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Signs of life in Reading after dire start - Interview
Tuesday, 2nd Oct 2018 09:24 by Clive Whittingham

Reading looked a shoo in for relegation in the opening weeks but have rallied with wins over Preston and Hull and a weekend draw at Brentford. We spoke to Simeon Pickup from The Tilehurst End about the turnaround.

First of all, what went on over Paul Clement’s first summer in charge – ins and outs, much optimism?

Going into the transfer window, we'd been hoping for widespread changes to a squad that had gone stale over the course of last season, with a raft of outgoings and arrivals. Although we did clear out some of the less useful squad players (including Joey van den Berg being loaned out and an ageing Yann Kermorgant released), and brought in a total of eight new players, there was still a sense this squad hasn't been altered enough. We're still left with a number of players who probably don't have a long-term future here including Paul McShane, Dave Edwards and Sone Aluko.

To be fair, the club were restricted by Financial Fair Play and didn't try to bend the rules, instead recruiting pretty prudently. Only £4m was spent on transfer fees (Sam Baldock and Marc McNulty), with four free agents (David Meyler, Andy Yiadom, John O'Shea, Sam Walker) and two loanees (Josh Sims, Saeid Ezatolahi) coming in. Those loanees only joined after the start of the season, and before then there hadn't been much optimism around the place. However, hopefully they'll both prove to be the exciting signings that give a demoralised crowd something to cheer about.

Why the dreadful start?

Low morale. As I said above, this squad is largely similar to last season's, so it's a set of players that aren't used to winning. Recent victories over Preston and Hull were only our fourth and fifth league wins of the calendar year, and that's a habit which is hard to get out of. By and large, we've not been blown away by any opposition team, and we're yet to lose by more than one goal in the league. Generally we've just not had that crucial element of self-belief or cutting edge to get ourselves over the line, even though it's promising that the team has looked more organised than it did in the closing months of 2017/18.

Couple of better results of late against Preston and Hull, what do you put the improvement down to, or were the opposition just not much good?

Certainly the lack of quality from the opposition was a factor, but in the end you've still got to play well yourselves if you're to get the points. On both occasions we had a self-belief and grit which had been lacking before, the trip to Preston being a good example of that due to us having to twice bounce back from letting a lead slip. Against Hull on our own turf, a freshened starting XI played like it knew it could win the game if it performed properly. We scored three good goals, defended well and managed the flow of the match effectively. It helped a lot on the day that John O'Shea (centre half), Saeid Ezatolahi (holding midfield) and Josh Sims (winger) stepped up in their first league starts, giving the whole team a big boost.

Clement has a good reputation, but mixed record as a manager in his own right, what do you make of him?

His coaching seems to be very good. He's more than capable of organising a team and tightening them up defensively, even if he's sometimes been let down by his players in that regard this season. He's also been very straight-talking in how he addresses the media, not pulling his punches when the players have been below-par, which goes down well with the supporters.

However, perhaps his biggest drawback is in his lack of positivity - both in terms of management and style of play. You sense that he's not a great motivator, the kind of gaffer that'll fire up his players either before a match or at half-time. Similarly, his conservative philosophy means Reading haven't exactly turned on the flair under his management, something which we'd all like to see more of.

Stand out players and weak links in the team?

It's still an evolving side, so I can't give many concrete answers here. However, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson is undoubtedly our biggest attacking threat - he's scored five league goals at time of writing, putting him towards the top of the Championship's goal-scoring charts. He's also got a great mixture of movement and aerial ability which allows him to both lead the line and run the channels, so he certainly presents a multiple threat. At the back, Andy Yiadom has been excellent since coming in on a free transfer from Barnsley despite being asked to play both at right-back and left-back. Wherever he lines up, he's solid defensively and dynamic going forwards, even registering a goal and assist against Hull City.

As for weak links, this largely depends on who we've having to shunt into the side to deal with our latest injury problem. Recently the issue has been at full-back - although Yiadom has done well, the improving Tyler Blackett got injured a few weeks ago, with replacement Chris Gunter looking low on form and confidence in his absence. If Gunter starts, try to target his flank.

How realistic a prospect is relegation this season? How can/will it be avoided?

Before the Hull City game, I would have said it was very likely. However, if we're able to pick up wins like that at home fairly regularly, we should be fine. Few fans are expecting a sudden charge up the table, but the confidence should now be a lot higher after our first two league victories of the season. I won't have a good idea how likely relegation is for a few months yet to be honest, it all depends on how much we improve over the coming months. Ask me again when we play at the end of December!

Links >>> Our reciprocal interview with The Tilehurst End

The Twitter @TheTilehurstEnd

Pictures – Action Images

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