Reading are only one match away from a return to the Premier League after beating Fulham last night, but are they ready for a return to the top flight.
Manager Jaap Stam guided the unfancied Royals to third place in the Sky Bet Championship and then oversaw a 2-1 aggregate success over the Cottagers to reach the Wembley final on May 29.
We take a look at Reading’s strengths and weaknesses and assesses how ready they are for the top flight, should they make it.
Reading’s home form has been key to their success this season. The Royals have won 17 matches – including the play-off success over Fulham – and lost just twice at the Madejski Stadium. An organised defence, built around captain Paul McShane and Liam Moore, has by and large stood firm in front of goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi, who like a fine wine has improved with age and was named the club’s player of the year. Proven Championship performer Yann Kermorgant has excelled up front with 19 goals.
On the road the Royals have been prone to the odd capitulation. As well as 4-1 defeats at Newcastle and Brentford, there was a 5-0 drubbing at Fulham and – just last month – a bizarre 7-1 thrashing at Norwich. All of which would go a long way to explaining a goal difference of just plus four. Stam will be aware that Premier League teams will be even more ruthless when they see a team on the ropes. Kermorgant aside, the goals-for column will need improving too.
Stam was a surprise choice when he was appointed last summer in his first senior management role. Although the Dutchman brought in compatriots Danzell Gravenberch, Joey van den Berg and Roy Beerens, his key signings were English – centre-half Moore from Leicester and midfielder John Swift from Chelsea have been pivotal this season. A renowned defender with Holland, Manchester United and Lazio, Stam should be able to attract even better players in the top flight.
Stam’s reliance on a possession-based game, with goalkeeper and defenders playing the ball out from the back, actually drew criticism from sections of the fans early in the season as his players struggled to adapt. But the Dutchman stuck to his guns and the rewards could be enormous. The job executed on Fulham in the two-legged semi-final, where Reading nullified possibly the division’s most attacking team, was also a tactical masterclass.
There is no doubt Reading will need new faces in the summer if they are to compete in the top flight. A striker to take some of the burden off veteran Kermorgant is a must, and an old head at the back would be a useful addition – John Terry anyone? But if the club’s new Chinese owners are willing to invest, then Stam’s pulling power and tactical nous could see the Royals become a competitive force. In fact, Reading’s main worry may be whether they can keep hold of their manager.
Press Association Sport