Reading 3 Millwall 1 Player Ratings 

Hi, 

Just a quick reminder 6 is the score for an acceptable run of the mill performance. 

Jaakkola 6 

Another solid showing and can’t remember any mistakes. Couldn’t do anything about the Millwall goal and rarely tested in the 2nd half or ET. 

 
Gunter 6 

As you would expect from Chris. Nothing spectacular in the less familiar position of LWB. 

Ilori 6 

A couple of nice moments of anticipation to snuff out any danger and looked a lot calmer than against Fulham. Good run out to keep him match sharp. 

Andresson 6

Nice to see another left footed defensive option. Looked strong, composed and okay defensively. Axel had one good short from a corner in the 1st half. We might see him used in the 1st team squad at some point this year. 

Bacuna 7

Looked good on the ball and scored an excellent goal. Looked very unfit in the 2nd half and then appeared to get a second wind to last until the 95th minute. 

Rinomhota 8 MOTM 

I’ve now seen him in two different positions and been impressed both times. Quality on the ball and a eye for a pass going forward. Defending he was just as good. Several good clearances helped by good positioning. Perhaps some competition for Gunter at RB.  

 
Quinn 6 

Took a while to get into the game on his first start for months. Gradually we started to some of the Quinn we know as the game progressesed, Simple passing became more progesssive and his work for the team as always was 100%. He will only get better with more games. Good to have him back and looking fit. 

Evans 7 

For 45 minutes George was off the pace. Looked sluggish and indecisive. Definitely got better better in the 2nd half and capped it with the stunning 2nd goal. 

McCleary 6

Some nice touches from Gareth in his 45 mins, looked like he was only running at 75 % which is understandable as he’s coming back from another injury. 

Popa 7

Adi gets his 7 mainly because of his perseverance and team work. There was a lack of quality with his final ball tonight and he switched off for the corner which led to the Millwall goal. 

Smith 7 

I think that was a better overall showing from Sam tonight. Link up play was better than against Gillingham and yet another one who didn’t stop. Snatched at his chance just before FT but kept his composure to score his deserved goal based on his effort alone. 

Subs: 

Clement 6 (45) 

Bit of a mixed bag from Pelle. Some nice play and some sloppy stuff. He did okay overall. 

Barrow 6 (71) 

By far the best player after he came on the but can’t rate him higher as he didn’t actually score or assist a goal. Looks good every time he gets the ball. 

Blackett 6 (90+2) 

Was rarely troubled in ET. 

Loader 6 

Can’t say I really noticed him. On that basis I can’t rate him him high or low. 
Thanks for taking the time to read my ratings. Let me know if you agree or disagree via @Elmparkroyals twitter site or the comments section below. 

Thanks 

Paul Mann 

Advertisements

Reading Aston Villa Player Ratings 

Welcome to the first EPR player ratings. 

I will be using 6 as the average mark for a performance. 

Mannone 7

Good solid showing and saved an early 1 on 1 which could have changed the match. Good distribution with his feet throughout the match 

Gunter 6 

Solid but unspectacular performance. Crossing was particularly poor in the first half but defensively fine. 

Blackett 6 

Plenty of big tackles from Tyler and no mistakes at the back. 

McShane 7

Won numerous headers and good on the ball. Needed his leadership in the last few mins when Villa went more direct. 

Moore 7 

Another classy showing from Liam. And enjoyed the chance to get forward more in the first half. As always calm on the ball as shown by his assist for the Barrow goal. 

Van Der Berg 7

Started very slowly and gave the ball away which led to the early Villa 1 on 1 with Mannone. Improved in the 2nd half but always makes me nervous. 

Swift 6 

Some nice link up play in midfield when it appeared there wasn’t any space but can’t remember anything significant from him. 

Kelly 7 

Several lovely passes that only a confident player would attempt. Plenty of shots tonight but none felt quite right. Still a great start to the season and you can’t expect to him to score every game.  

Clement 7 

Another one who seemed to grow into the game. Fairly anonymous 1st half and a strange attempt at heading a ball out out for a goal kick summed up his first half. Much better 2nd half including a throw ball for McCleary which he should have probably done better. Could be a good squad player going forward. 

Barrow 8 MOTM 

Constant threat throughout the match. Out wide with crosses and clever passes, then with direct running at pace. Capped it off with a poachers finish from the ALf school of finishing. I’ve been impressed all 3 times I’ve seen him so far. 

