Football League Expert & Columnist
As Reading prepare to face Southampton, Peter Beagrie looks at how both clubs have been revitalised.
Last Updated: 21/10/11 8:06am
Life has been a let-down for Reading's fans since their relegation from the Premier League in 2008.
They lost to Burnley in the play-offs in 2009 and were mired in the relegation zone the following season before Brian McDermott arrived to reignite the fire. Several big players had left the club, but they still went on a fine run and only finished seven points off the play-offs that season.
They progressed further last term and reached the play-off final, but I feel the defeat to Swansea hit them hard. After the sales of Matt Mills and Shane Long, it was no surprise that they struggled at the start of this season and, at one stage, found themselves in 23rd position.
However, they have recovered and their resolve has strengthened in recent weeks. For proof you only have to look at the game at Bristol City when they were 2-0 down with 18 minutes to go and came back to win 3-2.
They have only conceded 13 goals in the league and have kept three clean sheets in a run that has seen them go six unbeaten. There are signs and statistics there to suggest they are back on track.
They are fortunate to have the manager they've got because I rate him very highly. The 50-year-old McDermott will take charge of his 100th game, live on Sky Sports against Southampton, on Saturday and he has been a revelation when you consider the budgetary constraints he works under.
They have flair in the form of Jobi McAnuff, Jimmy Kébé and Hal Robson-Kanu, but I really rate the signing of Mikele Leigertwood, whose physicality and mobility have made him a very important part of that team.
Saints keep marching on
Reading are in a much healthier league position now, but face a big test to go seven unbeaten against a Southampton side who have not been out of the top two all season.
They've picked up 26 points from 12 games, which represents their best start for 55 years and are now 17 games unbeaten at St Mary's. They have maintained their self-belief and momentum after coming up from League One and will be hoping to follow Norwich's lead by securing back-to-back promotions.
Their only defeats have come away at Cardiff and Leicester, but they scored goals in those games and always go forward. We all knew they would be free-scoring - and they are indeed the top scorers in the division - but I feared for them defensively.
However, they had a clean sheet in their brilliant 1-0 win over West Ham in midweek. Jos Hooiveld has been a fantastic acquisition at centre-half and a special mention must go to goalkeeper Kelvin Davis, who has been outstanding for the last two seasons. He's played in their last 80 games on the trot, keeping 33 clean sheets in the process.
But it's going forward that is their forte with the likes of Guly do Prado, Morgan Schneiderlin, Steve De Ridder, Adam Lallana and David Connolly all able to hurt teams. There was a question mark over Rickie Lambert and whether he could operate at this level, but eight goals in his last nine games have answered them.
The club had been on a slippery slope after the end of their 27 years in the top flight, but there is a togetherness now. Many of the record St Mary's crowd of 32,152 that saw the West Ham game are now anticipating a promotion push for the rest of the season.
Nigel 'Professor' Adkins is one of the most qualified men in football and I used to enjoy chatting to him when he was the physio at Scunthorpe. He always came across as somebody with both a wealth of enthusiasm and a wealth of knowledge.
People think he came straight out of the physio's room, but I know differently! He had previously managed Bangor in the UEFA Cup and at the age of 18 he managed a local Birkenhead side called Renbad Rovers. He got them out of their division and is now looking to do the same with Southampton.
He has some good players and some good people at St Mary's and both he and the club look to have a very bright future.
What else we learned this week
It was nearly, but not quite, for Mark Robins... I spoke to him this week and he was disappointed not to get the Bristol City job. It sounds like the board was split, but he's a very good manager and will be back in the game soon. He needs a vehicle to express his passion for football.
How will Derek McInnes get on south of the border? I played against the new Bristol City boss a couple of times and he was always a fiery, opinionated character.
Who's going to get the Pompey job? Sean O'Driscoll and Dave Jones both have links to the south coast, but what do our readers think? The media keep speculating, but who would you like in charge of YOUR club?
West Ham might be sick of the sea air... after losing to Southampton they will want to avoid a slip-up against Brighton. That game will be live on Sky Sports on Monday night and I'm looking forward to going to that one.
The wheels have come off slightly for Brighton... but it's still a great start for them. The defence hasn't been as tight in recent weeks and this is where the manager will earn his corn. Gus Poyet must cajole a performance out of his players, but that shouldn't be hard in the new stadium, which had a fantastic atmosphere when I was there for the Leeds game.
Football academies are a hot topic this week... In my experience lower league clubs foster a different type of player. You could often spot an academy player; they would have the skills and technical ability, but were sometimes spoiled and it was a shock when you threw them into a game. Sometimes being coached at a smaller club makes you a more-rounded individual.
Competition is important to youngsters as well... I played in the Northern Intermediate League from the age of 16 to 19 and it was always competitive with prizes to win. In the academies it's not about winning and there's no pressure on players, but when you pull on the shirt you have to understand what you're there to do.