After the play-off final defeat at the hands of last season to Swansea City, manager Brian McDermott had the hard task of rallying his players for another long Championship campaign. The task in hand was not helped by the departures of Shane Long to West Bromwich Albion and captain Matt Mills to Leicester City just before the season began so preparation time for life without them was to a minimum. Winger Jobi McAnuff was quickly appointed captain of the young side although fans have questioned whether he should have been given the role, considering he drifts in and out of games.

After a late rally to draw at home to Millwall on the opening day, the Royals then gave an emphatic performance at Millsai??i?? new club Leicester and suddenly the side looked like they may challenge again at the top after all the summerai??i??s worries. However, in the games that followed, they struggled to match that performance against teams who look like they will be in a relegation battle come the end of the season.

At the back, Reading have looked short of pace, a problem that has overlapped from last season with ageing full backs Ian Harte and Andy Griffin unable to support the wingers, leaving them doubled up as they tried to get a cross in to the front men. Fans grew impatient with chairman Sir John Madejski as the money that had come into the club wasnai??i??t invested in replacements as the transfer window approached and results didnai??i??t go in their favour.

Finally, money was spent and in came centre-back Kasper Gorkss from Queens Park Rangers, striker Adam Le Fondre from Rotherham – who had scored for fun in the lower leagues – and full back Joseph Mills, the younger brother of Matt Mills from Southampton. With youngster Shaun Cummings finally coming of age in the other full back position, Reading finally had some pace in their back line and didnai??i??t look suspect should the defence hold a high line. Results began to improve on the pitch and the club enjoyed an eight match unbeaten run that was only recently halted at Nottingham Forest.

There is however still a concern over the goals being scored. Le Fondre is a player who will finish off what other players create, but he hasn’t looked the type of player who will create his own chances although he does look like a natural finisher. The other strikers – Noel Hunt, Simon Church and Mathieu Manset – have all had a chance to hold down the spot alongside Le Fondre but none have them have so far achieved it.

16 from 16 games is a concern and while McDermott tries to get a combination that works, he has made sure that he keeps it tight at the back with the likes of Mikele Leigertwood and Jem Karacan breaking teams down in the middle of the pitch. This has come at a cost though as first half goals have come at a rare premium these days. Only one first half goal has been scored so far this season, a Church strike at Coventry and if the game is tight, McDermott will leave it until the last twenty minutes to try and push on for a winner. This is the usual time he will make his substitutions.

Another problem McDermott now has is winger Jimmy Kebe. The wingerai??i??s contract is up at the end of the season and the club has only offered him an extra year. After weeks of speculation, Kebe finally broke his silence and said he would be off in either January or the summer. On his day, Kebe is frightening, he terrorizes defences running at them and is arguably the best player in the Championship. However, Kebe is very much a confidence player and a recent injury has knocked him back and he looks back to his old, frustrating ways from when he first arrived at the club.

So, what next? Well, Reading look to be slowly moving in the right direction even if it is still very much a ‘work in progress’ with a lot of young players coming through at the club. The run of games up to the busy Christmas period sees them coming up against a whole host of teams hoping to be in the top six come the end of the season. They do, however, seem to raise their game against the better teams. Itai??i??s the teams theyai??i??re expected to beat that the problems seem to come. If Reading are still in the chase for the play-offs by then, McDermott will surely be satisfied. On top of that, the FA Cup in the past two seasons have given the team a real boost, although there are no guarantees in football.

—-

Written by guest author Jamie Harden

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