It’s been a great start for Reading. Despite their most recent loss – a 3-2 defeat at Coventry – the Royals had been on a run of three successive wins and had been unbeaten so far this season. While they’re four points clear at the top of the Championship table, Reading aren’t fancied for promotion when it comes to the latest Championship odds, and at the time of writing are 12/1 to win the division, and only fifth-favourites to gain promotion to the promised land, the Premier League. But after such a great start, have the Royals got what it takes to return to the top-flight?
Champions in 2011-12…
It seems so long ago now that Reading gained promotion to the Premier League – nine seasons ago, in fact. Fans will remember it well. A poor start, including a run of four losses, saw the Berkshire club sit 23rd in the table – but for a resurgence in the second half of the campaign, during Brian McDermott’s second full season in charge. Having guided them to fifth-place finish the previous campaign, a run of 10 games without defeat saw Reading soar from seventh in the table, to second, and that’s where they stayed with four games remaining. A win away to Southampton took them up to the top spot, and they managed to hold on – despite losing the final game of the season. The Royals were crowned champions, a point ahead of the Saints.
…to relegation fodder in 2012-13
What comes up, must come down again and that’s exactly what happened to Reading the following season. Just six wins all season consigned their fate, as they spent the majority of the campaign in the drop zone. In March 2013, after four defeats in a row, McDermott was sacked and replaced by caretaker Eamon Dolan for a two-week stint. Nigel Adkins then took over and didn’t fare much better, guiding the Royals to just one win in eight matches. Reading were relegated with three matches to play, after drawing 0-0 with QPR, who too were relegated to the Championship.
A shot at promotion
The 2016-17 season marked Reading’s best shot of returning to the Premier League. Having cemented a third-placed finish in the Championship table, they were ultimately rewarded with a spot in the play-offs. The Royals were good value for a play-off place, having regularly flitted between third and fifth in the table. Pitted against a sixth-placed Fulham, the first leg teed up an exciting rematch – with the match at Craven Cottage ending in honours even (1-1). Reading won 1-0 at The Madejski, ultimately going through to the play-off final at Wembley, where they faced Huddersfield Town.
There’s no good time to lose in the play-offs. But to lose in a final, in a penalty shoot-out is the harshest of them all. After both Reading the Terriers could not be separated inside 90 minutes, or 120 minutes, a shoot-out was to settle it. With both Liam Moore and Jordan Obita missing from 12 yards out, Huddersfield ran out 4-3 winners and gained promotion to the top-flight, for the first time in their history.
Avoiding relegation to League One
Despite their heroics not being quite enough in 2017, the following two campaigns gave the Royals’ fans nothing to be excited about. The 2017-18 season saw a paltry finish of 20th, just three points above the drop zone, with Reading failing to win any of their final five games. And, in 2018-19, they occupied that same position – having spent spells in the relegation places throughout the course of the season. This time though, their safety was assured, as they finished seven points ahead of Rotherham in 22nd. A far cry from the squad that were so close to securing top-flight football once more.
And, just last year, it was mid-table mediocrity, as Reading climbed the table and finished 14th. A bad start and equally bad finish let them down, with the losses coming more frequently than the wins, and again a changeover of managers causing disruption to the season. Mark Bowen took charge in October 2019, and lasted the extended campaign, before departing and being replaced by current boss Veljko Paunović ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.
The Serbian has had a good start to life in English football, and of course the Royals’ fans will be hoping that it continues – that the recent defeat will be a minor blip, and they’ll be dreaming of a place in the Premier League come the end of the season. Of course, it’s football and stranger things have happened – but after eight years away, do they dare to dream?