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Reading still on course to convert fast start into play-off finish - Interview
Friday, 19th Mar 2021 14:41 by Clive Whittingham

Reading flew out of the traps in this season's Championship with seven wins from the first eight, but it's been inconsistent since and a midweek defeat at Birmingham has them clinging to the final play-off spot. We spoke to Simeon Pickup from The Tilehurst End blog.

How has Reading's season gone so far?

Wobbly. We started the season like a house on fire with seven wins from eight, hit the opposite kind of form with four straight defeats, and have been inconsistent ever since – mostly due to a relentless injury list that's meant we've had to do without second-top-scorer Yakou Meite, back-up centre forward George Puscas and key playmaker John Swift (our best player in my view) for most of the campaign.

We're capable of good patches of form, like the run of four wins and three draws in seven between late December and early February, but then also randomly collapsing (the subsequent four defeats in five) and abruptly recovering (the subsequent three straight victories). Reading have gone backwards in the last two though: we couldn't finish simple chances in the 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest and were dire for much of the 2-1 loss at Birmingham City in midweek.

Reading league results so far…
Derby 0-2 Reading Joao 40, Ejaria 45
Reading 2-0 Barnsley Meite 67, Olise 76
Cardiff 1-2 Reading Tomlin 81 – Morrison 47, Joao 66
Reading 1-0 Watford Puscas 41
Boro 0-0 Reading
Reading 1-0 Wycombe Joao 63
Reading 3-0 Rotherham Meite 41, 79, Joao pen 90
Blackburn 2-4 Reading Armstrong 3, 66 – Meite 1, Olise 15, Laurent 18, Joao 82
Coventry 3-2 Reading Hamer 23, Godden 76, McCallum 85 – Joao 66, Puscas 90
Reading 0-3 Preston Sinclair 64, Jacobsen 68, Potts 90
Reading 0-3 Stoke Campbell 23, Fletcher 35, Brown 90
Bournemouth 4-2 Reading Solanke 56, 89, Groeneveld 59, Cook 77 – Joao pen 4, Aluko 43
Millwall 1-1 Reading Wallace 45 – Joao 53
Reading 3-1 Bristol City Ejaria 54, Meite 76, Joao 90 – Wells 73
Sheff Wed 1-1 Reading Patterson 12 – Joao 44
Reading 2-0 Forest Joao pen 16, Morrison 53
Reading 1-2 Birmingham Meite 61 – Toral 29, 37
QPR 0-1 Reading Olise 89
Reading 1-2 Norwich Olise 14 – Buendia 11, Pukki pen 55
Brentford 3-1 Reading Jensen 11, Mbeumo 23, 29 – Aluko 64
Reading 2-1 Luton McIntyre 9, Semedo 41 – LuaLua 90
Reading 0-0 Swansea
Huddersfield 1-2 Reading Campbell 6 – Joao 52, 65
Reading 3-0 Coventry Joao 16, Rinomhota 46, Swift 72
Preston 0-0 Reading
Reading 3-1 Bournemouth Laurent 24, McIntyre 31, Joao 43 – Stanislas 85
Stoke 0-0 Reading
Reading 1-3 Brentford Joao pen 23 – DaSilva 36, 86, Toney 88
Reading 1-2 Millwall Semedo 17 – Smith 76, Bennett 85
Bristol City 0-2 Reading Joao 42, Morrison 45
Reading 0-2 Middlesbrough Fletcher 22, Bola 29
Wycombe 1-0 Reading Onyedimna 49
Rotherham 0-1 Reading Morrison 26
Reading 1-0 Blackburn Puscas 24
Reading 3-0 Sheff Wed Olise pen 30, Joao 65, Yiadom 88
Forest 1-1 Reading Holmes og 49 – Meite 81
Birmingham 2-1 Reading Jutkiewicz 4, Dean 71 – Meite 35

Top six side all season, what's been the turnaround from the previous year?

In a word: cohesion. Reading have had the quality to do well for years now, but the squad's often been too bloated, meaning poor morale and no clear playing style being developed. But we did a great job in the summer of trimming the size of the squad – loanees left and a decent number of out-of-contract players were let go – while only bringing in a handful of additions. With the exception of Sam Baldock, who was comically unsuited to starting as a lone striker in the reverse fixture, there's been no deadwood in the squad.

Plus, there's a real unity that comes from the top too. Veljko Paunovic has talked from day one of "non-negotiables": players always giving their all and leaving everything on the field. It's nothing revolutionary, and former boss Mark Bowen would have wanted the same thing, but Pauno has the charisma and respect to make sure those principles actually come into play.

