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View From The Town End: Relegation Roundtable (Part One)

How do fans of Reading’s relegation rivals see their seasons panning out? We asked them.

Millwall v Brighton and Hove Albion - FA Cup Quarter Final Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

The relegation dogfight is coming into its last, crucial stage. After the international break, seven sides will be scrapping it out to see who manages to secure safety and who’ll be playing in League One next season. To get a more rounded view, we’ve been talking to writers from all the relegation-threatened clubs: Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic, Millwall, Reading, Rotherham United, Bolton Wanderers and Ipswich Town.

Why are these teams in this mess in the first place, can they escape the bottom three this season, and will they bounce back if the worst happens? All of that is covered in our two-part Town End roundtable, the first half of which - featuring the clubs currently outside the relegation zone - is below.

A big thanks to them all for sharing their opinions with us.


Why are you in a relegation fight in the first place?

Primarily, the nine-point deduction for failure to comply with FFP, but also, the intensity of our performances has dropped off since the turn of the year. When we had been getting great results between mid-September and Christmas, it was mainly because our pressing was brilliant and we turned the ball over in the opposing half a lot of times. We haven’t exactly been lazy in the last three months but the intensity has not been at optimum level and we do not have the quality to get away with that.

What do you make of your own chances of avoiding relegation?

I think we’ll be fine. The aforementioned drop in intensity was partly because we were not directly in a promotion or relegation battle. Now that the deduction has left us hovering above the dogfight, I would expect the intensity to go back to what it was earlier in the campaign and from that, we should get enough points to beat the drop – we have one of the division’s best ball-winners in Maikel Kieftenbeld and an excellent striker in Che Adams.

If you go down, will you come straight back up?

I think we would, yes. We’d have a great manager for that level in Garry Monk who has raised the standards throughout all departments of the club and we’d have a budget that a lot of League One clubs would struggle to compete with. As I say though, I’m confident we’ll be in the Championship next season.

Pick the bottom three

I’ve had a strong feeling from the outset that Rotherham are going to make it, just because they’re so committed to everything they do and I see a fierce determination to right the wrongs of 2016-17. I’m not confident about this at all, but... Bolton, Ipswich, Millwall.

Gabriel Sutton runs the website Football Lab, and you can find him on Twitter here.

Why are you in a relegation fight in the first place?

I think we’ve talked ourselves into it. We started the season with a positive frame of mind and a view that we’d try and outscore teams. If you look at the table from back then, it was working and we were exceeding all expectations. Then we lost a few games and our mindset changed, leading to us playing not to lose, which is a dangerous game in my book.

The longer that’s gone on, the worse we’ve looked and the more ‘we’re lowly Wigan, we’re lucky to be here at all’ chat we’ve heard from within the club. And if you think like that, you may as well give up.

What do you make of your own chances of avoiding relegation?

It depends which Wigan Athletic the manager and his team decide to be over the next few weeks. Get back that early season approach and we’ll be fine, carry on as we have been recently and we may well struggle.

If you go down, will you come straight back up?

The short answer is no. The longer answer is ‘definitely not’.

The proper answer is that, even if we keep most of this team together, which would be a job in itself, we’ll have lost our most potent threats from last season in Grigg and Powell. In all likelihood, there’d be no money to get replacements in. While that would leave us with a decent League One side, promotion would be too much of a stretch for them.

Pick the bottom three

Bolton - truly the worst side I’ve seen this season. Ipswich - who run them close. And... I’m going to say Latics. But only because I don’t want to tempt fate.

The Pie At Night is an excellently named Wigan Athletic podcast which you can find on Twitter here.

Why are you in a relegation fight in the first place?

Quite simply, we’ve struggled to hold on to leads all season. It started on the first day of the season as we conceded twice late on against Middlesbrough to draw 2-2. That comes from a willingness to drop too deep time after time when attack is the best form of defence. It cost us a spot in the FA Cup semis too. Substitutions have to be better though - if the movement to 4-3-3/4-5-1 is permanent then that should help massively.

What do you make of your own chances of staying up?

I think we’ll have enough about us, particularly with the leaders in the group. The likes of Alex Pearce and Steve Morison know what it takes to avoid relegation and Pearce particularly will have a big role to play on the pitch. We have to be more clinical when we are on top.

If you go down, will you come straight back up?

I think if we go down we’d need another big overhaul and it could take a couple of years but I don’t think we’d be languishing in League One for anything more than two or three.

Pick the bottom three

Ipswich, Bolton, Rotherham.

Lucas Ball writes for Millwall website News At Den and can be found on Twitter here.

Why are we in a relegation fight in the first place?

Short answer: we’re just not very good.

Longer answer: take a bloated assortment of mediocre football players on unjustifiably generous contracts, mix them together in a bowl with several heaped spoonfuls of shoddy recruitment, insipid on-field game management and foolhardy off-field club management, sprinkle with a generous helping of fanbase malaise and dwindling matchday attendances, whack it in the oven for two to three years on a medium heat and hey presto - what you end up with is a Reading FC 2018/2019 cake.

It tastes like sh*t, by the way.

What do you make of our own chances of avoiding relegation?

Less-than-rosy.

Even though Jose Gomes’ arrival in Berkshire has sparked a mild turnaround in form and fortunes, Reading are still not a side renowned for a sense of bottle and spine, and we lack the scrappiness and tenacity of fellow strugglers such as Rotherham.

The team has been strengthened by some January loan-arrivals - goalkeeper Emi Martinez and centre-back Matt Miazga have both made us noticeably harder to beat in recent weeks. But, faced with an intimidating fixture run-in and a raft of injuries in crucial positions (including the critical absence of chief goal-threat and masked crusader Nelson Oliveira), Reading are far from out of the woods.

I suspect our survival will go down to the wire - for the second consecutive year.

If we go down, will we come straight back up?

Absolutely and resoundingly not.

As alluded to, the club is saddled with high-earning players on long-term deals, which would be bound to have a knock-on negative financial impact in League One. Similarly, it’s been suggested that our much-lauded academy would lose its prized Category One status, which would be a genuine blow both in principle and for our on-pitch prospects.

If tasked with a League One campaign, a greater reliance on the promising youth talent waiting in the wings would be no bad thing in my opinion, although I suspect that Reading would struggle to retain the likes of England U21 regular Danny Loader and many of his highly rated peers.

More esteemed clubs than Reading have been relegated and not seen the light of day since.

Pick the bottom three

22nd - Reading, 23rd - Bolton, 24th - Ipswich.

You can find former Bushwatch extraordinaire Jacob South-Klein on Twitter here.