Popa 7 

Possibly his best performance in a Royals shirt. Yes he gives the ball away sometimes, but he also was a threat tonight. One good long range shot was well saved and could have done better with a chance soon afterwards. His cross early in the 2nd half created the first goal and his confidence visibly rose afterwards. Good to see a player take his chance when others are still injured. 

Subs: 

Evans 6 (70 mins) 

Didn’t do anything wrong so standard George. Did the job asked of him by Stam. 

McCleary 6 (70) 

Rather fluffed his 1 on 1 with the Villa keeper but had a couple of nice runs and helped us run the clock down.  

Beerens (77) 

Not really long enough to mark him.

 
Let me know if you agree or disagree with my ratings tonight via @Elmparkroyals or your comments section below. Thanks 

Paul Mann 

Swift Start 

Before the season started, none of us were sure how the season would unfold under a manager with no experience of managing a first team. Only the blindly optimistic could be confident we would be a success, especially with a very tricky start to the campaign – Wolves, Newcastle and Ipswich all in the opening 6 games. 

So how do I think it’s unfolding? The most obvious change we’ve seen is in the style of play. We now see long periods of possession and are comfortably beating most teams on this stat. This has seen a very mixed response from the crowd and accusations of ‘dull’ or ‘boring ‘ football. I can understand why some fans have struggled to adapt to this new style. It’s completely different to the previous manager’s. I think we should stick with this style, I think it frustrates the opposition into making rash decisions and also protects our previously vulnerable defence. I work on the basis that if we’ve got the ball, the opposition can’t score, so the more we have the ball the less likely we will concede and the more likely we will score. Simple logic I grant you, but it seems to be working so far. 

Defensively I think we have improved this season. Liam Moore is looking like a steal for one million, composed on the ball and a leader. This has helped McShane concentrate on his own game, unlike last season when he had to guide the young Cooper through games. The Blackett signing has seen Obita show his best form in 18 months, he’s still not perfect but its a big improvement from his showing last season. Gunter has also put in some better displays, his decision making in the final third is still frustrating but he’s been better at positionally. Al Habsi hasn’t really changed, is still capable of both incredible saves and blunders. The Derby game was Classic Al Habsi; makes a great save from Vydra but got away with dropping the ball when kicking it in the first half. I still think his positives outweigh his negatives. 
  
One of our major issues of the last few seasons has been creativity. I never expected Stam to magically improve this situation with our limited funds but I think it’s slightly improved this season. The main reason is undoubtedly Jon Swift. He’s added a goal threat and creativity we’ve not seen since Gylfi, but I’m not getting too carried away until he does it over a whole season. He’s got the talent, lets hope he keeps up with the good performances. Beerens has also quietly impressed me, he’s had a few critics this season, but who would you rather have – Beerens or HRK? I would pick Beerens every time. Yeah Beerens is not keen on any contact, that needs work, but he’s a team player, unlike HRK. As already mentioned, another key reason why it’s improved is we’re having more of the ball. This tires the opposition physically and mentally. It’s no coincidence we’ve got late goals against Cardiff, Ipswich and Derby.  

  
I’ve got a lot of sympathy for Stam on the striker situation, he knows we are at least one striker short but was left rather stranded by the club’s failure to sign one that is good enough to be a first team regular. He’s been left with a striker who is not really a target man and struggling with confidence. I can’t knock Yann’s effort and desire but he’s not been good this season, especially in front of goal. This brings me on to a criticism of Jaap. I think he’s been quite slow to bring on Mendes when a goals has been required. Brentford, Birmingham and Derby are 3 prime examples. Now I haven’t been overly impressed by Mendes (apart from Derby) but it’s been clear in those games Yann needed some support and Stam hesitated. Is this a lack of faith in Mendes, or a stubbornness to stick to his style? I’m not sure, maybe it’s a combination of factors we don’t know, but it’s a bit puzzling. I hope Jaap has seen that Mendes can make an impact after the Derby game, it helped the whole team having two strikers and especially Yann. 

 Overall I’ve been impressed by Stam’s start. The team look more confident and the results have been far better than I expected to see. I’m slightly concerned that teams have worked out how to affect our style of play as our form has trailed off in the last few weeks, but I’m more confident than I was before the season started. If he shows a bit more flexibility with formations and gets lucky with form and injuries we could have a decent season. My initial target of 50 points is looking very likely to happen with plenty to spare, but I’m still sticking with 13th as my finishing position. Which would be progress, although I hope I’m wrong and we finish much higher!

