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THE SUMMER SO FAR……….

Well, a new season of ‘Reading Football Club’ has started on a seemingly positive note so in time honoured tradition, here is that segment that nearly always pops up, and for which I shall adopt a husky voice………

‘PREVIOUSLY, ON READING FOOTBALL CLUB – THE SERIES…..’

I thought I would look at what I think are three key things that have developed since last season.

The season ended on pretty much a flat note, in keeping with what had gone on in the weeks (and months?) immediately prior to it. A team that seemed to be drifting, with neither drive nor direction, a seeming inability to keep a lead, or a clean sheet for that matter. Still there was the in-fighting among the fans, was Brian the right man for the job? Should he be given more time, and money to create his own team? For the record, I have never bought into that argument. A GOOD manager should be able to work, motivate and develop any squad he has. We went nowhere. (Don’t believe me? Check out Colin’s effect on Rotherham, as much as I don’t like him!!!). I guess the only surprise was, when the axe did fall, it was a few weeks into the summer. And so we jumped on the managerial merry-go-round once again. One of the notable changes had happened before the end of the season with Director of Football Nick Hammond off to pastures new (although don’t scout midfielders Nick, Tony doesn’t have much use for them!) The largely unknown Brian Tevreden moving into the hot seat, with a very sharp intake of breath from the Royals faithful.

Where were we? Ah yes, on the merry-go-round. Now we have all been down this road before, some of us will remember as far back as the Bernd Schuster talk, some even further than that. We all sit there and play the waiting game, growing ever more anxious as the teams around us (with managers!) make signings while it appears that we are just treading water. Rumours were already swirling around the club in the days/hours leading up to the sacking that the club had been talking to Jaap Stam. I am guessing many of us were wearing the same expression that Wolves fans now have about Walter Zenga. (Come on, admit it, we knew who he was but who had he managed??). It actually took a while to get there, but eventually Jaap was appointed. Who can forget that press conference, eh?? SJM picking completely the wrong moment to outline his feelings (apparently Paloma Faith shares Jaap’s angst). So now we have a new manager and already we have seen a number of signings coming in, quite a few of whom have raised eyebrows, which leads me on to my next point.

We can never know how a transfer that looks good on paper is going to pan out (Matej Vydra anyone??), but the summer has borne fruition with the influx of a number of potentially good players, and we are led to believe there are still more to come. However, there are three transfers that stand out for me, and I have to say (dons flak jacket) that at least two of them I am not sure would have happened under BMc. Roy Beerens. I remember seeing a tweet going ‘I thought we weren’t going to sign another Dutchman!’, well, I think it is nice to see that we shot in and got, what seems, a really good player as an out of the blue opportunity. Whilst Stuttgart are in Bundesliga 2, they have been a consistent Bundesliga 1 side, so it was a bit of a coup to get him once his transfer there collapsed. The two that really spring to mind though are John Swift and Yakou Meite. These are both extremely highly rated young players who both chose the fields of Berkshire over potentially more lucrative opportunities (especially in Meite’s case). Can you really, in your heart, see Brian enticing players like this to our club? Really? Stam has brought his own thoughts on management to the club, but he has also brought his name, a name that may at least get his call to a player’s agent answered. I just couldn’t always see that happening with Brian. Sorry!

The final point is probably the most important. Ownership. We have all seen over the last few seasons that there have been certain question marks over the Thai owners; who is in charge? How long does it take to make a decision? Why is Jacob Smith Klein in Lady Sasima’s music video? There was also the loud silence emanating from them over the second half of the season (see I did an oxymoron there!). Much of the running of the club seemed to fall to Pairoj Piemsongsant, but during the close season there seems to have been a shift with Sumrith ‘Tiger’ Thanakarnjanasuth taking a much more hands on role with the club (seriously, how cool is it having an owner called ‘Tiger’?? Hull City so missed a trick there…..). Even though he is not supposedly the majority shareholder (source: Get Reading 9 May 2016 lists Narin Niruttinanon as that) he has been the face of the club over the summer, overseeing the managerial appointment and sanctioning the transfers. I say this is the most important change, because I do wonder if the other two things would have occurred without this; is finally having some clarity of ownership going to provide drive, focus and impetus going forward?

