At this point last season, we were discussing whether or not Reading had what it takes to escape relegation to League One. They finished 20th last term and are currently in an all-too-familiar position again at present. How challenging a season has this been for The Royals?
It’s certainly been very challenging in terms of how the slow start affected their season overall; they couldn’t buy a win, initially. They picked up midway through the season and the change in manager has given them a lift. They have picked up some results that have kept them in the mix, which is the most important thing. They’ve given themselves a fighting chance, but there are a lot of factors behind it and this season has been a challenge both on and off the pitch; they’ve still got a very big squad and it is hard to keep them all happy at any one point. That can cause tension and they have to overcome that and get results out on the pitch, but that’s what they’ve struggled with. Lately they’ve picked up, but Reading still have a lot of work to do.
There’s no escaping the fact their run-in looks altogether unfavourable on paper, with Bristol City, West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough the next opponents after Saturday’s clash. Do you think they have what it takes to survive again?
Yes, I do. I do think it could go down to the final day of the season. There are two ways of looking at the fixtures: some say they have some really difficult games, others have a more positive outlook and see that there are three home games against Brentford, West Brom and Birmingham, which I don’t think are the most difficult games compared to what they could have.
West Brom could already have a Play-Off spot secured by then and that could potentially work to Reading’s advantage. The home form under Gomes has, generally, been pretty good: they’ve played eight, won four, drawn two and lost two. Form has certainly picked up at home and I think that’s probably going to determine whether they do stay up or not in the three remaining home games.
Vastly experienced manager Jose Gomes took over from Paul Clement just before Christmas – how has the Portuguese been received so far?
Very, very well. He’s liked by everyone – all the players and the staff like him, the fans like him, the media like him and we all want him to do well. He’s certainly given the whole place a lift because it seemed to have turned stale under Paul Clement. Gomes has come in and revitalised the place. He’s got the fans back on side; they are coming to games with a bit more belief now and there’s much more of a bond between the players and the supporters. If he does well and they stay up, hopefully he’ll stay on and we can look forward to a much better season next year. But, ultimately, he’ll be judged on whether Reading can stay in the division and, at the moment, it’s a bit touch-and-go.
Who has been the standout player for The Royals?
Over the course of the season, it’s probably Andy Yiadom, the right-back, who has been the most consistent. They got him on a free from Barnsley last summer and he’s been a pretty steady performer – good going forward, good defensively and he’s barely missed a minute.
There are other players who’ve impressed: Andy Rinomhota has come in from the academy and done really well and then you have the likes of Emi Martinez, who has really made a difference in goal and Nelson Oliveira, who has scored some important goals. It’s a tough one to call, but I’d say Yiadom because he’s been there for the whole campaign.
How are Reading likely to set up at the Madejski?
I imagine it’ll be a 4-2-3-1 formation. The back-five picks itself, but Nelson Oliveira should feature up top, particularly as he couldn’t play against his parent club Norwich in midweek. The attacking three are all quite fluid and they can play across that forward line, with Lewis Baker and Andy Rinomhota the two holding midfielders.
The Royals have won just one home game against The Bees since September 2000. What’s your score prediction for this one?
I’ve got to back Reading, though I think it’ll be pretty nervy. I think they’ll win 2-1.