Paul Mann 

Let us know what you thought of this article via the comments section below or @ElmParkRoyals 

2016/17 Season preview 

We start the 2016/17 season with an air of enthusiasm and energy that Stam has brought with his appointment. Contrast this with the mood that surrounded the club at the end of last season and it’s easy to see why some people are already hailing our new manager as our saviour. Hopefully this will be the case, but I think it’s going to be an extremely difficult first job for him. 

 
For the last 3 years we have struggled to score goals and to stop conceding soft ones. This is something Jaap will want to improve immediately, but selling Aaron Tshibola will not have helped him. I don’t think we’ve realised the full impact of him leaving us for Villa. I can’t see any of the players we’ve signed being able to replace his calm and composed head in midfield. Joey Van Der Berg looks like a decent player but totally different to Tshibola. And from his past disciplinary record it’s not unfair to assume he might miss a few games this season. 

 
On a positive note we’ve signed some decent creative midfielders, something we’ve lacked for a few years. Beerens has the potential to be a key player this season. Two footed and understands the formation that we will be using. Swift has the added advantage of one full season of Championship experience with Brentford. 7 goals in 28 games isn’t a bad return. His goal against Bournemouth in the recent friendly showed he could be a midfielder who arrives late in the box. Yet another area where we’ve looked weak for years. Yakou Meite will need to be handled with care, definite potential but let’s not build him up too much. He’s still very inexperienced and needs time to develop into the adult game. I would put Liam Kelly in the same bracket, but I hope we persist as he’s technically very good and could solve our set piece issues. So I think we have improved our midfield in an attacking sense. 

 
Towards the end of last season Rakels and Kermorgrant showed some promising signs of linking up nicely. But it’s very surprising we haven’t signed any strikers apart from Joseph Mendes. Even he is a converted winger who only really hit any form for Le Havre in the last part of the 2016 season. Unfortunately he’s also now injured. Samuel has joined him in the Physio’s room after a relatively successful loan spell at Gillingham. Going into a season with two fit strikers is very risky, even playing 4-3-3. This is an area that urgently needs reinforcements if we want to improve on last year.

 
I can’t be very positive about our defence either. At the time of writing this article we have signed one defender, Danzell Gravenberch, from a second division Dutch team. With no experienced players to cover for any injuries, suspensions or lack of form, it’s an area of major concern. Gunter, Obita and Cooper all had a poor season last year. The fact Joey Van Der Berg was tried at centre half instead of Jake shows us that Jaap isn’t sure on him this season. Personally I rate Cooper but he needs to show that he has learnt from his basic mistakes. So I’m very concerned about our lack of defensive signings. This isn’t helped by the fact that our No.1 goalie is far from ‘Safe Hands’ despite last years deserved Player of The Season award. The new back up, Jaakkola, is an unknown quantity, so we will have to wait and see if the South African league is the new hotbed of keepers. 

 
I’m a bit worried that some of the fans will struggle to adapt to Stam’s new style if we don’t get a half decent start. I wouldn’t expect to see much of the conventional crossing the ball. Instead I expect far more intricate moving of the ball, waiting for lapses from the opposition. Stay patient with the team and manager. He’s learning like the team will be. 

 
I think we can slightly improve on last season if we are lucky with injuries and have a decent last few weeks in the window. As long as I see a clear plan and some improvement I will be content. I’m saying we will finish 13th but hope I’m wrong and we trounce the league. 

Paul Mann 

Let us know if you if agree or disagree with my thoughts or prediction via the comments section below or via @ElmParkRoyals

Mental Fragility 

2015/16 came with much promise and hope, yet was punctured by instability, in-fighting and inglorious failure. When you look back, it’s a wonder we managed to stay afloat at all, such was the turmoil – a raft of new (loan) players, a manager rolling the dice and finding himself out of work, the return of a false prophet – far too many metaphors to chuck at the whole shooting match!

Now we get down to business once more, but the more things change the more they stay the same. Jaap’s work on the team will not only be devoted to the ball and the feet. What is probably just as important, possibly more, is the belief that has been eroded from the club, not just last season but for a few seasons hence. All of which he knows nothing of and would only have been informed of briefly.

We saw and felt the unit thrive and fall under Clarke, under who we played undoubtedly our best football of many a year, but for it all to fall apart after the Fulham away fixture where a two goal lead was squandered. Subsequently we went off the rails in dramatic style. Players visibly lost all confidence, simple passes wandered off the pitch, crossing drifted into woeful areas, penalties and simple chances were unable to be finished. A doughnut of a midfield with a defence made of jelly. It was as awful as that awful food combo sounds.

