Uncertainty clouds Reading’s bounce back attempt – opposition profile
Wednesday, 6th Nov 2013 23:17 by Clive Whittingham
Reading look handily placed in fifth as they attempt to bounce back to the Premier League at the first attempt following last year’s relegation, but is everything as sound as it seems at the Madejski?
Comparisons between QPR and Reading are inevitable, and not only because of the similar kits and Royals’ recent peculiar compulsion to start referring to themselves as ‘the R’s’ as well.
These sides were relegated from last season’s Premier League at the same time, on the same day, in the same match: a 0-0 draw at the Madejski Stadium so utterly dreadful it would have forced the cast of the Care Bears movie into a suicide pact had they been made to sit through it. Jose Bosingwa’s ability to not give a single fuck about anything to do with QPR stretched as far as him laughing at the final whistle as Rangers returned to the second tier they’d worked so hard to leave in style just 18 months previous.
At the time it seemed like a disaster for the West London side, and little more than a temporary set back for the Berkshire club. Reading had engaged in none of the lavish spending and gratuitous squad overhauling that QPR had revelled in, meaning that a substantial amount of the hefty wads of Premier League money had presumably been banked and the team they had at their disposal for 2013/14 was still largely based on the one that had swept to the Championship title in 2011/12.
Not only that but they’d moved quickly to secure the services of manager Nigel Adkins, harshly sacked by the Southampton club he’d promoted alongside Reading and set to be the hottest managerial property of the summer had he remained unemployed into the close season. With rich Russian owner Anton Zingarevich in situ, overseeing a manager he’d appointed rather than inherited, the Royals looked well set to hit the ground running on their return to the second tier. A summer acquisition of former Real Madrid man Roysten Drenthe – you may remember him as an Everton goalscorer at Loftus Road in 2011/12 – signalled real intent and the wages on offer at the Madejski tempted first Wayne Bridge and then Chris Baird ahead of QPR.
Rangers of course looked to be in a real mess. Nobody was certain whether Harry Redknapp was staying or going until deep into the summer, and even when he did decide to stick around a knee operation curtailed his involvement in a crucial pre-season necessitating the temporary employment of Steve McClaren. A colossal wage bill had to be slashed with a mass exodus of players, many earning such extortionate amounts for such a poor return that QPR had no choice but to subsidise a portion of their wage while they went on loan elsewhere for this campaign. Meanwhile a squad had to be put together, not so much to compete in the Championship but merely avoid the fate that had befallen Wolves 12 months previous when they plummeted straight from Premier League to League One in consecutive seasons. Summer acquisitions of Danny Simpson, Richard Dunne, Gary O’Neil and Karl Henry hardly had them queuing around Batman Close for season ticket renewals.
On the face of things, QPR are greatly exceeding expectations while Reading are meeting them on par. Nigel Adkins’ side is fifth in the Championship and would move to within four points of third placed QPR with a victory against them this Saturday lunchtime. They’ve already got an impressive 3-1 win at Derby under their belts and Leeds, Birmingham, Doncaster and Ipswich have all been beaten at the Madejski Stadium. Considering their reputation for slow starts to seasons under Brian McDermott, which tended to give way to post-Christmas charges up the table and late surges for promotion, they seem very well set indeed.
And yet there are just one or two nagging doubts around the place. Concerns about how much money Zingarevich has at his disposal for this venture have given way to a worry about whether he’ll stick around at all. He bought 51% from John Madejski 18 months ago and was due to conclude a deal for the remaining 49% this September but failed to meet the deadline. The http://www.readingchronicle.co.uk/news/readingfc/articles/2013/10/07/93802-break Chronicle reported that far from increasing his stake, he may be looking to sell it altogether. Fears that bankrolling a Premier League wage bill in the Championship wasn’t what he bought a ticket for and now he wants out are doing the rounds.
On the field things have started well enough, but last weekend Adkins’ side was beaten 5-2 by bottom of the league Sheffield Wednesday – the Owls’ first league win of the season as we enter November – and that follows a 6-0 League Cup dicking at Peterborough back in August when they had a strong side out.