These are just my ramblings, let me know yours………

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Bristol City Preview

Happy Friday everyone and welcome back to another Friday preview of this weekends action. Tomorrow we face Bristol city following another week of poisonous reaction amongst supporters across social media. With injuries ruling out arguably three of our most important players this year – Bodvardsson, Yiadom and Eztolahi Paul Clement already has a number of headaches going into the game. Amongst fans there really is a strange mood at the moment which I know I share. There is first and foremost the understandable anger at home the club is being run under Ron Gourlay, which I won’t go into because I think everyone is aware of the shambles going on at the top and repeating it would be a bit of a laborious and unnecessary endeavour. However, the other emotion seems to be a resignation. The team have truly sucked the optimism out of fans. The lack of enthusiasm, intensity and excitement within the team has now settled in amongst supporters. At the end of Stam’s tenure, the atmosphere was toxic. Now however, the atmosphere is more of a set of fans who’re resigned to defeat after defeat and the seemingly inevitable relegation come May next year.
Bristol City are the side coming to the Royal County this weekend on the back of an home defeat to the hands of Stoke City last weekend. Despite looking up rather than down and sitting in a promising 11th position, the Robins find themselves in an inconsistent run of form, with 2 wins, 2 draws and 2 defeats in the last six. A team that typically do not give up many chances, Reading will need to take their opportunities should they hope to get anything from this game. Now that in itself isn’t the most ludicrous of suggestions, with the victory against Millwall demonstrating our ability to smash and grab.
Goals to seem to be the main issue restricting the Robins for really making a charge towards the top of the table. In fact, we have actually managed to score one goal more than the visitors have so far this campaign. The main threat going forward for the visitors will be former Derby County man Andi Weimann, who has managed 5 goals this season and will definitely fancy his chances against a Reading defence who have looked about as structurally solid as soggy Weetabix at points this season.  It is midfield where Bristol City look the most impressive. With Marley Watkins, Marlon Pack, Josh Brownhill and Callum O’Dowda, the Robins have a good blend of attacking prowess and defensive rigidity which has led to a very solid defensive record this year, alongside a settled back line. Don’t be surprised tp see the game being won or lost in the middle of the park, which is great news for us – especially with Eztolahi out. We have no one who can break up play in the middle of the park, we have an incredibly lightweight midfield which I expect to be overran several times over the course of the 90 minutes on the weekend.
Under the stewardship of Lee Johnson, Bristol City may not catch too many people’s attention, but they have something that I would give an awful lot for right now – consistency. 54 wins and 52 defeats during his time in charge isn’t the most eye-catching of statistics, but it has offered Bristol City something to build on having been relegated to the third tier a few seasons ago.
Prediction time. Could a defeat be the final nail in the coffin for Paul Clement’s dismal spell as the manager? Well, as you may well have come to expect by now a good game has been spoken by the manager in the build up but I’m predicting with our injuries and all round dismal performances even with a team at full strength we’ll taste defeat again. 2-0 Bristol City.
Matt Joy