The new coaching team will have one hell of a task not only to deploy a 4-3-3 system that has rarely been successful here, but to instil into the players that they can be winners, that they have the ability to succeed and banish the previous failures away. Equate it to ‘normal life’ where you don’t feel at your best, you’re downtrodden and low; someone telling you you’re great, the best, wonderful, isn’t enough. You’ve got to earn that feeling that can’t be handed to you. The management will have to ‘manage’ all the battered egos, the young who have much to learn, the new signings who need to be made comfortable and to feel at home.  All in all, it’s a very tough ask for a manager cutting his teeth in one of the most demanding leagues in Europe. A task we need to be very mindful of during the formative weeks and months – I can almost guarantee we won’t hit the ground running. Even if we do, it may only take a result like the one at Craven Cottage to bring us back down to earth with a resounding crash. Leaders within the team need to be found. Partnerships are required all over the pitch. Bonds, like we have seen in the past with Gunter and McCleary, are required to grow. A group willing to die for each other, figuratively speaking, of course.

If we look at the opposite end of the spectrum, a team like Leicester winning the whole shebang was not won purely on the field. Their mental strength week after week was proven. Claudio Ranieri batted every win away, saying it was not a foregone conclusion, but internally, he praised his players so highly that they couldn’t help but ride the wave all the way to the title. Take another example in Wales (excuse my nationalistic pride for a minute!) A couple of star players aside, their obvious togetherness and spirit drove them to a semi-final. In modern parlance, both those examples were “totally on it”. They had the will to win embroidered into the fabric of their teams. And that’s what we’re missing – a team, in the proper sense of the word. We had individuals masquerading as a unit last season. Togetherness was alluded to – “a great set of lads” that enjoyed each others company, yet we had the instance of Williams and McShane squaring up in a game we were not even losing at the time.

Hark back to the revered 106 team, their spirit shone through in a system that was simple yet impossible to stop. The opposition had lost before even venturing onto the field. Fast forward to our team ten years later – disjointed,imbalanced, staccato, rudderless. The fans felt the players’ own frustrations as time after time simple goals were conceded; fingers were duly pointed. As soon as we went a goal down, that was pretty much game over. We didn’t have the capacity as a group to turn it around.

Less than a week away before the season kicks off again, our level of excitement is peaking with new kits being released and rumours of stellar signings, but consider this a word of warning -Jaap, the staff and the new team is one that is still forming and one whose final XI is very much a work in progress, not just with the ball at their feet but the grey in between. The ghosts of previous failures need to be exorcised. We need time, patience and of course, our support.

 
Neill Rees 

Let us know what you thought of this article via the comments section below or @ElmParkRoyals 

Royal Republic 

When the editor dropped me a line and asked me to do a bit about Ireland, I got a little bit excited as you do, Guinness, Dublin, Jamesons, Croke Park. Then I realised he actually meant Irish players. I pondered what qualifications do I have for this? My father’s side came from Norfolk, and my mother’s from Kent (with a wee bit of Scotland a few generations back!), so in the eyes of Jack Charlton, that makes me perfect (little 90s Irish squad selection joke there…..).

Last season we had Cox, Quinn and McShane. Delve into the more recent past and you get the Hunt boys, Doyle, Long, Kelly, Pearce, Bennett, Harte, and if you go further back in time you find Houghton and Maybury. So what can we discern from this? What you can gain from our recent history with Irish internationals, is that there is no one way to trace or record how they arrive at our club. Some have arrived in the twilight of their career, while others we developed ourselves, while yet more have arrived mid career. Maybe a couple of comparisons would help??

When you consider the players that arrived in the twilight of their career, the two that stand out are Ray Houghton and Ian Harte. Both had long careers with the Republic’s international squad (73 caps and 63 caps respectively). Houghton arrived as Bullivant took over the club, a season that promised much but only delivered relegation. A sad, but perhaps very Reading way, of saying goodbye to Elm Park. He stayed for the first season at the Madstad, playing over 40 times for the Royals with a solitary goal again Manchester City. Houghton was a busy player, but this was a very poor Reading team. Harte, on other hand, came on an out of the blue transfer from Carlisle. While there was no doubting his pedigree, there was a perception that he was past it, and was too slow to be any good. How wrong were we? He made the PFA Team of the Year two years running in the Championship, and provided a significant contribution to Reading’s second promotion to the Premier League. It’s a bit sad to think that both players left the Madstad off the back of relegation seasons, maybe a thought to ponder if we look at ‘veteran’ Irish free transfers in the summer??!!

