After being rejected by Gus Poyet, Reading have appointed the manager that they should have done in the first place, ex-Saints Man Nigel Adkins. As a Saints fan, I wish Adkins all the best after the superb job he did at Southampton, though I fear he has come in far too late to save Reading from what seems like an unavoidable fall. However, with his first home match coming against the Saints, and the likelihood that if the Royals do stay up, it could well be at Southampton’s expense, I will be a relieved man if Saints ruin the party by beating Reading at their place and surely end Reading’s chances of, at the very least, finishing above us. Enough of my selfish desires though. Reading have a got a hard-working, high-achieving manager whose record at Saints speaks for itself, and whose record at Scunthorpe suggests that even if relegation does occur, his enthusiasm will be undimmed and, with the money that seems is available even if it hasn’t been spent yet, I’d be confident in him bringing them straight back up, with a stronger squad more equipped to stay in the division next time.
As for what Adkins brings to a club, his already mentioned enthusiasm will have a galvanising effect on the club, with both the fans and the players boosted by his energy, attitude, and desire. When he took charge of Southampton, we had controversially sacked Alan Pardew, not unlike Brian McDermott’s recent departure or for that matter, Adkins own departure, and were near the bottom of League One, disgruntled and disillusioned. Adkins came in with a positive attitude which quickly won over the fans and the players leading to instant success which would continue throughout his hugely successful reign. As well as crucially boosting morale, Adkins made the necessary on-field changes to improve the team’s fortunes. The football played was neat and tidy, with short passing and high possession the focus of the team’s play, all of which led to the side being one of the most attractive to watch in the Championship last season, whilst still using the aerial strength of Rickie Lambert up front. With this in mind, I can see Pavel Pogrebnyak taking a central role in Adkins plans, alongside the trickery of Jobi McAnuff and Jimmy Kebe on the wings, players who are able to supply good crosses into the box, whilst also possessing good individual skill to beat players in and around the box. Similarly crucial will be strong central midfielders who keep the ball well and make intelligent decisions, and although I don’t think Reading have midfielders of the ability of Morgan Schneiderlin and Jack Cork, I would expect Danny Guthrie to perhaps play a more important role, though I confess to not being too familiar about the strengths of Reading’s central midfield options.
However, as much as I appreciate Adkins for the job he did at Southampton, and as good a manager as I think he is, particularly at Championship level where I think you would struggle to find someone better, he does have his weaknesses, as seen in the early months of this season. Tactically, Adkins can adapt nicely, and on occasion he makes fantastic decisions that put his side in control, see the Manchester United Home, and Stoke Away games. However, both those games show examples of his weakness, unnecessary changes to both the side and the tactics. Against United we were 2-1 up and in control, even looking more likely to go 3-1 up for a stage, but then Adkins changed the team, he took off Lambert, our main out ball, for the much weaker Guly, and removed Puncheon for Mayuka, whilst pushing 10 men behind the ball. Granted, most teams do this against Manchester United, but most teams also pay for this by succumbing to a late show from the league leaders, but this was self-inflicted, and having had them on the ropes it was desperately disappointing to then have no counter-attacking option, thereby inviting pressure and seeing the inevitable occur. Similarly at Stoke, Adkins went out and played Stoke at their own game, uncharacteristically getting the full backs to play long balls around the Stoke defence causing chaos at the back and giving us a deserved 3-1 lead. After they had grabbed a goal back and gone to 10 men Adkins again made defensive changes and aimed to hold onto the lead which led to concerted pressure and a stunning Jerome winner early into stoppage time. These examples show that Adkins has the tactical brain to prepare for each individual match correctly, but also shows a worrying tendency to make detrimental changes at crucial times. His record in the transfer market is also patchy with most of the team that came up through League One and the Championship recruited by Pardew; see Lambert, Fonte, Puncheon, and Schneiderlin, compared to Adkins only real successes; Cork and Hooiveld (based on last season’s displays). I intentionally haven’t mentioned the summer signings as it is unclear whether Adkins had much of a say on them, and it certainly seems like he had less control over recruitment than he had done previously.
All of that being said, I think Reading have got themselves an excellent manager, who can galvanise the team into trying to perform the greatest of great escapes and, if this fails, will be, in my eyes, an undoubted long term success. The job he did at Southampton was terrific, and I believe had he stayed, as he should have done, Southampton would have stayed up as I still believe they will under Pochettino, and he will, be it short term or long term, prove to be a great manager for Reading. I wish him, and Reading, all the best for the future, though preferably after April 6th.