Little wobble through February but good form coming into this (prior to Birmingham), was anything tweaked?

The turning point there was in the reaction to the 1-0 loss at Wycombe Wanderers – our worst result of the season. It should have been a nailed-on three points but ended in dour defeat. The mental reaction to that game was very good, with Reading not only winning the next three matches but keeping a clean sheet each time. The formation change helped too: we reverted to a 4-4-2 diamond system that we'd used on occasion earlier in the season, and that gave us some useful extra firepower in wins over Blackburn Rovers and Sheffield Wednesday (both at home).

What did you make of your January transfer activity?

Pleased: although we didn't bring anyone in, not losing anyone was vital. There had been rumours that Michael Olise would be off, with talk of an £8m release clause, but fortunately nothing came up and he'll be a key player for us in the run-in.

Another quick forward would have been helpful, given our lack of pace out wide in the 4-2-3-1 that we've typically used this season. However, the recent switch to a 4-4-2 diamond and the return of a few players from injury (particularly Yakou Meite and George Puscas) has lessened that need.

Summer Ins >>> Ovie Ejaria, 22, CM, Liverpool, £3.5m >>> Josh Laurent, 25, CM, Shrewsbury, Free >>> Lewis Gibson, 20, CB, Everton, Loan >>> Alfa Semedo, 23, CM, Benfica, Loan >>> Tomas Esteves, 18, RB, Porto, Loan

Summer Outs >>> Modou Barrow, 27, LW, Jeobuk Motors (Korea), Undisclosed >>> Danny Loader, 19, CF, Porto, Free >>> Tyler Blackett 26, LB, Forest, Free >>> Adrian Popa, 31, RW, Voluntari, Free >>> Vito Mannone, 32, GK, Monaco, Free >>> Jordan Obita, 26, LB, released >>> Charlie Adam, 34, CM, Bolton, Free >>> Garath McCleary, 33, RW, Wycombe, Free >>> Chris Gunter, 31, RB, Charlton, Free >>> Jordan Holsgrove, 21, CM< Celta Vigo, Free >>> Sam Smith, 22, CF, Tranmere, Loan >>> Marc McNulty, 28, CF, Dundee Utd, Loan

Winter Ins >>> N/A

Winter Outs >>> Jordan Obita, 27, LB, Wycombe, Loan >>> Sam Walker, 29, GK, Wimbledon, Loan >>> Sam Smith, 22, CF, Cheltenham, Loan

Where is the team strong and where is it weak?

If we were still talking about a side playing 4-2-3-1 I'd certainly highlight the lack of pace out wide as mentioned above, but in the 4-4-2 diamond our attacking full backs (Andy Yiadom and Omar Richards) have really been able to shine. They're both the epitome of the modern, dynamic wing back that's able to cause havoc in the final third while still being solid at the back.

Although the midfield's still gelling to a new set-up, we've got plenty of ability there too. Josh Laurent and Michael Olise are particularly good fits for a quartet that needs to rotate and constantly adapt, and we've got Ovie Ejaria and Andy Rinomhota to add quality in the other two spots; Tom McIntyre and Alfa Semedo have done decent jobs but Ejaria and Rino will give quality on the ball and steel respectively.

The weakness of this side is less a case of personnel and more of mentality. We're very poor at getting back into games when we go behind, having only won once in that fashion all season. That speaks to this team's ability to express itself and be resilient when things are going in its favour, but a rabbit-in-the-headlights sense of panic when things go wrong.

How do you see the rest of the season going - confident of seeing promotion through?

At this stage finishing in the top six looks to be a 50/50. Barnsley's ridiculously good form in recent weeks means we're probably now fighting for the last of the four play-off spots with Bournemouth, Middlesbrough and Cardiff City. A two-point gap on them is precarious, and although I'm aware that a good weekend of results can make the picture look a whole lot more rosy, we need to brush off Wednesday's limp defeat if we're to stay ahead of the chasing pack.

Links >>> Official website >>> Tilehurst End – Blog >>> Hob Nob Anyone? Forum >>> Reading Chronicle – Local Paper >>> Get Reading – Local Paper

The Twitter @TheTilehurstEnd, @SimFromBucks, @loftforwords

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TacticalR added 15:36 - Mar 19
Thanks to Simeon.

Reading sound inconsistent, just not as inconsistent as us, and don't seem to have had too many problems scoring goals. Ejaria impressed in the reverse fixture at Loftus Road. If Swift is out that's good for us as he always causes us problems.
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francisbowles added 11:13 - Mar 20
They are twelve points ahead of us having played a game more. They got 21 points from their first eight games, we got 7!

Arguably, since then they have been more inconsistent than us.
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