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The End of Season Review

It's hard to see this season as anything other than predominantly disappointing. Had other teams taken chances when we slipped up then it would look a lot worse, and in the end achieving the points tally we did is slightly misleading. Then again, as we're often told teams finish where they deserve in the league and there are numerous reasons why this Reading side only just missed out on the play-offs. Had we picked up an extra point from somewhere then we'd have achieved our, maybe slightly conservative, aim for this year; but hey-ho if you finish sixth on goal-difference it's effectively the same as comfortably finishing third.
 
Poor Performances

Obviously the main reason for any side not reaching their potential is under-performing on the pitch for whatever reason. I've split this up into four main areas: games against the top half, home form, games where we conceded the first goal, and dropping easy points.

Record Against Top Half
(5-7-10 22 pts out of 66 | 1-6 - 2-5-5 11 pts out of 36 | 8-12 - 3-2-5 11 pts out of 30)

Our only wins against teams above us came in 3-1 wins away. One much earlier in the season, against a Derby side who were playing poorly at home, and then in February when we defeated a faltering QPR team. Disappointing defeats to the teams below us in the top half, like the 3-0 loss away at Middelsbrough, were slightly boosted by a comeback win against Ipswich on the first day, and an avenging of our poor showing at the Riverside. Although our record against the top six isn't terrific, it's those placed eighth to twelfth that really should have been improved especially when you see the performances that we can produce against the likes of Burnley when we need to. It's frustrating.

Home vs Away
(8-10-5 34 pts vs. 11-4-8 37 pts)

Home form has been highlighted again and again, and although only a symptom rather than the cause of a disappointing season, it's worth noting that Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds, and Doncaster all have more home wins than Reading, and only Bolton have more draws. Whether it was the pressure that home support puts on the players, or how teams set up against us is something that needs to be gotten to the bottom of. Home defeats to Sheffield Wednesday, and Barnsley is simply not good enough for our squad. Our away form was only bettered by the top three in the league, which should tell you how good this group of players have the potential to be. It's definitely one of the positives of this particular campaign.

Conceding First vs Scoring First
(2-5-13 11 pts + 2 Cup Defeats vs. 17-6-0 57 pts | 3 0-0s)

For a team that has so often rallied late to win, it's amazing that we only came from behind twice at opposite ends of this season. That includes not being able to turn around games against an eight-man Yeovil, or a ten-man Brighton - who we were, by all accounts, all over. On the flip side, never losing when we put the ball in the back of the net first is a great feat over twenty-three games.

Dropping Easy Points

  • Reading 3-3 Watford - Last minute goal
  • Blackpool 1-0 Reading - Calamitous defending to allow them to score
  • Barnsley 1-1 Reading - Not beating one of the worst sides in the division
  • Reading 1-1 Millwall - Giving away a last minute penalty
  • Sheffield Wednesday 5-2 Reading - Conceding five goals against any team is poor, especially one in the bottom half.
  • Reading 0-2 Sheffield Wednesday - An incorrect red card for Pearce, but allowing the team who finished sixteenth to do the double over us is embarrassing.
  • Reading 1-1 Yeovil - Not beating an eight man, bottom of the division side is inexcusable
  • Brighton 1-1 Reading - Poor own goal to concede, and despite being all over them after their red card we could only score one.
  • Reading 1-3 Barnsley - Losing to a side that could only muster four away wins all season.
  • Reading 1-1 Huddersfield - Another missed opportunity against a side in the lower half of the table

In my mind the Millwall game stings most, conceding a last minute penalty like that to somebody in the bottom six is not good enough. Next to that the consecutive 1-1 draws to teams with reduced numbers, Brighton and Yeovil, and only mustering two goals against those teams is unacceptable. Turning any of those draws into a win, or even drawing when we lost to Blackpool, Sheffield Wednesday, or Barnsley would have extended our season.

Injuries

I don't remember a season where the treatment room has been as full as this one. The amount of long term injuries has severely hampered the side. I would honestly stop playing Jem Karacan against Leeds because it's more trouble than it's worth. He's been a massive loss, and it's hard to remember exactly the boost he gave to the team, but it's something that's been missing. Especially when we had no other central midfielders fit, having to field Obita and McAnuff in the position against Bournemouth. Williams and Guthrie have had their problems, and both have the potential to be match winners at this level, alongside a lengthy injury for Leigertwood - who was surprisingly good against Burnley after a poor twenty-five minutes against Leicester.

New signings such as Baird and Bridge didn't really have time to impress since their seasons, or at least their time with us, was cut short. Drenthe has hardly looked fit all season, but has had some, albeit, limited success when he's managed to play. Even Billy Sharp, who didn't have the best loan spell to begin with, was also resigned to watch from the sidelines for a substantial period. Morrison also spent time off the pitch, which meant that Gorkss was in the starting eleven despite some abysmal performances.

Even those on the pitch were nursing knocks. Pogrebnyak was on the bench against Middelsbrough as he wasn't one hundred percent fit, but ended up having to replace Hal after he broke his face. That really summed up our season in this respect. After all Adkins was playing 'chess' with those that were fit enough to take to the pitch to begin with. Jason Roberts has finally hung up his boots after not playing all season, but his impact in his first six months at our club was monumental.

Every cloud has a silver lining, and Jordan Obita's contribution at left back has been nothing short of magnificent since he took over after Bridge's injury.

Ownership Trouble

The Anton Zingarevich saga has been well documented, with the Russian not completing the deal to buy the remaining 49% share from Madejski; even before this there were rumours of loans being taken out to pay for the running of the club. After all the work that Madejski has done to put Reading into the position of being a well run club it seems like Anton may be working to undermine that.

