Reading were last season’s play-off final runners up, after losing to Swansea City. Having seen Matt Mills leave already, and with the possibility of Shane Long doing the same, Brian McDermott will have a tough job on his hands to get Reading fighting for a place in the top 6 again this season. But they know all about getting to the Premier League and will be eager to experience top flight football again.
We caught up with Matthew Batten (@maffff) to talk about how he thinks Reading will fair this season.
What would be a dream season for you?
A dream season would be if we were able to build upon last year’s Wembley playoff final and finally make a return to the Premiership. We’ve several young players that have started to establish themselves on the fringe of the squad, so continuing this and having another few talents emerge would be a nice bonus.
What would be your worst nightmare?
Unlike many Reading fans, one of my biggest worries would if our chairman, John Madejski, were to sell the club. I love the stability, financial prudence and self sufficiency that we operate in and to me it has always felt like a real football club run the right way. If someone new came in with a different ethos, for instance trying to buy success, we would lose the ‘Reading way’ which has integral to our identity over the last twenty years.
The thought of relegation, which thankfully is unlikely this season, worries me less than having a club which does not resemble the one I have grown up with, know and love.
What do you think of your club’s summer transfer activity?
Outgoings: So far we have released Ingimarsson, which was understandable at the time, along with several fringe players, sold Matt Mills for £5.5 million and Ben Hamer for allegedly £250k. Hamer, despite being a very capable and talented keeper at an upper League 1 or lower Championship team, was only ever our fourth choice and would not have been anywhere near the first team, it was time for him to move on. Matt Mills I will go into further detail on below.
Incomings: We have signed Mikele Leigertwood permanently from QPR, days before the playoff final, who was the key signing needed to retain our stability from last season and Bongani Khumalo joins from Tottenham on a season long loan. I’m really positive about Khumalo from seeing him against us for Preston and honestly think that as he grows into the team will more than adequately fill Mills’ void. We are still a little light at the back and also have former player Ibrahima Sonko training with us to win a contract, I’m unconvinced on this at present as he hasn’t been the same player since he was injured against Sheffield United for us in the Premiership, but if McDermott feels he is worth the gamble as 4th choice CB, I’m happy with that.
We have no money to spend, even if we sell Shane Long, and will continue focusing on developing our youth. If we did have any funds, more important to me than a striker would be getting an LWB, like when we had Nicky Shorey at his best, or Ryan Bertrand, come into the club to replace Ian Harte over the course of the season. Harte divides the opinion of the fans here.
Who will be your most important player/s this season?
If he stays most fans will say Shane Long and but this is very dependent on whether he can regain the form that he showed mid last season, at his best no Championship team can contain him. I am also going to say Mikele Leigertwood who joined us last season on loan from QPR and kicked off our 8 game unbeaten streak, providing the extra steel we needed in midfield helping us storm up the league and to Wembley.
Any players you would happily see the back of?
Not really. Marcus Williams is abysmal and Michail Antonio is yet to start really showing any of this potential that we’ve heard about, but with McDermott’s knack of turning around players – like Shaun Cummings and Shane Long – I’m happy to trust the gaffer.
Do you have the best manager for the job?
Yes! Our former Chief Scout, Brian McDermott is god. We lost our key player, Gylfi Sigurdsson, who our team was built around, on 31 August last season and the manager changed the entire way we were set up to readdress this. We made it to Wembley despite most fans expecting mid-table mediocrity at best. Hopefully he can do this again if Shane Long goes, but with McDermott’s skills at spotting and nurturing raw talent, getting the best out of underperforming players by building their confidence and managing to develop easily one of the best squad atmospheres around, there is honestly no other manager in this league I would rather have.
Opposition players that you respect?
There’s only one player in this division that, as a Reading fan, really deserves the respect of all Royals; Ivar Ingimarsson at Ipswich. We released Ingimarsson this summer after nearly 8 years with the club and after losing the services of Khizanishvili, and selling Matt Mills, is a player whose experience we may well end up regretting losing, he was a consummate professional and brought on those around him.
Legend is a word that is generally over-used in football, but as our ‘player of the season’ for our first ever season in the Premier league, and part of that record breaking 106 team of 2005-06, having played every minute, Ingimarsson falls well into that category.
Shoutouts also go to Dave Kitson, James Harper, James Henry, Dan Harding and Darius Henderson (although he will inevitably score against us tomorrow). I’m also looking forward to seeing Jake Forster-Caskey at the Madejski. With a name like that they boy should go far.
Opposition players that you despise?
Outside of the obvious culprits, like Marlon King, those I am currently somewhat resentful of Matt Mills move to Leicester which he has effectively said since was for the money, as he could well have moved to a team in the Premiership if he had bided his time in this window. For £5.5 million, however, I can’t fault the club for selling but I am looking forward to us hopefully getting one over on him.
I also can’t stand Liam Rosenior, Greg Halford and Darren O’Dea. All based on their attitude, ego, and comments made publically in the past.
Best away fans/ground in your league?
For away matches this season I’m looking forward the most to Blackpool followed by West Ham, whilst interested in seeing Brighton’s new stadium in all its glory.
Which teams do you really want to beat this season?
Really want us to beat everyone. Finishing top with 138 points would do me nicely….
But being realistic, Leicester, because of Matt Mills, Cardiff and Leeds are the three teams I have set my sights on. It would also be especially sweet to beat West Ham (0-6 away from home again please), Portsmouth and Southampton.
Finally, where do you honestly think you will finish?
Most Reading fans seem to think we will finish around 10th, due to the lack of transfer activity, however with our manager, emerging talents and the core of last years team I am very positive going into this season (it feels to me a little like 2005-06) and I think we’ll be in the playoffs.
I’m going to stick my neck out here and say fourth, chasing but falling just short of an auto place. And McDermott won’t make the same mistakes at Wembley two seasons in a row……
Reading fans, agree or disagree with Matthew’s assessment? Go sign up and have your say in the comments section below!!!