Following relegation from the Premier League, Reading are struggling to find their feet in the Championship. Ahead of tomorrow’s meeting at the Madejski Stadium, Rob Langham from The Two Unfortunates tells us what to expect from the home side…
What are your expectations for 2013-14?
At the moment – somehow – Reading lie just outside the play-off zone despite generally showing little of the appetite for the battle that other, up and coming teams such as Burnley, Derby and, until recent weeks, Forest have displayed. Performances have generally been flat and back-to-back home defeats against Bournemouth and Wigan have perhaps provided an indication of where the season is going. I’d expect Reading to finish well outside the top six and possibly even below half way unless a serious re-ignition of team spirit is undertaken.
What’s the fans’ general opinion of Nigel Adkins?
The fans have been wary of Adkins ever since he took over perhaps slightly later than one would have expected him to put pen to paper last winter. At the time, it was felt that he would be unlikely to present an improvement on Brian McDermott. Now I think most would consider him to not be on a par with the former manager – his tetchy style in post-match interviews hasn’t endeared him while tactically, he seems unable to match some of the division’s cleverer managers such as Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche. It would be premature to pronounce on him as yet though and dealing with a set of relegated players never made anyone’s CV look good.
Have there been many changes since last season?
There have been many including more central roles for Danny Guthrie and Pavel Pogrebnyak, both of whom have done well, the introduction of Wayne Bridge, Royston Drenthe and Danny Williams, all of whom have endured significant spells on the treatment table, and the heartening introduction of youngster Jordan Obita. Injuries have also wreaked havoc with the existing staff – last year’s promotion mainstays Mikele Leigertwood and Jason Roberts haven’t featured at all while Jem Karacan is out for the season.
What can we expect tactically?
You tell me. Reading’s lack of tactical focus has been the season’s major bugbear with the team changing personnel and formation willy-nilly. Nor is the reputation for intricate passing football which Adkins mysteriously forged at Southampton anywhere to be seen, except in short, unconvincing bursts. Recently, the tendency to tinker has become more acute and while injuries have played their part, the decision to leave Pogrebnyak on the bench against Bournemouth was the year’s most baffling. Adkins is at heart quite unreconstructed and he often panders to the fans’ call for 4-4-2 to be deployed – with a serious outnumbering in midfield inevitably resulting.
Who are the key players to watch out for?
Alex McCarthy is a superb goalkeeper who has really enhanced his reputation this year, reliable under the high ball and generally commanding in everything he does while as a striker, Pogrebnyak has surprised everyone with his willingness to work himself into the ground. Forest fans will be interested to see both Chris Gunter and Garath McCleary and both have been above average after neither looked good enough for the Premier League last year. Gunter in particular has put a woeful 2012-13 behind him and shown huge consistency in the right back position. Another ex-Tricky Tree, Billy Sharp has only come into the team recently on loan from Southampton but has twice cropped up to secure 1-0 wins.
What’s going to happen on New Year’s Day?
Forest fans were unfortunate to witness one of Reading’s better displays in 2013-14 earlier this month and while it might appear madness to predict a third home defeat on the trot for Royals, it somehow seems written in the stars – Forest to triumph 2-1 with the not unlikely event of ex-Biscuitmen Simon Cox and Darius Henderson yet again amongst the goals.
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And, of course, The Two Unfortunates is essential reading.
Image: By Victor Ochieng from London, United Kingdom (Inside Madejski Stadium, Reading) (CC-BY-SA-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons