Following Swansea’s play-off final victory on Monday, we now know that the South Wales team will join QPR and Norwich in the Premier League in 2011-12, replacing West Ham, Birmingham and Blackpool. None of the three teams going up have been in Premier League since 2005, but will look forward to playing the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United next season.
Although early predictions for next season suggest that at least one or two of the teams are likely to go straight back to the Championship, these three will be hoping that they can establish themselves in the top flight for years to come.
The West London club are known widely for their financial backing, as the money from F1 millionaires Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore has led many fans to label the club as the richest in the world. Ecclestone and Briatore's first aim when taking over the club was to bring Premier League football to Loftus Road for the first time since 1996, which they managed rather emphatically this season.
There is no doubt that experienced manager Neil Warnock has to be credited as the main reason for the team’s success in the past season. The man who arrived in March 2010 took a team that had spent the last few seasons lingering in mid-table and managed to combine a disciplined defence with a swift, effective attacking force to take the Londoners back to the top flight.
Much of the defensive success goes to Warnock’s summer signings, with the likes of Clint Hill, Bradley Orr and Shaun Derry in the holding midfield role gaining credit for defensive sustainability in a division known for creative attacking.
At the other end of the pitch, Heidar Helguson and Jamie Mackie (before a suffering a serious injury in January) were the ones leading the line, supported effectively by Wayne Routledge and Tommy Smith, all four of whom had the best seasons of their career.
But in terms of attacking football, most of the plaudits have gone to Adel Taarabt, who won the Football League Player of the Year for his contribution, which included being QPR’s top scorer. Taarabt was notable for his creativity and skill, which could cause Premier League defences problems next season.
Most believe that only a handful of players who got the team promoted will actually be regulars in the Premier League, as a multi-million pound spending spree has been predicted to give Neil Warnock a squad who can make QPR a sustained team in the top-flight.
After finishing just behind QPR in the Championship table, Norwich achieved the impressive feat of gaining two consecutive promotions, jumping from the third tier to top-flight in just two seasons, something that hasn’t been achieved since Manchester City returned to the Premier League in 2000.
For most of the season, Norwich were battling with the likes of Cardiff, Swansea and Leeds for second place behind QPR, and managed to secure that automatic promotion place after hitting form in March and April, when they won 7 out of 10 to return to the Premier League for the first time since relegation in 2005.
Under manager Paul Lambert, the team have become successful due to their philosophy of attacking football, which has seen them score the most goals in the Championship this season. One of the main reasons for Norwich’s success was their ability to score goals late on, scoring 15 goals in the last five minutes of matches and gaining crucial wins in the process.
Leading the line was captain Grant Holt, who has been inspirational this season with 21 league goals, supported by Canadian striker Simeon Jackson who also chipped in with 13 in his first season at Championship level.
The success of Holt and Jackson is partly due to the support of members of Norwich’s midfield, with Wes Hoolahan doing well enough to earn a place on the PFA Championship team of the year alongside Holt. Andrew Crofts and David Fox also did well in their first seasons at Norwich.
But the area of concern for Norwich is certainly the defence, the worse of all of the top-six sides in the division, and it is certainly an area of the field where improvements will have to be made in order to avoid a return to the Championship.
But the quite amazing achievement of two consecutive promotions will nonetheless leave Norwich fans confident that they can stay in the top flight can continue the club’s ‘glory days’ under Lambert.
As a Reading fan that was at Monday’s match at Wembley, I’d like nothing more than to have slide 4 dedicated to my team. Nevertheless credit has to go to Swansea, who have no doubt been the better of the teams chasing QPR and Norwich this season.
Swansea is often thought of as the smaller team in South Wales considering Cardiff’s 2008 FA Cup run to the final and their presence in last year’s play-off final, and were almost relegated to the Conference just eight years ago. But a remarkable few years that have included moving to the Liberty Stadium has seen the club rise to Championship play-off winners and the Premier League.
Manager Brendan Rodgers, who previously managed Reading and was a youth-team coach at Chelsea, was brought in to manage the Swans at the start of the season and immediately implemented the free-flowing passing football that failed at Reading but was successful at Swansea.
It has been especially successful for Swansea when playing at home, giving them the best home record in the division. This style of football has led to some of the more idealistic Swansea fans labelling their team ‘Swanselona’.
Swansea have been credited for their impressive attacking play including the contribution of wingers Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer, two of the best wingers outside of the Premier League, who have supported striker Scott Dobbie.
These three have been supported from the midfield by the likes of Darren Pratley and Mark Gower, who have been the spine of the team and given the Welsh team one of the most dangerous attacking forces in the Championship.
Although it wasn’t often apparent on Monday, Swansea’s success over the course of the season is also down to a strong defence and the experience of Alan Tate and Garry Monk, who have both been at Swansea during their rise from League Two to Premier League.
It was the leadership of these two in particular that made sure that a team known for their effectiveness when in possession were still disciplined at the back. Consequently, only QPR had a better defensive record.
While 2011-12 may be the first season in which a Welsh team has played in the Premier League, if they can continue their current momentum into the top-flight, it certainly won’t be the last.
Its amazing how difficult it is for promoted clubs to stay in the Premier League now, and chances are at least one of the three teams promoted will follow in the footsteps of Blackpool (whose fans are pictured left), and go straight back to the Championship.
But it is too early to tell which of the three teams, if any, will be relegated, especially considering that the teams will make improvements to the playing squad, available to them because of the increased revenue they will receive as a result of promotion.
My opinion at this stage is that QPR have the best chance of survival, considering that they were undoubtedly the better of the three sides throughout last season, and have the financial backing to strengthen the squad in the appropriate areas, which could just keep them up in the Premier League come May 2012.