Reading’s season started to gradually improve after the last meeting with a run of just one defeat in eight between the end of October and December. It seems to have tailed off again now and relegation remains a possibility – how would you describe the last few months?
They’ve been very, very difficult. It’s been quite a struggle, really. They’ve not found any consistency in terms of team selection as they’ve encountered a lot of injuries and haven’t really been able to string any results of significance together.
When they went on that run between October and December, you thought they may have perhaps turned a corner, but after they beat Sunderland at the start of December, they conceded a last minute equaliser against Cardiff in the next game and haven’t won a game since.
They just haven’t got any rhythm to their play, they are still shaky defensively, aren’t scoring many goals and it all came to a head in the initial FA Cup game against Stevenage a couple of weeks ago. The players initially didn’t want to clap the fans because the fans had booed them throughout the game and there were periods of sarcastic chanting as the game finished 0-0.
They are virtually at rock bottom but have maintained their position in around 18th so they still have a cushion between themselves and the relegation places and they should be all right. It’s just been one thing after another this season and they haven’t got going at all. They are where they are for good reason.
The festive period was particularly miserable for the Royals and they are without a win since the beginning of December – in modern football, thoughts start to turn towards the manager, so how much more patience will the owners invest in Jaap Stam?
The board have come out and pretty much said that he’s safe no matter what as he’s part of the long-term project at Reading, so you have to take their word for it. Results suggest that he could be and should be under a bit of pressure, but he insists that he isn’t and the players insist they are behind him. It’s been a rocky patch – albeit a very long one – but they certainly overachieved last season and they’ve very much struggled to live up to those expectations.
He is a relatively new manager so it was always going to be hard to match last season’s exploits. A lot of the fans are turning, or have turned, on him and those numbers seem to be increasing by the week but from what the club is saying, he’s not at risk so I would have thought that unless they get really involved in the relegation mire, it looks as though the fans will have to stick by him, keep the faith and hope things turn.
They were linked with a move for Brentford’s Yoann Barbet earlier this week, but what sort of business do Reading need to do in the remainder of the window to stave off that lingering relegation threat once and for all?
They could certainly do with a defender to shore things up at the back, especially with Liam Moore being linked with a move and Paul McShane delivering inconsistent performances. They are also short at left-back with Jordan Obita having been out for the season with a knee injury.
In attack, Mo Barrow has seven goals to his name, but they lack an out-and-out goalscorer and the problem is that most clubs are looking for a striker at this time of the year. They have players who can create chances, but they need someone to be in the right place at the right time to try and convert some of those chances into goals. John Swift has been injured on and off all season so maybe an attacking midfielder as well, but I feel that might be lower down the list, depending on how long he’s ruled out for.
What should Brentford expect in terms of the way the Royals set up on Saturday?
Going on previous weeks, I think it’ll be a 4-2-3-1 formation that Stam lines up with. It’s usually Joey Van Den Berg and possibly George Evans or Liam Kelly in the holding midfield positions, with Barrow and Sone Aluko on the wings and then Yann Kermorgant up top with John Swift behind. Swift is likely to be ruled out for the game, though and someone like Dave Edwards will probably fill in there.
Earlier in the season you mentioned that Mo Barrow was one of the biggest talents in the squad and he’s now top scorer with seven goals. Has anyone else caught your eye in recent weeks?
Not really, he’s certainly been the best player. He’s blown a bit hot and cold, but generally he’s the biggest attacking threat; he’s got pace and likes to run at defenders. Swift is great on his day, but as I said, he’s been very injury-prone. Liam Moore is probably one who is going to return to the Premier League sooner or later but in terms of the others, they’ve been good in patches, but there’s been nothing consistent and they’ve largely underperformed. Aluko, for example, is a very skilful player, but he’s not been showing that on a regular basis and has been, deservedly, dropped over the last couple of games.
With that in mind, what is the aim for the remainder of the season?
The main aim is survival. They’ve still got a very talented squad and although they haven’t picked up results in recent weeks against teams around them, they usually raise their game against the better sides and turn in better performances so I think they will do that in the next few weeks or so and pick things up. I think it’s all about building for next season now; survival is the number one aim, but I think this season hasn’t been what they’ve wanted and now they’ve got another season Stam’s style of play under their belts. Hopefully they’ll be better for it.
The last meeting at the Madejski ended in a 3-2 win in Reading’s favour - what’s your score prediction for the game?
I remember that well, it was a very good game actually. I think it’ll be tight and they might just edge a much-needed win, so I’ll go for a 2-1 Reading win.
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