Player of the season  

This season hasn’t been a classic. I doubt that many of you sit around reminiscing about the 90/91 season when Keith McPherson won the official Player of the Season, and we finished 15th in Division 3, five places above Swansea, but it happened. I also expect that he’s still a bit proud of winning that accolade. So you don’t just have POTS during the good seasons. It’s a reference point for future years.

 
To start with I would like to give mentions to HRK and Nick Blackman, especially the former. When fit, Hal has been a key player this season. I hope he can continue this form next season, even if it’s not for us. 

On to Nick Blackman – for 3 months of this season he singlehandedly spearheaded our ‘promotion push’. He was the man to ask for lottery numbers on a Saturday night, everything was going for him. 

Now let’s get down to my top three.

3. Ali Al Habsi

When we signed Ali I instantly gave him the nickname ‘KitKat wrists’, and on his home debut he did nothing to disprove me. But as the season progressed he’s had some very impressive games, notably Palace in the cup. He kept us in that game with one of the best displays I’ve seen from a Reading goalkeeper. 

I’m fully aware that he can decide that he’s going to liven up the game, sometimes with catastrophic results, by going for a cross that he doesn’t need to go for, or by rushing out of his area as if he were Manuel Neuer playing with a sweeper. Hector is normally his partner in crime in these scenarios. 

But that’s part of the charm of Ali; he has got a personality and he’s not scared of showing it. My own favourite moment of the season was when he jumped into Y26 after Piazon’s clinching goal against WBA. That was spontaneous, and a rare moment when fans and players joined as one. Personally I hope he’s still here next season, as our number one. I think he’s capable of better performances than his predecessor Federici. 

2. Oliver Norwood

Here is a player who seems to split the opinions of our fans. I’m clearly a fan of Oli, although until recently I always checked the other scores on my phone when he stepped up to take a set piece. Fortunately he seems to have realised I wasn’t paying attention and improved. Thanks Oli! But seriously, he’s a quality player, lovely touch and rarely loses possession. He’s also got a vicious shot on him. Who can forget his goals against Ipswich and Forest?  

Where some people, and sometimes even the manager, go wrong with Oli is that they expect him to play as an attacking midfielder. In the games where he played deeper he looked so much more impressive. Ask him to slide through balls to the strikers and he’s not in his favoured role. I can see why Bournemouth are showing interest in Oli, he would fit perfectly into their side. Obviously I hope he stays and is a key figure in our team next season.

1. Paul McShane

When we signed Paul, a few people on Twitter said that he was no better than Alex Pearce. Now I’ve got a lot of time for Alex, but this was quite frankly a ridiculous comparison. I do hope those people realise that they now look rather daft. McShane is the kind of player that you want to be your captain. He is a top player so his place in the starting lineup is assured, and he is a leader. We all know about the Boro incident, which was totally out of character for Paul. I did consider Danny Williams for my top 3 after that game – anyone who is prepared to take on an angry, red-haired Irishman deserves some kind of award!
Thinking back over the season I can’t remember McShane having a poor game. So, in a season of mediocrity, McShane has stood out like a beacon for me. Hopefully next season he can even notch a few goals in the blue and white hoops.

 
I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts on POTS, feel free to get in touch via @elmparkroyals.
Paul Mann 

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Squad Analysis 

As it stands, once again, we sit in the relative comfort of mid-table mediocrity. Once again we sit wondering what beckons on the horizon for almost every aspect of Reading FC.

The comparison between this season and last is nigh on identical in terms of results, performance and even the FA Cup run – this time falling one short of the hallowed trip to Wembley.

This time around, one would think we would know more than we did last season with regards to the strength of squad and what is required for next season. Frankly, we’re none the wiser.

The ‘transfer policy’ and player performance simply has not turned out remotely what we hoped for. So, what next as Brian plots his next assault on the ever difficult and arduous Championship?

The loan players almost to a man have flattered to deceive. It’s safe to say Vydra, John, Piazon, Taylor, and Fernandez have either not been played enough or not performed consistently enough to warrant consideration for next season.

Of course, Ola John has shown signs that on his day he can be unplayable, but questions remain over his fitness, especially over a 46 game season. Whether the club could tempt Benfica into selling and if we can afford Ola’s fee and wages is doubtful. We can but dream that we can sign a player who can turn a game like he can. Something we’ve sorely needed for many a season.

Even less of a possibility would be signing Matej Vydra. Despite his undoubted quality, he’s failed to find his feet in Berkshire. Considering the outlay for the loan, a rumoured £2.5m – the gamble has not paid off.

Tempting Chelsea into returning Michael Hector to us for a season is slightly more of a possibility, especially with a new man at the helm at Stamford Bridge, but more to the point is that McDermott likes a player that wants to ‘play for the shirt’; a plethora of loan signings next season looks extremely unlikely.

Also on the way out will almost certainly be the likes of Hal Robson-Kanu and Anton Ferdinand. Hal has shown little interest in re-signing, Ferdinand is likely to prove too expensive relative to his injury record. Others in consideration for moving on would be Aaron Kuhl and a host of other Academy players.

All in all, by my dubious maths, that means that we would have a potential shortfall of 16 players. If we discount the Academy players who will be replaced by incumbents from within, that’s still a fair number. Do the Thai owners have the capacity and desire to replenish those loan signings with longer term acquisitions? Plugging the void and, more importantly, improving the quality of the first team will not be an easy task.

Realistically, we’re aiming for top six (at absolute best). To say we can challenge for major honours from the position we’re in would be verging on optimism overdrive!

