Strikers Aplenty, But Where Are the Goals?

Charlie Crowhurst

Ask any Loyal Royal to pick their favoured starting line-up from the current squad, they’ll likely first announce; Danny Guthrie, Alex McCarthy or Garath McCleary. When it comes to deciding who’s upfront, it’s probable (given recent performances) most will play Pavel Pogrebnyak. But who starts as the partnering goal getter alongside the big Russian? Let’s take a closer look to decide.

The relevance of this question is apt, seeing as Reading’s next opponents are Blackburn Rovers. A team, who despite languishing in the Championship’s midriffs have amongst their ranks Scotland International Jordan Rhodes. A striker who’s already one of the league’s top scorers and a tipped candidate for the Golden Boot, irrespective of whether he stays at Rovers.

Given goals win games, it’s unsurprising that promoted sides tend also to possess the competition’s most consistent forwards. For instance, with Burnley’s Danny Ings and Sam Vokes amongst the division’s current top ten scorers, is it any wonder their club occupies the Championship top spot?

Add past examples such as; Southampton’s Rickie Lambert and Crystal Palace’s Glenn Murray, the necessity for Nigel Adkins to find a regular scorer intensifies if RFC are to underline their promotion credentials. Furthering the point, it’s interesting that despite Reading’s championing in the 2011-12 season; they were not only without one of the league’s top finishers, but the other sides within the top six, outscored them by an average of nearly nine goals. Perhaps last season’s relegation was inevitable?

Out of the 23 goals Reading have notched thus far into the season, 12 have come courtesy of the front men. Although Adam Le Fondre’s count of six gives him a two goal lead atop the Royals scoring chart, it’s concerning when you realise Jem Karacan is joint third. Credit to Jemba of course, but he hasn’t played since mid-September! Here’s a deeper analysis on those all-important striker tallies:

Note. Unless stated, these totals reflect scoring in open play with a further breakdown on having hit the net as a substitute.

Nick Blackman: 9 Appearances, 2 Goals; 1 via a Pen with 1 as a Sub.

Adam Le Fondre: 13 Appearances, 6 Goals; 2 via Pens, 1 via a Free kick, 2 of which as a Sub.

Pavel Pogrebnyak: 11 Appearances, 4 Goals.

Billy Sharp: 2 Appearances, 0 Goals.

Closer Analysis:

Nick Blackman. Two goals from five starts is hardly a dishonourable return for a player making his first full season, at arguably his highest career level. Obviously Blackman featured last campaign, but expecting wonderment from the former Blade was pure “Roy of the Rovers,” given his inexperience outside the third tier. Yet this hasn’t stopped some fans chides, labelling him “worse than Simon Church,” undoubtedly prompting his defiantly mute response when scoring at Derby. On arrival halfway into last season for £1.2 Million, he’d scored eleven goals. Surely impressive, given it was one short of Adam Le Fondre’s whole Premier League tally? In summary, the man just needs time. Both from the fans and on the pitch, preferably where we need him most. Perhaps a poignant start against his former employers on Saturday could finally turn heads?

Adam Le Fondre. Initially gauging ALF’s current scoring record, the 20 goal mark doesn’t seem an unachievable target for this season. But broken down, as shown above; attributing half his tallies to set pieces, questions arise over whether the Premier League improved him? Now arguably playing to a better partnership in Pogrebnyak and tactics against Noel Hunt’s tenure, he still seems lacking. Invariably missing, leaving the Russian too often opting to play crucial balls through midfielders. But from the bench, good old super sub Alfie remains. With Adkins recent favouring towards others, the likelihood of his 20 goals depletes. I’d say it’s either fix up and look sharper, or face up and study Sharp, for RFC’s number nine.

Pavel Pogrebnyak. This season has seen an indubitably positive turnaround for the big Russian. Whether credited to tactics, dropping a division or Pavel’s mindset, there’s barely a Loyal Royal unimpressed. Going on his current goals per game ratio, the big man should easily reach double figures come May. Which judged against preceding “big forwards” or those stationed to hold-up front play in seasons past, would make a stark improvement! A potential uptake in goals is great, but it’s not all dandy. Under McDermott’s tactics, the number seven was ineffective. With Adkins,’ his output appears inefficient. No partnering striker has quite the chemistry, yet without one his efforts become more laboured. The few strikers that pull off the lone role have pace. The Pog needs a partner.

Billy Sharp. Yet to even play 20 minutes in a Royals shirt, Billy escapes critique. But banging in 42 goals over the two spells Adkins has managed the striker, you can understand his admiration. Sharp averaged 13 goals a campaign for Doncaster, which considering (no disrespect) their standing in those seasons is no mean feat. Given all of the above, Sharp’s return to fitness and form looks crucial to our hopes. Here’s to thick skin and broad shoulders!

Jason Roberts. Much about Sharp can be said for Roberts, who incidentally has started rumbling of an imminent return to full training. Like Blackman, he divides opinion, seemingly damned either way for tackling racism. That aside, many believe 2012’s promotion came off the back of his arrival to the Madejski; scoring six times over 17 appearances and influencing 15 wins from 19 games. Calamitous as last season was, his brief stint offered experience that shepherded results in a desperate period. Approaching a year since his last appearance and nearly 36, it’s a big IF that Roberts will play again. An even bigger IF we get the same player, but brilliant if so.

Dominic Samuel and Gozie Ugwu (if returned from loan) may offer us hope for the future. But burdening them now will truly mark our plight.

For me, the Striker situation harks back over ten years to the time of Alan Pardew. In Martin Butler (Pog) we know we’ll get a good strong shift with the occasional goal. Fans love Jamie Cureton (ALF) and he may warrant a starting spot. But ultimately he lacks consistency and presence over 90 minutes and is just something else from the bench. The main source of goals will likely come via a Nicky Forster figure.

But identifying Forster’s modern day equivalent is the conundrum. If Sharp and Roberts remain unfit with uncertain futures whilst Blackman develops, perhaps we should look elsewhere, including January’s transfer window? However similar pace and hunger to shoot is present in Drenthe, McCleary and Robson-Kanu. We’re undeniably abundant in wingers with an eye for goal.

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