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Opponents 2016/17: Parachuting from the Prem

9 June 2016

A look at the three teams to have dropped out of the top tier

A new season means more new visitors to Madejski Stadium (as well as some different grounds to visit on away days!)

As we continue the countdown to Fixture Release Day – which falls in less than a fortnight – we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the opponents which will occupy our away dressing room during the 2016/17 campaign.

That will include the teams that are tipped for the top, the ones that the bookies are backing to struggle, those that have earned promotion from the third tier; but firstly, let’s take a look at those three sides which parachuted down from the Premier League last year…

2015/16: 18th in Barclays Premier League (37 pts)
Of the three teams that dropped out of the top tier last season, it was Newcastle that put up that greatest resistance.  But that counted for nothing come the end of the campaign as they finished two points shy of their Tyne-Wear rivals Sunderland, who survived the drop, meaning that the Magpies will play second-tier football for the second time in less than a decade.

Chris Hughton was the man to steer the Geordies back to the top tier last time around, as they claimed the 2009/10 Championship title at a canter.  Rafa Benitez, who was managing Real Madrid just 12 months ago, is the man charged with trying to repeat that feat and ensure that their exile from the Premier League is as brief as possible.

Benitez was unable to stop the rot after arriving in March.  There were some green shoots – no less than a six-game unbeaten run to end the season, including a 5-1 win over Tottenham – but not enough to prevent demotion.  The Spaniard’s contract was only due to run until the end of the season, but he opted to sign a three-deal at St James’ Park.  In his own words: “The love I could feel from the fans was a big influence for me in my decision to stay.”

There has been little the way of other transfer activity on Tyneside in these early stages of the summer.  30-year-old Steven Taylor, who has been with the Magpies for over 20 years as an academy player and a pro, has been released – but there are no other confirms ins or outs just yet.  The press have linked their Spanish forward Ayoze Perez with the likes of Everton, West Ham and Inter – while his former Tenerife teammate Nano is being touted as a potential replacement.

Two pre-season fixtures have been arranged so far – Bohemian will host them in Dublin during their week-long training camp in Ireland, and Doncaster Rovers will also welcome the Magpies to the Keepmoat Stadium following their relegation to League 2.

Reading and Newcastle hadn’t met in league competition until less than a decade ago; the Tyneside club won both of the meetings in their only other second-tier encounters back in the 2009/10 season – a Shola Ameobi hat-trick made it 3-0 at St James’ Park before a Kevin Nolan double earned a 2-1 win at the Madejski Stadium return.  But the most recent meeting between the clubs – in January 2013 – saw Adam Le Fondre hit a quick-fire brace in the second half to secure a 2-1 turnaround after Yohan Cabaye had opened the scoring.

2015/16: 19th in Barclays Premier League (34 pts)
The Canaries were relegated without quite the same level of fanfare as the other two clubs; in many respects, there were just more headline-grabbing stories in the Premier League last season than the suffering of the Norfolk outfit, at both ends of the table.

After relegation in 2013/14, Alex Neil had earned the club immediate promotion back to the big-time via the play-offs – finishing a job that had been started by Neil Adams before the managerial switch in January.  Last year appeared to be going according to plan up until the New Year… however a 3-1 loss in Stoke was the start of a run where they picked up just one point from 27 available.  Part of that barren run included a 5-4 home defeat against Liverpool – Sebastien Bassong looked to have rescued a point with 90+2 on the clock, only for Adam Lallana to claim all of the points in 90+5.  If you can score four goals on home turf and still leave empty-handed, you know it’s going to be a struggle…

Back-to-back wins around the Easter period against West Brom and fellow strugglers Newcastle earned Norwich a brief respite from their position amongst the bottom three, but that was quickly followed up with four defeats on the spin without scoring a single goal; they were sucked back in to the fold with only perennial strugglers Aston Villa sitting beneath them come the end of the season.

As things stand, no players have gone round the revolving door at Carrow Road just yet – the transfer activity hasn’t begun to take shape, with the window yet to officially open.  However preparations have been made for their pre-season schedule – largely against EFL opposition, with the exception of Suffolk side Lowestoft Town.  Walsall and Peterborough are due to host the Canaries, while Carrow Road is set to host Coventry… more dates are due to be announced soon, which could include fixtures in Austria – they are set for a week-long camp in Burgenland.

Reading and Norwich have spent 33 seasons in the same division throughout their history, across the top three tiers of English football.  The most recent meetings were also in the Championship in 2014/15, where Reading were 2-1 winners both home and away, with the two games falling less than a month apart.  Jake Cooper’s brace helped Reading to come from behind in November, before Hal Robson-Kanu and Simon Cox each struck during the Madejski Stadium meeting the following month.

2015/16: 20th in Barclays Premier League (17 pts)
After four straight seasons of finishing within five points of the drop-zone, Aston Villa finally took the plunge in 2015/16 – and in spectacular fashion.  Winning just three of their 38 outings, their points total of 17 was merely half of their closest rivals Norwich, and the lowest that the Premier League had seen since Derby’s 11 which they accrued in 2007/08.

The season had threatened to get off to a good start, when on the opening day of the campaign they secured a 1-0 win away at top-flight newcomers AFC Bournemouth, with debutant Rudy Gestede netting the game’s only goal.  But it was over five months until their next triumph – a 1-0 win against Crystal Palace, thanks to a Wayne Hennessey own-goal, and their third and final win of the league calendar came at the expense of also-relegated Norwich in February.

Villa had four different managers in the dugout across the course of the campaign.  Tim Sherwood was sacked in October after his sixth defeat on the bounce; Remi Garde was appointed before long, taking over a team that had just slipped to the foot of the table, after Kevin MacDonald had briefly manned the fort during the interim.  But the reign of Frenchman Garde was ill-fated – he was dismissed by March, meaning Eric Black had the ignominy of leading the team when their inevitable relegation was mathematically confirmed with a loss at Old Trafford in April.  Realistically, survival had never been on the cards; the Villans had only slipped further and further from safety ever since entering the drop-zone in September.

So for the first time in 30 years, Villa Park will not be hosting top-flight football.  While no movement in or out has been made yet for the playing staff, big changes have happened at the helm.  The sale of the club from Randy Lerner to Chinese businessman Tony Xia hasn’t quite been finalised at time of writing, but Roberto Di Matteo – who managed Chelsea to the Champions League in 2012 – now occupies the manager’s office, with former Royals boss Steve Clarke joining as his assistant and Kevin Bond as a first-team coach.

Their pre-season preparations will see them visit lower-league opposition in the form of Telford, Worcester, Bristol Rovers and Cambridge, as well as a trip across the channel to meet Nantes.  Middlesbrough, one of the teams to replace Villa in the Premier League following their recent promotion, travel to the Midlands for a friendly a week before the season’s start.

Reading’s one and only ever league win against Villa came in our first ever Premier League season back in 2006/07 – Steve Sidwell, who would later go on to represent the Villans, struck both goals in a 2-0 win that afternoon.  The only other Royals victory in history came in the FA Cup back in 1912.

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