Prudence has been the name of the game for many years, and not splashing out on big money signings, yet in the past two seasons we've seen UEFA Cup golden boot winner Pavel Pogrebnyak, ex-England international Wayne Bridge, and ex-Galático Royston Drenthe arrive. The first reportedly being on £65,000 a week, with a £5m signing on fee. The last an interesting choice fit for our particular club, especially considering his apparent lack of fitness. Our wage bill for our PL season was an astronomical £46.1m, and even though that was the second lowest in the division it's a good deal more than Reading normally pay its employees.

It's interesting, then, that we weren't able to hold onto Chris Baird who came straight into the side upon signing his contract with us, or Billy Sharp. Plus money, and signings were promised both in the pre-season by Anton, and January by Madejski but never materialised. Such signings could have helped lessen our injury crisis, but either there was no money to spend or Adkins showed a remarkable reluctance to use any that was available.

Personally, I think that any issues with the running of the club will show their full effect next season, and that actually - when it comes to where we finished in the league, it was less of a factor than others. We would have needed to bring in a whole host of players during the window that may not have gelled with the team anyway, and the team that we fielded should have been good enough to win numerous games that we failed to snatch all three points in - after all our team against Burnley was missing numerous from the ideal XI but still managed to put in a terrific performance.

However, now we've failed to be promoted it will be harder for both parties to offload their shares, and that will potentially lead to players being offloaded instead without any investment to bring replacements in. Pogrebnyak, however, wasn't wanted last year after very publicly wanting out, and there's a real chance now that he could end up weighing down our finances much like Zigic has done for Birmingham. It will be interesting to see what happens over summer, and potentially very painful, especially after Leigertwood, McAnuff, and Le Fondre all admitted they had no idea what was going on with their contracts.

"100 Goals, 21 Clean Sheets"

It's pretty clear that we fell short of Adkins' grand vision, only twelve clean sheets but a more respectable seventy goals. How much was the manager himself to blame? Sometimes his substitutions changed games, Williams against Watford made an almost instant impact. However, in the same game his three substitutes were all attacking ones (Williams, Robson-Kanu, McCleary) even when general football tactics would have been to gone more defensive, with Mariappa sitting unused on the bench. Obviously it's a game that we ended up drawing in stoppage time.

His brand of passing football has often backfired, as the team have often found it very hard to retain possession but still maintain forward momentum. Especially at the back where Pearce, and Gorkss aren't renowned ball players, and Morrison hasn't found his radar since he's come back into the side at the end of the season. For a manager that prides himself on bringing youth through I'm surprised that he didn't bring in Michael Hector earlier.

It's been suggested that Adkins, rather than instilling a terrific-to-watch passing style just put fear into the players instead, and that's why the creativity, and flowing football was lacking. Tim Dellor noted that everything around the club felt more regimented, and that the 'feel-good factor' had rather disappeared since the former Southampton boss took over. Obviously it's not something that can be quantified, but I think that since we've seen a slight reversion to the 'Reading way' performances have somewhat improved. The number of injuries towards the end of the season have to be taken into account as well.

At the end of last season there were many saying that Adkins should be given a full season to prove himself, he's now had that and it's been rather underwhelming. Yes, he's been fed false promises when it comes to bringing players in, but that wasn't the reason that we've underachieved. Any side we put out should be beating Yeovil or Barnsley, and when they don't then I think it's the manager that seriously has to be looked at. There's plenty of reasons why Adkins should stay, but if he wants to implement his personal style of football then I fear he won't have the investment behind him, and he's therefore not the man for the job. If he wants to get the best out of the players we have now, and adapts his philosophies somewhat, then I think it'll be better.

Cup Run

There's not a whole lot to say about our participation in either cup, except that it's incredibly poor to go out in the first stage in both. Obviously a 1-0 loss away at Brighton is disappointing but not the end of the world, whereas the 6-0 thrashing at London Road is wholly unacceptable. It was a perfect storm of events, but that doesn't excuse the performance. When you then consider that the 'Kebé situation' was also part of that fateful evening, then it was just incredibly disheartening.

Reading fans have been spoilt by cup runs in recent years, and our form in the league has often been kick-started by the results in the knockout competitions, but a result like one we had in the League Cup can only be a negative influence and next year I'd like to see a lot more commitment shown. The team we fielded is actually much better than I remember which is even worse.

Positives 
 
Obviously every season has positives no matter whatever else happens. This season the overwhelming positive has been the academy. Our U18s went further than ever before in the FA Youth Cup, losing out to eventual winners, Fulham, 5-4 over the two legs after a Dembele goal in the final minute robbed them of extra time. The U21s managed even better, winning the U21 Premier League Cup in the competition's inaugural season. Aaron Kuhl, Jack Stacey, Harry Cardwell, Liam Kelly, Craig Tanner, and loads more are all superb prospects to have. Then there's the likes of POTS, Jordan Obita who's made the LB position his own, as well as Michael Hector and Jake Taylor who have both been impressive in appearances that they've made.

Also the first team themselves have put good performances in. The wins at QPR, and Nottingham Forest were particular highlights. Alongside the demolitions of Bolton and Blackpool with respective 7-1 and 5-1 wins - the former being the biggest win for any team this season. This is a team that could have reached the pre-season aims if there weren't so many problems this year. Recently the team seem to have (finally) learnt that Pogrebnyak plays one hundred times better with his feet than his head which has led to some really nice play involving Pavel holding up the ball before laying it off. If he does stay this summer, and Adkins builds the attack around him, then I'm excited for next season whatever else happens.

So the rebuild starts now. The summer could be a tough one to watch, with departures from key individuals without many coming back in seeming likely. Therefore it's impossible to set any sort of goals until we see what the final squad looks like, but there's a definite possibility that more academy graduates could be coming through which is exciting in itself. Onto next year!

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