Swansea City Preview

Happy Friday one and all and welcome back to another weekend preview courtesy of yours truly. The boys travel across the bridge to Swansea City this weekend hoping to bounce back from a disappointing but ultimately deserved defeat at St Andrews in the week. Following the midweek defeat, for some reason certain sections of the support have been wishing of a return for Jaap Stam. Have we really sunk that low under Paul Clement that we are wishing of a return to brain-numbing, ineffective, tepid and obsessive possession based football? Well, admittedly – it can’t get much worse right now. However, we all said that after the hammering at West Brom. How did the team respond to that? With a victory over Millwall. We do appear to have a knack of performing when all hope appears to be lost amongst supporters. So, with that being said – how do I rate our chances this weekend?
We go up against a Swansea City team who have had a respectable return to the second tier and currently see themselves in the top half of the table, sitting in tenth just four points away from the play-off spaces. Things can change very quickly in this division and Swansea could well find themselves right in the mix at the top end of the table should they manage to pick up a few results on the spin. This may be where they struggle however, having failed to really find much consistency this season. 5 wins, 5 draws and 4 defeats is a very respectable record – however, it is clear that they will need to change some of these draws into victories should they want to be up there with a chance of replacing their biggest rivals when Cardiff get relegated next year. NB – that is if that happens, which lets be honest – it probably will.
Led by Graham Potter, the Swans haven’t got a squad to suggest they had been an established Premier League team for 7 seasons. Clearly not blessed with the financial pulling power of some of the other relegated teams, Potter has put together a side that are competing despite not huge levels of investment. Spearheaded by Mcburnie, the Swans have a very settled core, especially in defence with little rotation seen in the back-line. This has definitely paid off, as only Boro have a better defensive record than the Swans. However, with just 15 goals scored (we’ve managed 19, for example) it is pretty obvious where they’ll need to improve in and perhaps invest in over the course of the January window.
Sorry for a slightly more short and sweet preview this week, see it as a bitesize read for your enjoyment. As for predictions, I am going to resist the temptation to be optimistic this week because it seems to be my pessimism that normally results in a victory or at least a good result. I think it’ll be a low scoring affair, so much so that I’m going to go for a 1-0 victory for the hosts.
Matt Joy

Birmingham City Preview

Good day one and all and welcome back to another preview. Tonight we head to Birmingham City on the back of a good showing on the weekend, picking up all three points against fellow strugglers Millwall. On Saturday we seemed to get something that we haven’t had much of this season, luck. A somewhat dubious penalty and an away team who’s strike force decided to do everything possible to avoid scoring despite having all of the chances in the world. We looked clinical and for the first time since the victory over Hull, we looked quite comfortable and like we were winning at a canter after Meite’s second goal. What are the chances of us picking up consecutive victories however?
Well, first and foremost – if you’re a betting man, a draw may well be the best one to go for in your accumulators. Having picked up a league high 8 draws from the opening 13 fixtures this season, Birmingham have only managed three wins – the same as us. I find Birmingham are the Championship equivalent of Southampton, or perhaps a Crystal Palace. They never really look in true danger of going down, but I can’t remember since their last relegation one season in which I thought the Blues could make any serious surge for the business end of the table. Despite this and the somewhat unconvincing League positioning, Birmingham are actually on the longest unbeaten run in the division, having gone nine games without tasting defeat (3 wins, 6 draws.) They have taken 11 points from the last possible 15, which is definitely a record I would take for Reading right now. It may seem therefore that I’ve made cases for Birmingham being both a good side and an unconvincing one in this paragraph. I apologise for that. My point is that I don’t think Birmingham have the quality or the staying power to really threaten up the top of the table and there are certainly numerous teams I’d be less optimistic ahead of playing. But I have to acknowledge their good run and the consistency Garry Monk has bought to the Blues under a rather limited budget. If they’re up at the top end of the table this season I’ll happily eat my words, but I can’t see this run of form lasting too much longer.
As for the players, this is really where my argument for Birmingham not reaching any real heights this year comes in to play. As I have said, Garry Monk has done a good job at making Birmingham tough to beat this season. I’m not disputing that. However, there is a reason behind the fact their only real impressive victory has been against Leeds United last month (thanks for busting my acca that day by the way guys.) The reason behind this is if you take a look at their squad, the word average is the first that comes to my head. Now, I feel like I have to keep giving this disclaimer for any Birmingham fans reading – please don’t get annoyed at me. You’re doing well with what you have. I’m also not saying we don’t have a very average squad because in reality we do. By average I mean that the high-flyers of the division probably wouldn’t rush to take these players off your hands. I have always though Maghoma is a good players and Jota on his day is also a very good players. With Jota however I feel like he is a player similar to John Swift. He’s a joy to watch when you’re 3-0 up but perhaps not the Manto dig you out of tight spots. However take a quick look at the following players: Jutkiewicz, David Davis, Omar Bogle, Harlee Dean, Michael Morrison. Do any of those for example really stand out as top-quality Championship players? I don’t think so.
Prediction time. Birmingham certainly have enjoyed more success than us so far this year (who hasn’t realistically) but as I’ve suggested I don’t think they’re anything more than a lower mid table club this season. Arguably then, much like us. I don’t see a huge difference in quality between the two sides and with Birmingham the divisions draw specialists and us coming of the back of a win, I think it’ll be a 1-1 draw tonight.

