- Birmingham City and Reading are among the favourites to be relegated from the Championship next season.
- They both finished directly above the relegation zone last season, and both have faced point deductions in recent years.
- Birmingham have sacked manager Lee Bowyer while Reading’s Paul Ince is in his first managerial role in eight years.
- They’ve signed three senior players between them this summer.
The next Championship season will be the first without Derby County since the 2007-08 season, but they might not be the only Championship mainstay to be seeing League One soon.
In the last 11 editions of the Championship, Birmingham and Reading have together featured in ten campaigns. The only exception was the 2012-13 season, when Reading were in the Premier League. Could next season be the one where they both go down?
While both teams have been staples in the second tier over the last decade, they’ve not been doing too well of late. Last season, they finished 20th and 21st respectively, Reading being deducted six points, while Birmingham would have gone down had Derby not been deducted 12. In no small part down to Birmingham’s poor showing last time out, the club sacked manager Lee Bowyer at the weekend, with former Queens Park Rangers assistant manager John Eustace named the new boss.
The previous season, Reading did well to finish 7th, but Birmingham were in 18th. The season before that, Reading finished 14th, with Birmingham in 20th. The season before that, Birmingham were up in the relative heights of 17th, with a nine-point deduction, while Reading finished 20th. While Reading have certainly had the better of the last few years, neither have been pulling up any trees. Neither fanbase are too happy with their owners, either.
Birmingham’s squad woes
Coming into the beginning of July, and Birmingham have signed one player, Finley Thorndike, a 20-year-old from Aston Villa who will go into the club’s development team. Last season’s loanees, including the popular Onel Hernández, Lyle Taylor and Tahith Chong, have returned to their parent clubs and haven’t been replaced, while key senior players Jérémie Bela and Kristian Pedersen have been released, the latter joining FC Köln in the Bundesliga.
The club have fifteen senior players on the books, including Jonathan Leko and Sam Cosgrove, both loaned out last season and who don’t look cut out for Championship football, and their three key strikers have a combined age of 97. There are rumours that first-choice goalkeeper Neil Etheridge could leave due to clauses in his contract, and while there are some good young players coming through, not least midfielders Jordan James and Jobe Bellingham, brother of Jude, they can’t be expected to replace established senior professionals.
Of the players who played in at least half of all league games last season, only eight remain:
Maxime Colin (Defender): 33 games
Marc Roberts (Defender): 39
Ryan Woods (Midfielder): 30
Gary Gardner (Midfielder): 35
Ivan Šunjić (Midfielder): 41
Jordan Graham (Midfielder): 24
Scott Hogan (Forward): 36
Lukas Jutkiewicz (Forward): 36
Discontent at Reading
The situation at Reading is perhaps not quite as stark, but there’s been plenty of change this summer. Loanees including Watford’s Tom Dele-Bashiru and the Chelsea duo Baba Rahman and Danny Drinkwater returned to their parent club, while first-teamers John Swift, Michael Morrison, Josh Laurent and Junior Hoilett have all been released. Tom Ince has signed permanently after a loan spell, and Joe Lumley has been brought in on loan from Middlesbrough, presumably to be The Royals’ first-choice goalkeeper this season.
These transfers aside, however, the squad is looking worryingly thin.
Goalkeeping coach James Bittner left at the start of the month too, while new manager Paul Ince who took the job on a permanent basis in May after an interim role, might have helped keep the club up last season, but had eight years away from football management beforehand. Added to that, the truth is that his managerial career isn’t particularly remarkable.
Of the players who played in at least half of all league games last season, only six remain:
Luke Southwood (Goalkeeper): 25
Tom Holmes (Defender): 32
Andy Yiadom (Defender): 38
Ovie Ejaria (Midfielder): 26
Lucas João (Forward): 24
George Puscas (Forward): 25
There’s a wider conversation to be had about ownership in the Championship here. Both Birmingham and Reading have suffered points deductions in recent years, and Birmingham’s fan protests against the running of the club made the news last season. In recent weeks there’s been talk of new ownership with Birmingham Sports Holdings selling up, with former Watford chairman Laurence Bassini and a group including former Argentina international Maxi López among those mooted, but nothing has materialised yet. The appointment of Eustace as manager has received a mixed reception too, owing to the 42-year-old’s relative lack of experience and rumoured support of rivals Aston Villa.
A survey ran by a Reading fan site last month suggested that the owners get a rating of 2.15 out of 5 from supporters, though this is at least an improvement from a record low of February’s 1.61 rating. It’s not helped that young stars Michael Olise and Omar Richards left a year ago for Crystal Palace and Bayern Munich respectively and weren’t adequately replaced, the latter leaving on a free transfer too. The owners, Dai Yongge and Dai Xiuli, aren’t the most communicative either, and there’s a real lack of uncertainty around the club.
Many former Premier League clubs have gone down to League One under poor ownership. Some, like Bolton Wanderers and Derby, though it was only last season they were relegated, are still there. Others, like Blackburn Rovers and Blackpool, are back in the Championship. The future of Birmingham and Reading remains to be seen, but relegation is a stark possibility. From there, there’s no guarantee that they’d make a return to the Championship any time soon.
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