Next up you have the players we have go in young and looked to develop. This is a field we have dabbled in a lot over recent years. Getting youth players in for free or a pittance, in the hope you can unearth a gem is something many clubs have do, if not to create millions, then to at least add decent players to your squad. This will always be a bit of a punt, hit or miss. The hit that stands out here, more than any is Shane Long. A Gaelic footballer and Hurler, with not much football pedigree, who arrived as part of the Doyle deal (yes, I know I could say Kevin, but he virtually went straight into the first team didn’t he?). Shane spent a few years developing, before really coming to the forefront when Doyle left. A number of seasons leading the line led to full Irish caps and a big money onwards to West Brom. Compare this with the recently released Pierce Sweeney. A centre back who arrived with a lot of promise in 2012, he was the captain of the U21 team that won the Premier League Cup in 2014, but somehow he never seemed to kick on from being on the fringes of the first team in Nigel Adkins time, to becoming an actual first teamer. He has watched Jake Cooper bypass him and become a first-team regular. It really was probably not a surprise that he was released this summer.

Finally we come to established players we’ve bought in. Two you could look at here are Noel Hunt and Simon Cox. What makes Cox different is that he was a youth player for Reading, before making his career with Swindon, West Brom and Forest before coming back. After a goal spurt in his opening games, Cox went on a barren run of form that continued through a loan spell at Bristol City, and to his return to Reading. Having arrived with the image as something of a goalscorer (to be honest I think this was mainly from his Swindon period!!), we all wished him well as a local boy playing for the team, and alas, it did not work out in the end, with Cox also leaving this summer. Hunt, on the other hand, was a bit of a dark horse to me. I must admit I did wonder, initially, if we were signing him to keep Stephen happy. Glad to say I was proved wrong. Hunt was never prolific, but he was a willing workhorse for whoever he played alongside, and his constant running meant that defences could never be comfortable when he was around. We could probably have done with him still around if we’re honest!!!

Ultimately, there is no rhyme or reason, to whether a player will be a success for your club, whatever stage of their career they may join at.

Darryl Griffin 

Let us know what you thought of this article via the comments section below or @ElmParkRoyals 

 

 

Welsh Wonders 

The Euros are nearly here so here at ElmParkRoyals.com we have decided to do a series of articles focussing on Reading players past and present who earned international caps for teams at this summers Championship.

It’s been 58 years since Wales last qualified for a tournament so I thought I shouldn’t hang around with this article. Any country that includes Simon Church in their squad might not be busy in the summer again any time soon.

So let’s get cracking. Well, how can I put this? We’ve had a mixed bag of Welsh players over the years. Quite frankly some of them have been bang average. Who remembers Nigel Stevenson’s 3 appearances in the 85/86 season? Nope, me neither, and I was at the games. We also wish we could forget Paul Bodin’s illustrious career.

But there have been some crackers, Ady Williams being a stand out one. Ady was born in that hotbed of Welsh football, Bracknell. He was a proper player, decent on the ball and wasn’t scared of a tackle. He also loves the club, always a nice bonus. My favourite memory of Ady is from the final league game of the 94/95 season when he scored a powerful header against Charlton.

Now here’s one for the older fans: Linden Jones. Technically Lindon never got a full cap, but he did get a few under-21 appearances, but I’m making the rules for this article, so he’s included. Lindon was a good solid fullback but one day he went a bit crazy. Bearing in mind that he hadn’t scored for 10 months, he scored 2 goals in 5 minutes against Sunderland in the F.A. Cup 4th round in 1990. This was after he’d given away the opening goal with some calamitous defending in the first minute. This game, and his tache are the reasons he’s always been a cult hero.

Lee Nogan started at Oxford United. I was far from convinced that we should be signing a man with this previous conviction, but he helped me understand that a person can change and learn from a previous misjudgement. I don’t think he gets enough credit for his role in the 94/95 season team. He linked up brilliantly with Osborn, who constantly seemed to find him with throughballs. My favourite memory of Lee is from the Tranmere home game in 1995. Friday night game, top of the table clash, 1-1 in injury time. Nogan was through on goal from another Osborn pass and he slotted home the winner. The South Bank went crazy all around me, one of the noisiest nights I ever experienced at Elm Park. A magical moment!

I think it would be remiss of me not to mention a couple of other Welsh players who also represented the club: Jeff Hopkins was an important part of the ’95 squad and John Oster, who played for us during our most successful period.
So those were a few of my favourite Welsh players. I’m sure you’ve all got your favourites too, feel free to share them in the comments section below or via @elmparkroyals.
Paul Mann