Hi all! Instead of bringing you a traditional preview, we hit up the incredible Reading FC news team over at The Tilehurst End to ask a few questions about their beleaguered royals. You can find them on Twitter here, and also be sure to give Simeon, who answered our questions, a follow.
How’s the season gone for Reading so far?
It’s been pretty dire so far to be honest. Last season, Reading weren’t particularly entertaining offensively or resolute defensively, but managed to consistently win games by one or two goal margins (despite a few hammerings at Norwich City, Fulham and elsewhere). This season, due to a number of reasons (injuries, poor recruitment, the loss of key players and poor tactics from Jaap Stam), we’ve consistently got on the wrong side of the same fine margins that we’d previously navigated through quite well. It all culminated in a horrific run of one win in 18 league matches between early December and late March during which the team looked critically short on confidence.
Although many fans were calling for Stam’s head from December/January onwards, he finally got the boot in the recent international break, giving new boss Paul Clement eight games in which to save our Championship status. That may not be a long time, but he got off to the perfect start with a gutsy, backs-to-the-wall 1-0 win over Queens Park ‘Fake Hoops’ Rangers on Good Friday. The attacking intent wasn’t there - Sone Aluko’s screamer being our only shot on target - but a hearty rearguard action (combined with a dramatic injury time penalty save from Vito Mannone) earned us an undeserved three points. Desire and passion got us our first league win at the Madejski Stadium since November, and we’ll need them in abundance going forwards if we’re to stay up.
What’s going right for you right now?
Not a great deal! The obvious point is Paul Clement who’s come in and seemingly injected confidence, passion and organisation into a team that had been low on all three under Jaap Stam. In terms of key players, Modou Barrow (nine goals) and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson (ten goals) are the stand-outs and have been pretty good at finding the net this season despite how bad the rest of the team is.
Looking to the future, Jaap Stam left a pretty good legacy in terms of youth. Although he’d been widely criticised for not playing academy lads enough during his 21 months at the helm, he ultimately gave eight juniors their first team debuts, meaning that we’ve got some great talent on the cusp of making a breakthrough into the first team. England World Cup winners Danny Loader (under-17) and Luke Southwood (under-20) are particularly exciting prospects, whilst I’m also looking forward to watching the development of Tom Holmes, Omar Richards, Andy Rinomhota and Josh Barrett - amongst others.
And what could be going better?
Paul Clement’s got a tall order on his hands if he’s to overturn the endemic lack of confidence that’s swept over this team. Jaap Stam’s last few months saw the players lose almost all belief that they were able to win games, meaning that any goal from the opposition was a sucker punch to our morale. That happened far too often due to some comically bad defending, especially from set pieces, with Reading shipping three against Sheffield Wednesday, Wolves, Sheffield United, Derby County and Norwich City in recent weeks.
Do you have any memories of Villa/Reading games from over the years that stand out, for good or bad reasons?
Last season’s 3-1 win stands out for obvious reasons - Reading had just come off the back of a 7-1 trouncing at Carrow Road, so a lot of us were expecting the same at Villa Park. Fears weren’t allayed by seeing dud signing Joseph Mendes in the first team, but he proved us all wrong (for that one game at least) by scoring a brace. Undoubtedly one of our best performances of a special season. A 2-0 home win over Villa back in 2007 was also special - Steve Sidwell’s brace kept us sixth in the Premier League - our highest ever league position that we’re yet to come close to replicating.
Although I wasn’t there on the day, a dire 2-1 defeat to you in 2013 was ultimately the death knell for Brian McDermott’s first spell in charge of us, ending a brief resurgence that could have salvaged our Premier League status. Nathan Baker gave us the lead with an own goal (thanks), before Benteke and Agbonlahor earned you the win.
How do you see the game going, and what will the score be?
Despite our first win in what felt like years, and your recent faltering in form, I’m not at all confident of a point. We barely held on to the lead on Friday night, but will be needing to improve on that defensive game if we’re to cancel you out. Paul Clement’s got a lot of work to do if he’s to tighten us up enough to shut out Grabban, Adomah and co. Our only real chance will come from set pieces, so hopefully we can nick something from there, but in truth I’m expecting a comfortable 3-1 Villa victory. A brace from Grabban (who scored against you for us last season) and one from Adomah. Chris Martin with a consolation.
Thanks guys! If you fancy hearing more from the other side, their latest podcast episode previews the match against us at 32 minutes.
If you fancy a Villa view of the game, check out the latest Holtecast below.