No repeat of last time's heroics
2 November ~ Reading's late sprint to the summit of the Championship last season was as unexpected as it was euphoric for their fans, many of whom still perceive the club to be punching well above its weight. Despite promotion, you would have been hard pressed to find many Reading supporters willing to bet on Brian McDermott's team emulating Steve Coppell's legendary class of 2006. Back then, we stormed into our first ever season in the top division with four wins by the end of September. By Christmas, Reading were safe and starting to gaze towards Europe.
This season, however, the team are in more trouble than even the pessimists anticipated. Although expectations were much more realistic, a meagre return of four points has already stirred grumblings of discontent. This week's League Cup game at home to Arsenal was supposed to be a blessed relief; an opportunity to achieve a morale-boosting victory over a likely under-strength Gunners team. Instead Reading, having led 4-0 in first-half injury time, capitulated to a shattering 7-5 defeat.
The manner of the loss exposed frailties that we knew were already there. A chronic inability to retain possession combined with a wafer-thin defensive line is undermining our fairly decent, if sporadic, forward play. Last season's stars have struggled. Enigmatic winger Jimmy Kébé is now not even guaranteed a starting place while defender Kaspars Gorkss, who helped QPR to the 2011 Championship title, didn't put a foot wrong last season but has been all at sea this.
To add to the on-field problems, McDermott has also had to deal with some player unrest. After falling foul of the modern footballers nemesis that is Twitter earlier in the season, Danny Guthrie was widely reported to have been excluded from training this week after being left out of the team to face Fulham – a story swiftly denied by the club. Even if this is an isolated incident, it suggests something is amiss and it's unsettling.
Reading have already beaten QPR once this season in the League Cup: a victory which set up this week's tie with Arsenal. It seems likely that the physical and mental effects of that absurd game will mean Reading struggle to impose their pressing game on a fresh and rested Rangers. In the hyperbolic world of Premier League, "must win" games are a weekly occurrence. Nevertheless, anything less than a victory and you will be unlikely to find anyone outside the Reading hierarchy who believe that the Royals are heading anywhere other than straight back to the Championship. Dan Harte