Reading's return to the Premier League was brief and though the Royals, in hindsight, may have done things differently this season, Ian Watson believes they are in good shape to bounce back at the earliest opportunity.
By Ian Watson - follow me on Twitter.
Last Updated: 20/05/13 3:42pm
Reading, as their final position suggests, were comfortably the second-worst team in the Premier League this season. But, unlike for bottom side QPR, relegation is no surprise but no disgrace.
In stark contrast to Rangers, Reading were thrifty in their pre-season dealings - too prudent, as it turned out - and set about their campaign with hungry Championship and Football League talent supplementing the squad that earned them promotion.
Their approach did not pay off. A brief spell of resurgence - built largely on late goals - around New Year saw Brian McDermott and Adam Le Fondre win the Premier League's monthly awards, but that period of hope was sandwiched between a bad start and an equally poor finish.
Reading's inability to build on January's fine work cost McDermott his job and perhaps the club were already resigned to their fate. Nigel Adkins' appointment could be seen to have been made with one eye on next season when the Royals will be in far healthier condition than many other sides who have slipped from the top flight.
Player of the Year
Adam Le Fondre made only 11 Premier League starts but twice as many substitute appearances, during which the striker made a big impact, scoring 12 goals to outshine regular starters Noel Hunt and Pavel Pogrebnyak.
Le Fondre became the first Royal to win a Premier League Player of the Month award after a red-hot January, during which he helped inspire thrilling late comebacks against West Brom, Chelsea and Newcastle.
Ratings Player of the Year
Reading may have conceded the second-highest number of goals in the Premier League this season, but your ratings suggest the club's goalkeepers are not to blame. Youngster Alex McCarthy earned an average score of 8.1 during his 13 appearances, while Adam Federici was the second-highest rated, with the Australian averaging 7.5 in his 26 matches. Sky Sports' reporters also acknowledged McCarthy's contribution, with the England squad member receiving an average score of 7.3.
Breakthrough Player of the Year
Alex McCarthy has had to wait for his chance at Reading, having been sent out on loan on seven separate occasions while Federici impressed in the Madejski goal. The Australian first-choice, however, endured a poor start to the season which allowed McCarthy to stake his claim. The youngster impressed in an eight-game run which was brought to a shuddering halt by a shoulder injury sustained at QPR. Once fit again, though, McCarthy was brought back by new boss Adkins for the home clash with Liverpool, who were left frustrated by a superb performance from the Royals keeper. His form since has not gone unnoticed by Roy Hodgson and the England coach last week named the McCarthy in his squad for the upcoming friendlies. Next season will be crucial for McCarthy. Adkins has a decision to make over who becomes his first-choice keeper.
Signing of the Year
Here lies the problem for Reading. The club's recruitment policy last summer appeared to be based around young and hungry talent, all eager to prove themselves at the highest level. Pogrebnyak and Danny Guthrie were the closest things to marquee signings but both arrived on free transfers and neither had the impact McDermott or the club hoped. Chris Gunter, Adrian Mariappa, Garath McCleary and Nick Blackman were all asked to step up at least one level, and of those, Mariappa became the most established.
Could do better
Guthrie was signed on a free transfer but the former Liverpool, Bolton and Newcastle midfielder was identified by McDermott as a player who the Royals could build their midfield around. Instead, Guthrie turned out to be more trouble than he was worth. The player and his manager denied talk of a bust-up but those reports were followed by an absence of two months, during which Guthrie was fined after saying his "head was not in the right place" to travel for the match at Sunderland. Guthrie has found favour under Adkins, but the midfielder still has much to prove in a Reading jersey.
McDermott paid the price for Reading's struggles, but it is not clear what constraints the manager was operating under. The club's transfer dealings last summer did not give Reading a fighting chance of avoiding an instant return to the Championship, but the recruitment policy may well have been dictated to the manager by owner Anton Zingarevich and director of football Nicky Hammond.
Adkins was appointed after he was deemed no longer good enough for Southampton. The former Scunthorpe boss was brought in too late to make the kind of impact required to keep the club in the Premier League but his experience of getting Southampton out of the Championship could be a huge benefit to Reading next season.
Jamie Redknapp's view
Reading won the Championship last season but they didn't have the quality of players to perform at the top level this season. They had a great spell when they did win a couple in a row but they couldn't keep it going and unfortunately the Premier League is such an unforgiving league. They didn't have enough in their locker to stay up. Brian McDermott paid the price and now it is up to Nigel Adkins to work hard over the summer and try to get them to bounce straight back and have another crack at the Premier League.
Fan's view (Stephen Dempsey)
Well, it was never going to be easy was it? After an underwhelming transfer window, our season got off to a very slow start and we never really gathered enough momentum to make our mark on the Premier League. A refreshing January revival aside, our outdated tactics and lack of ability on the ball were plain for all to see and it made for an uncomfortable and frustrating season for us in the stands. Nevertheless, I think it was vital that we had a season like this as it signalled the real end of the Coppell school of thought - an approach that had served us well in the past but which would, I believe, never allow us to compete at the top level on a regular basis. With Adkins in charge and Anton obviously regretting his lack of investment over the last year, I think we're in a good position to challenge for promotion again...but with a longer stay in mind.