Matt Joy

WBA Preview

Guess who’s back, back again.. An incredibly pessimistic preview of the weekend is back. Tell a friend. The lads travel up to The Hawthorns this weekend and how things have changed since the last time I penned one of these. Ahead of the QPR game in the week I was actually full of enthusiasm that we had turned a corner and were looking like a team who were willing to work hard to get the right result. Again however against QPR we saw a bewildering team selection followed by a disjointed, flat and abject performance culminating in a defeat against one of our main rivals. Why on earth did Clement change a winning side? I have no idea. To be honest, I think our fans have summed up the mutual feelings on social media in the hours and days following the result of that performance, so anything I say would just be in agreement with most of you. What better time is there then to go to West Brom? I’m shuddering at the prospect.

West Brom currently find themselves sat in fourth place in the league. However, with just one point separating the top four, being in fourth isn’t really a true reflection of just how good they have been at the start of this season. As we have seen frequently in recent seasons with thew Championship getting stronger with more money invested across the league it is harder than ever for relegated sides to get straight back into the top tier. West Brom however seem to be a team equipped better than most to do just that. Darren Moore’s men have quality throughout the squad, none more so than Championship goalscoring specialist Dwight Gayle. Six goals in 10 games is a very impressive record for anyone and it’s clear to see with the other options they have going forward why West Brom have been so clinical this season so far. With Matt Phillips, one time England hopeful Jay Rodriguez and exciting youngsters Jonathan Leko, Oliver Burke and perhaps the most impressive of the three Harvey Barnes. I didn’t include a certain Hal Robson Kanu in that list because quite frankly I can’t bring myself to give him any form of credit with a straight face. Having scored six goals more than the second highest scoring team in the division, keeping a clean sheet this weekend would be a near miracle. It won’t be any easy task going forward either, even with the prolific 0 goals in 9 games Yakou Meite. Premiership quality exists throughout their back line, with Kieran Gibbs, Kyle Bartley, Ahmed Hegazi and Craig Dawson. Strength in depth exists in their midfield as well, but not wanting to simply list their squad, I’ll avoid highlighting the quality there. Put simply, I cannot see any real shortcomings at this level for the Baggies and I’d be amazed to see West Brom do anything but challenge incredibly strongly for the top spot this year

In Darren Moore, they took a risk with a manager who wasn’t just a safe pair of hands, as they have done previously. Regular readers (if there’s such a thing) of my previews will know I have a severe dislike for managers who never really do anything but get jobs based on their name and their “knowledge of the league.” The West Brom board took a brisk with Moore and have been rewarded with a team who score goals, play attractive football and know how to get the right result. Don’t be surprised to see the manager of the month Moore managing at the highest level in the near future, whether that is with West Brom next year or elsewhere.

Prediction time and I’ll keep it short and sweet this week. 3-0 WBA.

