Reading achieved promotion to the Premier League today by defeating Nottingham Forest 1-0 while West Ham United was only able to accomplish a draw against relegation candidate Bristol City. The Royals have clinched second place, and they could still hoist the trophy as they stand three points ahead of Southampton with 2 games left to play.
The Royals weren't always favorites to make the jump, and in fact they spent much of the season firmly in the middle of the table before going on a historic run, which just so happened to coincide with the January purchase of Jason Roberts from Blackburn Rovers. Roberts seemingly arrived at the right time, scoring 6 goals in his 16 appearances so far as he helped the team to several 1 goal victories during a stretch where they gained 34 out of a possible 39 points. (It should be noted that each of Noel Hunt's 8 goals seemed to come at all the critical times, too.)
It wasn't just the scoring; Reading easily had the stingiest defense in the Championship this year, allowing 37 goals in their 44 games, 20 of those clean sheets. 27 year-old Australian goalkeeper Adam Federici is certainly a huge part of that impressive run. He's been one of the feel-good stories in the Championship this year, and it will be great to see him put on the gloves in the Premier League, where he certainly belongs. Ian Harte provided his usual solid play at left back, and though he will be 35 in 2012-13, he will need to be part of the plans going forward if Reading hope to prevent goals like they did in the Championship. 23 year-old Alex Pearce has been a revelation in front of Federici, and his consistency and solid play should be recognized as well. He has the potential to make a name for himself next season.
2012-13 will be the Royals' third season in the top flight in the Premier League era. Previously, they finished 8th in their first season after promotion in 2006-07 before succumbing to the sophomore curse and taking the plunge the following season. Since then, they've achieved a playoff spot twice and failed to advance both times, but they managed to skip that whole process this time around by clinching a top 2 spot.
The part of Reading's history that will perhaps interest Newcastle supporters the most concerns one Alan Pardew, who helped the team to the doorstep of promotion from League Two in the late 90's and early part of this century before bolting for West Ham, basically without the team's permission. We'll certainly be hearing about this in the weeks leading up to the fixtures between these two teams next season. None of the players on this squad were around for any of that, but the fans surely were, and revenge will be on the forefront of their minds.
It's hard enough to project how promoted teams will do in their first season in August (I had Norwich City slotted for 20th place this year, and I wasn't the only one), much less in April. Still, it looks like Reading has a nice mix of young up-and-comers and a veteran presence in the dressing room, surely a recipe that could pay dividends in the top flight. They also have a steady hand at the wheel in Brian McDermott and new majority owner Anton Zingarevich (he arrived just 4 days before Jason Roberts did), who has promised to open the purse strings and sign whatever players will help them stay up. There have certainly been teams in worse shape who have survived first seasons.
Welcome, Reading. May your stay in the Premier League be a pleasant one (just not on days where we face each other).