With the wait nearly over, LS Sport’s Hugo Greenhalgh surveys the chances of QPR, Reading, Southampton, Stoke and Sunderland in the third part of our Premier League preview…
After a disappointing return to the Premier League last term, in which QPR survived on the last day of the season, Mark Hughes has aimed to bolster his squad by doing a lot of summer business. With Paddy Kenny leaving for Leeds, QPR have replaced him with Robert Green. Ryan Nelsen and Fabio da Silva have also joined as defensive recruits.
As well as being tighter at the back, Hughes has also added more firepower to the team. Heidar Helguson was QPR’s top goalscorer last season with 9 goals; new signings Andy Johnson (Fulham) and Junior Hoilett (Blackburn) will be hoping to improve on that tally.
Joey Barton has remained in the headlines as the Morrissey-quoting, quiffed renegade trained with League 2 side Fleetwood Town but failed to secure a loan move there while he is sidelined with a 12-match ban. It has now emerged he could play at Marseilles on a season-long deal. There is pressure on Hughes to perform from the club’s ambitious owners; a top 10 finish would be a marked improvement. That QPR have signed players with top flight experience will certainly aid their cause.
The Championship champions will have their work cut out if they are to survive in the Premier League but the immensely likeable Brian McDermott has made some shrewd signings this summer. The biggest name has to be Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, who scored 6 goals in 12 appearances on loan at Fulham last season. ‘The Pog’ will set out to prove that Russians can be a success in English football. The Royals also have veteran striker Jason Roberts in attack as well as Simon Church and Adam Le Fondre, who only last year was playing for Rotherham in League Two.
At the back, Reading have signed the highly-rated Adrian Mariappa from Watford, voted Player of the Season by their fans, to add to Chris Gunter from Nottingham Forest and the re-signing of Nicky Shorey from West Brom. It is vital that some of the more experienced heads in the dressing room (Roberts, Shorey and ex-Leeds centre back Ian Harte) show guidance to the younger players, many of whom, like McDermott, will be finding their feet in the Premier League.
Should the first half of the season not go to plan, Reading do have a contingency plan. A recent takeover by Russian businessman Anton Zigarevich (think Abramovich-lite) should mean some funds are available in January. But the new owner would be advised to stick by his tactically astute manager.
The Saints’ return to the Premier League will certainly be a baptism by fire as they start away to the champions Manchester City on Sunday. The South Coast side finished 2nd in the Championship last term but like Reading, may struggle in the top flight.
Striker Jay Rodriguez, full-back Nathaniel Clyne and midfielder Steven Davis are three talented British players to have joined the ranks at St Mary’s this summer. Rodriguez was subject to a big money move of £7 million from Burnley and the one time England U-21 striker will be hoping to form a productive partnership with Rickie Lambert.
Lambert, who was named the Championship Player of 2011 this year, has never played in the highest tier of English football before but will aim to have the ‘Grant Holt’ effect of being an imposing centre forward who can quickly get off the mark in the Premier League. Saints also have Billy Sharp who joined from Doncaster in January and bagged himself a total of 19 goals last season.
Probably the best Southampton can hope for is to replicate Norwich, who finished comfortably in midtable last year – also after back-to-back promotions.
You can read my report from Southampton’s preseason tournament, the Markus Liebherr Cup, here.
After a poor end to last season and a relatively quiet summer, it is fair to ask whether Stoke’s time may be up in the Premier League. Heading into their fifth season in the top flight, Tony Pulis’ side do not look particularly formidable on paper. The most telling statistic from last season was their ‘Goals For’ column; the Potters scored just 36 goals, the lowest in the League.
Stoke relied primarily on Peter Crouch up front and would do well to improve in this department. There has been contact with another England international in his twilight years, Michael Owen. This is the sort of move that a few years ago would have been incomprehensible, but now seems vaguely believable.
What Stoke lack in technicality they make up for in physicality and a strong home record. In order to stay up, they will have to rely on their form at ‘Fortress’ Britannia – the much-clichéd yardstick to measure any foreign opposition player. Pulis’ signing of Jamie Ness, a hard-tackling central midfielder from Rangers, certainly seems like a continuation of their physical, defence-minded style.
Stoke’s ability to take points off the big sides at home should be enough to ensure survival. However, signing a decent striker would be no bad thing if they are to get more points away from the Britannia.
The arrival of Martin O’Neill at the Stadium of Light was the best thing to happen to Sunderland in years. The Ulsterman made an immediate impact at the club, rejuvenating the side and guaranteeing them Premier League football next season.
A recurring theme amongst the clubs previewed here has been the need for a goalscorer. Sunderland are no exception; it spoke volumes that Nicklas Bendtner, on loan from Arsenal, was their most prolific player with 8 goals. To resolve this, Sunderland have been very openly pursuing Wolves striker Steven Fletcher, who handed in a transfer request to force the move. However, the £12 million asking price does sound excessive and that amount of money may be better spent elsewhere.
While that move may still go ahead, Sunderland have signed Louis Saha in the meantime, after he was released from Spurs. Although on his day a decent player, Sunderland fans may wince at the Frenchman’s injury record. Supporters can still look forward to seeing exciting playmaker Stephane Sessegnon next season as the club fended off interest to keep him.
Building on the stability O’Neill has brought, Sunderland should look to improve on last season and close the gap on rivals Newcastle.
Words: Hugo Greenhalgh