QPR Pre Match Preview

Hello all and welcome back to match day at the Madejski. Last weekend saw arguably one of the most respectable results we have had all season, albeit ultimately one of the most frustrating. A point away at Brentford should not be regarded as a bad result by any means and most of us certainly would have taken it at 2:50 on Saturday afternoon. For the first time in what has felt like an awfully long time, we appeared to want to get a result by any means necessary. We battled, we disrupted Brentford’s rhythm and we played dirty. This may not be of huge satisfaction to any supporters dreaming of a return to the brain-numbing possession obsession (try saying that after four pints) we saw under Stam. We showed a reluctance to roll over and admit defeat which especially in a game like Brentford away, we may have seen earlier this season following an early setback. I think it could really be a turning point.
Up next we host the lowest scoring team in the division QPR. They have struggled for much of this season, with no player scoring more than two goals this campaign. In fact, they have scored the same amount of goals all season that West Brom managed against them back in August. Much like us however they have ground out some good results, such as the victory against Millwall and Bolton home and away respectively. Who is their danger man however? For me, it’s Luke Freeman. A man who interested high flying Boro in the summer, Freeman’s industrious, hard working nature mixed in with real technical ability on the ball means he is a threat from the centre of the park. It’ll be important to quell the threat of Freeman should we wish to limit the amount of clear cut chances provided for the front men. Although they haven’t scored much this season, the acquisitions of two quality forwards in Tomer Hemed and Nahki Wells has always added to their available firepower and I’m sure as the season progresses not many fans would be surprised to see one or both of them at the top of the scoring charts for the West London side. Eze is another hungry forward full of pace and trickery that needs to be monitored closely by the back line tonight. QPR do seem to struggle most when they’re behind so I think it is of vital importance we take the game to them straight away and do not allow them to settle. Should we get an early goal, the prospect of a home win will certainly become a more likely one. As for the manager, we have Steve Mclaren. I’m not going to write a huge amount here because most football fans have a clear opinion on the former England manager. Joining the illustrious company of Mark Hughes, David Moyes, Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew – I believe Mclaren is a man who is seen by many chairman’s as a ‘safe option’ who ‘knows the league’ despite failing in the majority of recent roles. All to often we see young exciting managers turned down in favour of these sorts of managers, who have the ‘experience’ to ‘do a job’ but regularly fail to make any real impact on their new roles. Don’t be surprised to see Mclaren follow suit and spend less than 18 months at QPR, before moving on to making no meaningful impression in his next role. Just a hunch though. But Steve, I’ve still not forgiven you for the Croatia defeat at Wembley.
Predictions time and although I didn’t manage to get one of these articles out on the weekend (mainly due to the fact I was 220 miles away from Berkshire) I did get my prediction right! So, let’s go for 2 out of 2. Although this will have no influence on the eventual result, it’s clear that the whatever I say goes (okay, it has once – go with it) so I’m going to call an optimistic 2-0 win, with Bod and Barrow on the scoresheet! 
Matt Joy

Hull City Preview

Happy Friday one and all. This weekend sees the visit of Hull City to the Madejski, with Reading fresh from another shocking performance at home in the week against Norwich City. Four home defeats our of four, dwindling attendances, toxic atmospheres and murmurings of discontent getting louder and louder with every week that goes by. Without meaning to repeat my criticism of the club that I seem to be writing considerably more about than praise, times are very tough at the moment. Does I really fancy us getting a victory this weekend? I’m struggling to tell at the moment. On paper, you’d of thought this is a very winnable game. On grass however, the inept, slow, passive and disjointed players hardly fill me with any form of confidence.

As for our visitors, Hull have not had the best of starts either. Although they have picked up more victories than us – truthfully that is not a hard feat to achieve. Despite victories over fellow strugglers Ipswich and Rotherham away from home, inconstancy has run through this team. Having lost to Wigan in the week, the mood amongst supporters seems to replicate the mood in Berkshire at the moment. In truth, the only shred of positivity I have coming into this game is the fact that much like Preston last week this is a bit of an early season six pointer.

Hull have injuries worries coming into this game with promising young midfielder Dan Batty ruled out with a knee injury. Batty is likely to be replaced in the centre of the park by either Jackson Irvine or Kevin Stewart, next to Markus Henriksen. It is another young player however who I think has the potential to become the next Maddison by making the step up to the top tier. Jarrod Bowen was linked with a £12m move to Everton this summer and it has easy to see why. His pace, trickery and end product served him well last year as he broke through in a struggling Hull side. 2 goals so far this year, I’m certainly not looking forward to Chris Gunter inevitably being caught out multiple times in the 90 minutes by the youngster. Alongside these youngsters Hull do not have a bad squad at all, with experienced players such as Kamil Grosicki, Chris Martin, Evandro, David Marshall and Tommy Elphick all vying for starting spots this weekend. Having said that we don’t have a bad side on paper either. So based on our pathetic performances so far this season, that truthfully can count for very little.