It’s the classic glass half full, glass half empty situation. You could just as easily make a case for Reading being on the cusp of an immediate return to the Premier League, where they’ll arrive a stronger more experienced outfit than last time, as you could them being in a spot of bother on and off the field. Further clues to come from 12.15 this Saturday.
Having helped us out with this column three times last season, it’s a pleasure to welcome David from Royals Redezvous back to LFW and thank him for kindly giving up some more time to give us an insight into the latest situation at the Madejski Stadium.
The relegated teams are always favourites to bounce straight back, particularly given the new giant parachute payments, how is Reading's bid for an immediate return going so far?
Below what we expected it to be, to be honest. OK, you can look at the table and see we’re currently in fifth, but the play is hardly consistent and distances are opening up with the teams above us. Two hammerings from Peterborough in the League Cup and Sheffield Wednesday to the tune of 11 goals between them surely indicates all is not well. QPR are seen to be far steadier, and without the pomp of a few of the past seasons – just getting on with the job admirably. Wigan have also disappointed, I suppose.
What went wrong ultimately last season? You seemed pretty confident you'd be ok when we spoke before Christmas.
Although we were in the Premier League from 2006 to 2008 we sort of forgot what level of play was needed. I know, that sounds feeble. Just before Christmas we started picking up points after a rather uncomfortable start, and Brian McDermott even picked up the Premier Manager of the Month award after Christmas and we briefly left the relegation places. That gave us confidence, logically, but we were unaware of the big fall we were about to embark upon - a horrific run of bad results where players seemed to know the outcome before stepping on the pitch. Indeed 33 days after the award McDermott was sacked. Nigel Adkins came in, but no-one expected miracles so late in the season, we then had visions of becoming a ‘yo-yo’ club...
How do you rate Nigel Adkins' performance so far? What's he done well, and not so well?
Difficult to say. He’s likeable, speaks eloquently, dresses impeccably, and yet does not seem to have ignited the fans as much as the more ‘basic’ sleeves rolled up Brian McDermott. In theory Nigel’s teams should play with flair, yet it hasn’t clicked yet with us this season, or only in glimpses. He has a positive attitude and seems to think it will come right so we’re not overly critical yet, but we probably thought our attacking prowess was going to be far more powerful than it’s proven to be the case so far.
There seems to have been some uncertainty about whether your Russian owner is sticking around or not of late, what's the story there?
That’s a very worrying situation. Looks like Sir John Madejski might have been blinkered here; there are real concerns amongst the fans if the Russian has the money we were all led to believe. Was he counting on his super-rich father? Probably not, I’d guess he thought the team had enough quality to stay in the Premier and with the money that could have brought in the club would run itself, more-or-less. He’s also just had a first baby (with that gorgeous wife of his!) so there are other things in his head too, I believe he’s not even living in the UK at the present time! Nail-biting times …
Where is the team strong and where is it weak? Who should we be watching out for and targeting?
We should be good in attack, that’s what we made the summer transfer about but Drenthe is injured and Jason Roberts has more-or-less disappeared through injury. Kebe has gone. The irony is we released Michael Antonio - and last week he was Sheffield Wednesday’s player of the month against us, causing us all sort of havoc! Right back to the Coppell days and even further back we have generally played our game at a fast speed – yet this last season and a half that speed has all but dried up and opposition players tend to close us down too much leading to frustration. It’s a general team thing, I wouldn’t put my finger on specific weak spots.
Short, medium and long term aims and ambitions?
It was to have been automatic promotion this season before we started, but most of the faithful would be well pleased with play-offs now. Looking increasingly difficult to catch Burnley, yourselves or Leicester. But who knows, two years we came up as champions and at this point of the season were languishing in sixteenth spot on the first day of November. Dreams would be to get into the Premier League and stay there more than two seasons, perhaps with a little ground extension. But we’re a realistic lot … it’s still a little ol’ Reading philosophy for most.
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