Graham and Connor Wickham up front – neither of whom has scored a league goal for Sunderland this season – that 7/2 looks even better now than it did a week ago.
Southampton are also on 31 points, but I feel they will have enough. They are 13/2 to be relegated and 3/50 not to.
Another decent bet in the relegation market is the 2/1 that QPR finish bottom. Harry Redknapp’s side have been at the foot of the table since the first day of what has been a disastrous season and I don’t see how they can be so big to stay there for the remainder of the campaign. The bookies keep pricing them up as if some vast improvement is about to happen, but it isn’t, and once their relegation is confirmed the Rangers players are going to down tools. Insert your own joke about them not even picking them up in the first place.