Royal Shambles: What Went Wrong For Reading?
Jonny Williams examines the shortcomings of this season's Reading side.
May 21st, 2013
Injuries: Every team suffers injuries, but Reading were hit by four particularly key ones throughout the season. New England goalkeeper Alex McCarthy has shown just how much the Royals missed him in the last few games, with a string of incredible performances, but he missed around four months with a shoulder injury sustained against QPR. Coupled with the fact that Adam Federici, the #1 last year, also missed games with an ankle injury, the lack of a solid, consistent figure in goal can’t have helped the cause.
Jimmy Kebe is one of the most exciting players on his day, but he started only 16 matches with a further two appearances off the bench due to his constant niggling injuries. Jason Roberts, seen as the catalyst for promotion last season after arriving in January 2012, managed only 11 appearances, whilst Jem Karacan, an underrated cog in the Reading midfield, missed 17 games through his own problems. These injuries do stack up, and with so many key figures missing significant parts of the season, it was no wonder the Royals under-performed.
Disputes: Another major problem which hadn’t at all been seen to this effect at Reading – something which both the club and the fanbase prided itself on. But two more major disputes this season caused no end of problems in the dressing room. New arrival Danny Guthrie wasn’t seeing as much playing time as he would like and subsequently told then-manager Brian McDermott where exactly to put his team selections. A true Jekyll & Hyde player for the Royals faithful but it’s no surprise to see him thriving under new manager Nigel Adkins.
A bigger surprise is the sad situation with Alex Pearce. Voted last year’s Player Of The Season, he’s largely been marginalised since it was inferred that he wouldn’t be signing a new contract when his current one expires this summer. Sean Morrison has acquitted himself well in place of Pearce but there’s no doubt that the Reading trainee would have dealt better with the Premier League than Morrison this season. Sadly, politics put paid to his opportunities, meaning his last Reading appearance was almost certainly a 4-1 defeat at the Emirates in March. A far cry from when Steve Sidwell was known to be leaving in 2007, yet still carried on in the heart of the Reading midfield.
Tactics: Nowhere to hide on this one for Brian McDermott, whose 4-4-2 hit-and-hope was ruthlessly exposed in the top flight. Last year’s Championship win has more and more seemed like luck rather than exceptional play, as backs-to-the-wall defensive performances coupled with excellent counter-attacking saw Reading lift the title. But as McDermott learnt very quickly, the Premier League is a whole different league. David Silva, or Santi Cazorla, or even Andreas Weimann unlocking two banks of four is very different to anything the Championship had to offer, and it showed.
Meanwhile in attack, it was just as disappointing. Premier League defenders play with more nous and know-how, and simply cut off the attack lines at source. If you’ve got to defend deeper, your passes forward go more wayward with less room for error, and the problems in the Reading system stemmed from the containing mentality at the very heart of the ethos. Simply, the Royals were outgunned in every department.
Transfers: Outgunned, because of the deficiencies in the transfer market. Pavel Pogrebnyak arrived on a free transfer after a good half-season at Fulham; as did Danny Guthrie, whose Newcastle contract had come to an end. Winger Garath McCleary arrived on a free transfer from Nottingham Forest, and his right-back counterpart Chris Gunter soon followed him in the door from the same club. Adrian Mariappa was the final signing, and perhaps the most successful; a centre-back from Watford (who, ironically, may be trading places with Reading this summer). But these names do not scream Premier League quality. They seem like good, promotion-chasing Championship signings. And winger Kebe said as much when in December he told the press: “We are a good Championship side trying to compete in the Premier League.”
Did the Royals learn the lessons in January? Nope. Daniel Carrico arrived on the injury list from Sporting Lisbon, whilst two League One players made the step up to the Premier League – Hope Akpan from Crawley Town, and Nick Blackman from Sheffield United. Stephen Kelly’s arrival from Fulham was a more positive one, and he has actually impressed in a Reading shirt. But the other three have had little impact, as you might expect. Sadly, the Premier League is now a buying league, and things cannot be done on the cheap. This whole debacle will have been a learning experience for new owner Anton Zingarevich – whether he wants to invest the money for Reading to become a top-flight mainstay after the harsh reality of this campaign is another matter.