For Reading, Saints and the play-off victors, the hardest part starts now

The Weekend Dossier

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They will have battled through 46 league matches – 49 for the play-off winners – in probably the most competitive and unpredictable league of all, and yet the hard part is only just starting. Next up, for Reading, Southampton, and whoever emerges from the play-off scrap, is the task of staying up.

The Premier League may be the Promised Land for Championship clubs, but all that milk and honey can result in a nasty case of indigestion. It is a decade since all three promoted teams stayed up, the only season of collective survival in the Premier League era, and unless Queen's Park Rangers improve on last weekend's form it will not happen this year either. Despite enhanced parachute payments, relegation can seriously harm a club's health. Portsmouth are the 10th in a dozen years to slide from the Premier League to League One within four seasons.

Nevertheless, the promoted trio can look ahead with some confidence. Only in 1997-98 were all three promoted clubs relegated and this will be the fourth successive season with two surviving. Moreover, Norwich City and Swansea City have shown it can be done despite a lack of top-flight experience for players and manager, and through judicious rather than extravagant spending. Since promotion, Norwich have spent around £14m, Swansea £11m, and neither has signed players likely to command inflated wages.

QPR's big signings have been unexceptional despite £20m spending and large wages. This is partly because the club's leadership churn, with a new owner and chief executive arriving in August, and the manager changing in January, meant buying at the wrong end of the transfer windows.

In contrast, stability has reigned at Norwich and Swansea. At Carrow Road, Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones have been in control since the mid-1990s. In summer 2009 they appointed chief executive David McNally, followed by manager Paul Lambert, and the quartet developed a seven-year plan to re-establish the Canaries in the top flight; it included the expectation that promotion to that level would be followed by instant relegation, before bouncing back. Delivery was well ahead of schedule.

Swansea hired Brendan Rodgers only two years ago, but the club's philosophy dates back to 2007, when chairman Huw Jenkins brought in Roberto Martinez.

Southampton, too, appear to be a club with a plan. After celebrating back-to-back promotions last weekend, Nigel Adkins has been talking of "evolution, not revolution", and an eagerness to promote products of an admired youth system. Saints will need some strengthening, but while they have funds to break their transfer record (currently £4m, for Rory Delap 11 years ago) chairman Nicola Cortese is not the type to spend recklessly.

The current squad have limited – and, in the case of players such as Adam Lallana, Kelvin Davis and Danny Fox, largely unfulfilling – experience of the top flight, but Swansea and Norwich have shown that need not be a bar to success. It will be particularly intriguing to see if Rickie Lambert can emulate Grant Holt's success.

Brian McDermott was chief scout at Reading when they enjoyed such an impressive debut season in the Premier League in 2006-07. Only Adam Federici of the Championship-winning squad played that season (and then only twice) but they have a decent mix of experienced players such as Mikele Leigertwood, Ian Harte and the rejuvenated Jason Roberts, plus good players eager to test themselves at a higher level like Jimmy Kébé, Noel Hunt and Jobi McAnuff. Among the innovative McDermott's strengths is the ability to forge a group mentality that enables individuals to realise their potential. As such he is likely to rely, for the most part, on the players who won promotion, with some careful additions. The contacts and knowledge of long-serving Nicky Hammond, one of the few men to have made a success of the director of football position, will be important. The unknown is how much cash the Russian Anton Zingarevich will invest, if and when he completes his takeover.

Of the four clubs vying to go up through the play-offs, three are newly relegated, which might improve their chances of staying up – Swansea are only the third play-off winners in nine seasons to survive.

West Ham appear best placed: they have the strongest squad, a manager and owners with previous experience of what is required, and the greatest potential to generate revenue after promotion. Given their finances, they probably need promotion more than the others, while failure is likely to be met with supporters being increasingly mutinous towards Sam Allardyce.

The club with the biggest problems are Birmingham City. Majority shareholder Carson Yeung is awaiting trial in Hong Kong on fraud charges and last week the club missed another deadline to file accounts, so the transfer embargo remains. That could leave Chris Hughton in the same position as Neil Warnock at QPR last summer, unable to buy until the last moment. Hughton, though, has shown he can overcome most obstacles.

Blackpool lost Charlie Adam, DJ Campbell and David Vaughan from the team that went down with all guns blazing last season, which suggests Ian Holloway will need to strengthen considerably if they go up, even with Matt Phillips' rapid progress. However, past experience suggests he will have a tight budget.

Cardiff City's 2-0 home defeat to West Ham on Thursday means it will probably never be known whether the club's Malaysian owners would be prepared to add to the club's already significant debt to sustain top-flight football.

Five Asides

1 The FA Cup final is not the season's climax it once was

Something has to give in a crowded fixture list, but it is a pity that the FA Cup is again upstaged this weekend with events at Newcastle of greater interest and significance to most outside Anfield and Stamford Bridge. The FA Cup final should be the season's climax. Sadly, it will also be overshadowed next season as the Champions League final returns to Wembley, forcing the final to be played early.

2 Muamba embrace showed the warm side of Van Persie

Robin van Persie's wife and sister accompanied him on Thursday to the Football Writers' Association's dinner, at which he received his Footballer of the Year award, but the person he was most pleased to see was Fabrice Muamba. Their warm embrace was the evening's highlight, emphasising Muamba's popularity and the humanity that has made Van Persie an excellent Arsenal captain.

