24 March ~ Reading were in a familiar position in August 2011. An inevitable defeat in the Championship play-offs led to the sale of the last truly marketable player from the club's Premier League days. Shane Long signed for West Brom for around £5 million, while centre-back Matt Mills also departed to Leicester for an inflated fee of £4.5m. The sales indicated the success of chairman John Madejski's property investments since he sold his Auto Trader empire. It was also a sign of his general decline in interest since he realised just how much the Premier League costs compared to the kudos it brought in terms of sharing a directors box with Cilla, Tarby et al.
The only first-team player Reading signed last summer was centre-back Bongani Khumalo, who came in on loan from Tottenham. He looked panicky and transferred it to the rest of the defence. In a pretty atrocious start the team managed only four points from the first six games.
By the autumn, the Wembley cobwebs had been shaken off and Reading rose to mid-table. It was no coincidence that this improvement was accompanied by the arrival of centre-back Kaspars Gorkss from QPR. No one could criticise a recruitment policy based on players that Neil Warnock has fallen out with as he believed he could no longer motivate them. Gorkss was added to the previous procurement of two other former QPR players, midfielder Mikele Leigertwood and loan-signing Matthew Connolly.
And then came the Russians. Madejski has long made it known he would to sell "to the right person". In January it was announced he was in serious talks with a son of a Russian timber magnate, who was educated in one of the many private colleges that litter the Berkshire countryside. His school was not local enough to have prevented him from a previous dalliance with an investment in Everton.
The new investor, Anton Zingarevich, did not even have a visa for the UK, so early press events for the rather sinister sounding Thames Sports Investments were headed by spokesperson Chris Samuelson. He endeared himself to the Berkshire public by describing himself as “not interested in football” and "a rugby man really”, before ultimately confessing to being a Spurs supporter.
We do not really know how the Russian investment will develop. We already had a very rich owner who gave financial stability to the club so any short-term losses could be offset. But the club has said the new investment has led to the end of a long-term contract dispute with Jimmy Kebe, who has committed to the club for another three years. Manager Brian McDermot has also been retained for three-and-a-half years, and Jason Roberts arrived in January.
A record of 17 wins from 23 games has propelled us into second place in the Championship table, two points behind the leaders and ten points ahead of Blackpool, today's visitors at the Madejski Stadium. Although the club's last flair player was sold in the summer, his replacements have been solid and workmanlike, which are the most effective qualities for players in the division.
The combination of a midfield bereft of real creativity but adept at breaking down the opposition, a well-organised defence and an exceptional goalkeeper goes a long way in a league without a truly outstanding team. Add to this the experience of Roberts and Reading have become an incredibly resilient outfit.
Reading must play Southampton and West Ham away from home before the end of the season, but every club is beatable in this division. Supporters now find themselves in a similar position to last year, but this year's success has been based on steady performances from the whole squad rather than the form of a few individuals. Fans dread landing in the play-off positions – last year's defeat was the club's fifth at that stage. This year, for once, there is sound belief that they might not be needed. Robin Foot