The man in the dugout needs no introduction this week. Former Reading boss and all round bastion of posititvity Nigel Adkins will certainly be eager to get on over on us. Although he is arguably best known and regarded for his brilliant tenure at Southampton, I do think that he never showed his true capabilities at the Madejski. However since his departure, he took over Sheffield United and led them to their lowest league position since 1983 and has seen a win rate of just 28% in his current position. Arguably Adkins appears to be a manager who appears to be tailing off in his career. As I said he’ll be desperate to motivate the Tigers to retribution over his former employers this weekend.

Predictions time. I’m going for a defeat and a subsequent meltdown amongst supporters and players alike at the full time whistle. Why? Well, I’m usually wrong in these. So lets hope I continue that trend this week.

Matt Joy

Norwich City Preview

Well, well, well… Saturday was a bit of a shock wasn’t it? Anyone who read my preview certainly can appreciate that I wasn’t hugely expectant coming into the game at Deepdale to say the least! Maximum credit to the side however, going ahead twice and conceding twice in the current run of form we’re in certainly isn’t the situation I would’ve imagined would lead to our first victory in the league this year. It was our day however and we finally broke our terrible run of form with Paul Clement picking up his first away win in charge. Is this the victory that we need to ignite our season and push on? Well, look at QPR. After the results against West Brom and Bristol City they looked down and out. Fans were calling for Mclaren’s head, players weren’t performing – some could say it was similar to the situation we’ve been in this year just with more dramatic defeats. One win quickly led to another and next thing you know, talks of managers leaving are a distant memory. The victory against Preston really could be just the stepping stone we need to push up the table and pick up some points at home and away from the Madejski. Here’s hoping.

What about Norwich however? Well, inconsistency has certainly been a key theme of their campaign the season. On the face of it. picking up a victory against Middlesbrough on the weekend seems to suggest that they’re a team who should be challenging up the top of the table. However, they find themselves in 17th position. They’ve won this year against Premiership Cardiff City in the cup away from home, West Brom away from home and Middlesbrough at home. All of these results are difficult ones to pick up ad suggest Norwich could be a real threat. They have however drawn against Birmingham and Ipswich who certainly would be sides with all due respect that promotion challengers would see as winnable games. Whenever they seem to get a good victory, a disappointing result follows. So, do expect Reading to break this curse tonight. That’s just what we do, isn’t it?

There is a lot of quality throughout the Norwich side. Since their spells in the Premier League, they’ve maintained a quality that a lot of Championship sides would be envious of. However injuries are plaguing the Canaries and they will be without a number of first team starters tonight. Ben Marshall, Marco Stiepermann, Ivo Pinto and Onel Hernandez have been ruled out with Hernandez being arguably the biggest loss for Daniel Farke’s men. Hernandez has been directly involved in five goals so far this year – with two goals and three assists and is a real handful going forward. However, when you have Jordan Rhodes waiting in the wings to partner Pukki up top – they have a good amount of quality available going forward. Expect to see Mario Vranic coming in for Stiepermann given the fact they’re very similar players. Elsewhere they have a lot of experienced talent amongst the squad including Tim Krul in goal, defensive stalwart Tim Klose, midfield engine Alex Tettey and exciting young talents such as German U21 full back Felix Passlack and Ben Godfrey. Norwich certainly have enough quality to have a very solid campaign this year.

In charge they have German Daniel Farke. Having spent time in charge of the Borussia Dortmund second team the Norwich role is technically his first in management. I’d love to sit here and write an extensive thesis documenting the highs and lows of Norwich’s season last year but if one word could sum it up it’d be uneventful. Finishing in 14th Norwich amassed 15 victories, 15 draws and 16 defeats last year with a -11 goal difference. To suggest Norwich didn’t set the league on fire last year would be an understatement. Farke will certainly be wishing for more consistency and more excitement this year but their start suggests it could be another average season should they continue at their current rate. Would Farke survive until May with another season like last years? With the short term nature of football management nowadays, I doubt it.

Predictions time. Having backed a hefty Reading defeat against Preston and a victory against Bolton earlier this season, it is safe to say whatever I call here will probably be wrong. I’m going to perch firmly on the fence ahead of this game and go for a run of the mill 1-1 draw. So feel free to go ahead and back a victory either way folks.

Matt Joy