3 Villa nightclub incident did nothing for players' image

The perception that footballers are thick and out-of-touch is wrong, as Van Persie's acceptance speech demonstrated. But when James Collins, Fabian Delph and Chris Herd are involved in an early-hours nightclub incident, with Aston Villa threatened by relegation after one win in 14, it is easy to see why people think it.

4 Land of political footballs is no good for football politics

Insufficient, overpriced hotels, limited transport infrastructure, bombs, and now a political row over the treatment of Yulia Tymoshenko, the imprisoned former PM: Uefa will be glad when Euro 2012 leaves Ukraine, and must be relieved its next tournament is in the safe location of France.

5 Promotional tour might not be so bad for Arsenal

Arsène Wenger used to prepare his players in seclusion in Austria rather than promoting the brand around the globe. Following a series of trophyless years, Arsenal now face a pre-season schedule which will take them to Malaysia, China, Hong Kong and Nigeria. A victory for marketing over football? Maybe, but the Gunners are enjoying one of their strongest finishes in years, despite playing in Malaysia, China, Germany and Portugal last summer.

This weekend's team news...

Arsenal v Norwich

Odds Home 2-9; Draw 11-2; Away 11-1.

Kick-off Today, 12.45pm (Highlights Sky Sports 2 9.30pm)

Team news Abou Diaby (calf) misses out for Arsenal, with Park Ju-young added to the squad. Theo Walcott (hamstring) remains out, but could return next weekend.

Norwich will give late checks to Adam Drury (groin), and Grant Holt and Simeon Jackson are in contention for recalls, although Zak Whitbread (hamstring) remains out.

Newcastle v Man City

Odds Home 4-1; Draw 3-1; Away 4-6.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 1.30pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.25pm)

Team news Cheick Tioté has been passed fit for New-castle after recovering from a head injury. Danny Simpson (ankle) is a doubt, but Steven Taylor (Achilles) remains out.

Manchester City have no fresh worries, with Micah Richards and James Milner pushing for recalls after being left out of the starting line-up against Manchester United on Monday.

Aston Villa v Tottenham

Odds Home 16-5; Draw 11-4; Away 5-6.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 2pm (Highlights BBC 1 ,10.25pm)

Team news Stephen Ireland (hip) could return to the Aston Villa side but Emile Heskey (Achilles) is a doubt. James Collins and Chris Herd may be disciplined after a nightclub incident. Tottenham hope to welcome back Scott Parker (ankle), while Kyle Walker will play with an injection for a broken toe. Ledley King (knee) is a doubt.

Bolton v West Bromwich

Odds Home Evens; Draw 5-2; Away 11-4.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 2pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.25pm)

Team news Nigel Reo-Coker will undergo a late fitness test on a leg injury for Bolton, while defender Gretar Steinsson (thigh) remains doubtful and Darren Pratley (virus) misses out. West Bromwich Albion manager Roy Hodgson has no new concerns for his penultimate match in charge, with James Morrison (knee) back in training and Shane Long fit.

Fulham v Sunderland

Odds Home 5-6; Draw 13-5; Away 10-3.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 2pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.25pm)

Team news Fulham striker Andy Johnson is doubtful with a thigh complaint, although manager Martin Jol could return to the dugout. Sunderland have concerns over John O'Shea and Nicklas Bendtner's foot injuries, but Kieran Richardson and Sebastian Larsson (both hernia) are out for the season. Craig Gardner is available after suspension.

QPR v Stoke City

Odds Home 5-6; Draw 11-4; Away 16-5.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 2pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.25pm)

Team news QPR welcome back Adel Taarabt from suspension, but Samba Diakité is doubtful with a virus. Stoke City manager Tony Pulis will give goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen time to maintain his fitness for Denmark ahead of Euro 2012, but Jermaine Pennant (hamstring), Rory Delap (back) and Andy Wilkinson (groin) are doubts.

Wolves v Everton

Odds Home 4-1; Draw 11-4; Away 7-10.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 2pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.25pm)

Team news Wolves await updates on Sébastien Bassong (hamstring), although Matt Jarvis (groin) is expected to be available. Wayne Hennessey (knee), midfielder Jamie O'Hara (groin) and Jody Craddock (hip) remain out.

Leighton Baines remains out for Everton (hamstring), while Phil Neville and Darron Gibson will undergo late checks.

Man United v Swansea

Odds Home 1-6; Draw 6-1; Away 16-1.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 4pm (Highlights BBC 1 ,10.25pm)

Team news Manchester United are without Jonny Evans and Danny Welbeck, although Anders Lindegaard (ankle) returns from a long-term absence. Leon Britton is a doubt for Swansea City with a knee problem, but Angel Rangel has recovered from a hamstring injury. Alan Tate (calf) also returns for Brendan Rodgers' side.

Blackburn v Wigan

Odds Home 7-5; Draw 5-2; Away 15-8.

Kick-off Monday, 8pm (Highlights Sky Sports 1, 12.30am, Tuesday)

Team news Martin Olsson (groin) could return to Blackburn's starting XI, while Bradley Orr (Achilles) will be assessed, but Grant Hanley (knee) remains out. Wigan have a fully fit squad to choose from, striker Franco Di Santo having recovered from a calf complaint.