Goalkeepers

Whilst Al-Habsi and Bond are often mooted as being lesser than our previous goalkeepers, none of them could consider themselves as being attractive to other clubs or be put up for offer. To that end, I don’t think we’ll see any change in that department, bar who will be Numero Uno next season.

Expected Signings – None.

Defence

As ever, defence needs strengthening. With the loss of Hector and probably Ferdinand, we will be very light on Central Defenders. No doubt this will be a priority. With Gunter signing a new deal, and Obita midway through his contract, we have stability but not depth. The fact that both players are picked week in week out is not healthy. Every position needs to have cover that pushes the players to earn their place. Chris and Jordan have it easy with no serious competition for their place.

Expected Signings – Two, minimum. Full Back and Central.

Midfield

The midfield minefield! A conundrum of messes is the engine room. A collection of misfits and imbalance has cost us a much higher position over a few seasons and surely needs restructuring. In the centre, Norwood and Williams seem to have positions made their own, but we have struggled to find consistency and strength with these as a pairing. Evans and Fernandez have barely featured. Tshibola will no doubt push for a position after his injuries and rightly so. On his day, Norwood has a wand of a right foot, but is often the ‘quarterback’ that creates but does not provide the final ball. Whether we require another playmaker further forward is up for debate. Creation in the final third will be crucial to any success next season.

Which leads us to our wingers. Sadly, McCleary has been in and out of the team due to injury and been unable to recreate the form which he has fleetingly shown since he came back from injury a few seasons ago. On the left Hal Robson-Kanu could well leave, well, almost certainly will leave. Fosu and Stacy will return, but surely another winger is required.

If the club are keen on restructuring the wage bill, they could be looking at off-loading the expensive Danny Williams, if a club chose to come in for him. Oh, and we have George Evans. No, really.

Expected Signings – Two, minimum. One winger, One Central (Defensive or Attacking.)

Forwards

The vital front line will require a much needed upgrade upon this seasons showing. The expensive loan signing of Vydra, sadly, did not work out. What we lose, we may gain with the return of Dominic Samuel after his season at Gillingham. The relatively new signings of Kermorgant and Rakels could fare better after a pre-season under their belts also. The contract of Simon Cox is up in the air, he could move on – but equally, he would no doubt love to stay and would most likely accept terms offered by his hometown club.

Expected Signings – One, minimum.

Whether the Thai owners will wish to invest beyond the suggested absolute minimum of five, and that’s what it is, an absolute minimum of 100% first team quality, remains to be seen. The future is vague; it will be a long, long summer as the rebuilding unfolds.

Neill Rees

The Beginning 

Hi, welcome to the first post on ElmParkRoyals.com

The Beginning 
My first season of emotional turmoil was 85/86 in Division 3. With hindsight this was a bad season to start watching the mighty Royals. We won the first 13 games of the season, we came back from 3 nil down to beat the second place team and had promotion wrapped up by Christmas. For the next twenty years most seasons were an anti-climax (Simod Cup glory aside). This might be something the 106-newbies can associate with.  

At the time I didn’t realise we were playing the ugliest football known to humanity. Proper long ball and chase it stuff. Frankly, I didn’t care and thought that we would eventually become the first Division Champions. Oh the naivety of a 9 year old!  

Well it seemed inevitable! We had Steve Woods in defence, a classy defender nobody could beat, alongside him was Hicksy at centre-half, renowned for his agricultural style. Then in midfield we had Andy Rogers on the wing, who seemed to plant crosses on striker’s heads with ease, and Stuart Beavon, a hardworking creative player. Later in the season we added Terry Hurlock. Terry was both the toughest and the scariest player I have ever seen play for us.   

They sound bloody great, don’t they? Now here comes the real stardust: We had three strikers, Senior, Bremner and Horrix, who all scored goals for fun. In the first ten league games, Trevor Senior alone scored ten goals. If one of them was injured or suspended, the others stepped up and bagged a hat-trick – well that’s how I remember it anyway.   

These were different times when it came to media coverage. It is typical that Reading FC had one of their greatest seasons when the Football League couldn’t agree a TV deal, so sadly there is virtually no TV footage of this glorious season. There was still Radio 210, which I listened to avidly for away game news. Now, we criticise Radio Berkshire today, but Radio 210 didn’t even have full live coverage. I would sit there listening to the latest Elton John record (Nikita?) , waiting for a two minute update from somewhere like Sincil Bank. The tension was unbearable but I managed to while away the time playing Subbuteo. They didn’t even extend the update length and stay live when Andy Rogers swallowed his tongue and almost died away at Swansea. Today, a similar incident would be scrolling on the Sky Sports News yellow ticker for at least half a day. But let’s get back on track. During March, we had a bit of a wobble. We lost four league games. Ten year old me was starting to realise that supporting a team meant the heartache of losing occassionally. Happily we got back on track in April, and got promoted on the 19th April away at Feethams , Darlington. We soon went on to clinch the title, beating Derby County 1-0 at home a week later. Of course, Senior scored with a one yard special.   

During the close season I went to a BBQ at some friends of my parents which was memorable for two reasons. Firstly, there was a VHS recording of the Reading vs Derby game showing, which was amazing for me as that game hadn’t been shown live on tv, so the BBQ hosts must have purchased it from the club shop. Secondly, one of the other guests was none other than Stuart Beavon. I still feel guilty for pestering him with football questions for a sustained period when all he wanted to do was have a burger. I’m not sure if he even managed to get any food. Stuart, if you’re reading this, I apologise!  

I hope you’ve enjoyed the first article on elmparkroyals.com. If you’ve got memories of your first Royal’s season or game that you’d like to share, whether from 1934, 2016, or anywhere in between, get in touch via @elmparkroyals on Twitter and you might see them published here.   
Paul Mann