The House that Nigel Built

Ben Hoskins

With the arrival of new manager Nigel Adkins last spring, Reading Football Club underwent a transition that some would say is still in progress. It's fair to say that every manager wants to put their own stamp onto the team that they're in charge of, not only through transfers but also through using players already at the club in a different way to the previous manager. With this last point in mind, Bucks Royal takes a look at the work so far of Reading's boss 8 months after his arrival.

Much has been made of the club's inability to bring in enough players during the summer, with only five coming in so far during the Adkins era. This debate has raged for months now, so that isn't the point of this article, and this isn't an analysis on the performances of anyone that has been signed this season. What has struck me is that, having not had many additions to the squad, Nigel Adkins has had to make the most of what he already had in terms of playing staff. His ability to almost completely reinvent the players we had before this summer's transfer window is impressive.

Not much remains of the Coppell and Rodgers eras, with only Adam Federici, Shaun Cummings and Jobi McAnuff remaining as senior players who were signed by either of those managers. It may be harsh to say, as I think that each of them in their own right still have big contributions to make to the success of this team, but none of them are first team except if an injury crisis hits.

It's a very different story for another group of players that have been around for a number of years, namely the much celebrated academy graduates who have been part of the first team for several seasons now, namely Alex Pearce, Jem Karacan, Hal Robson Kanu and Alex McCarthy. Although they've arguably been some of our best performers, Nigel Adkins has been very successful in adapting them to the way we play now (bearing in mind that most of their development thus far has been under a completely different set of tactics). In particular, Pearce has had to become much more comfortable on the ball, whereas Karacan, before his injury, was becoming a box-to-box midfielder with a real attacking threat (as shown by his brace against Watford earlier in the season) - very different to the more defensive player he was under Brian McDermott.

Having been in charge for more than three years and only leaving recently, McDermott's lasting influence on our current team was always going to be a big one. However, I'd argue that one of the biggest achievements of Nigel Adkins so far is his complete reversal of the fortunes of some of our arguably more disappointing players from last season brought in by our former boss - Danny Guthrie and Pavel Pogrebnyak in particular, with the change of style allowing them to flourish. The former's range of passing and ability to control the tempo of a game has been one of the brightest parts of our play so far, even seeing him become our joint second top scorer from a deep lying midfield role. The memories this term of a long range screamer against Ipswich, the deftest of finishes against Doncaster and two free kicks to see off Birmingham are a far cry from when he was frozen out of the side this time last year whilst a painfully exposed four man midfield was overrun even by some of the more average Premiership sides. The same can also be said of the Pog, who's seemingly rediscovered the presence in the final third and eye for goal that he didn't have in his first season with the club, and that we lacked so obviously before his upturn in form this year too.

Two players who haven't had as much attention as Messrs Guthrie and Pogrebnyak are the ex-Forest duo, Garath McCleary and Chris Gunter. Both were summer signings from McDermott, and while neither of them were amongst our worst players last term, neither of them made as big an impact as would have been hoped. However, this season, both have been almost ever present in the first team, with Gunter and McCleary so far playing in 14 and 13 of our 15 league games respectively. The regular starts have been paying off, with Gunter developing an impressive attacking instinct down the right flank linking up with whoever's been playing in front of him. It is also important to mention that he recently became the youngest ever Welshman to reach the milestone of 50 international caps, a very noteworthy achievement for someone still only 24. Garath McCleary too has been excellent so far, with the Doncaster game in particular showing the damage he can do to a back four on his day, racking up three assists and a goal on a single afternoon. In both cases, Adkins has demonstrated his ability to make the most of the players that he already has in the side that were perhaps not being best used before.

Looking at the team as a whole, despite the arguable underperformance of the side in general this season, Adkins has injected a new lease of life into the players, be they academy graduates who have been used to a different style of playing, or those previously dismissed as disappointing McDermott signings. This reinvention of the side has shown that it isn't simply a matter of signing new players to really put your mark on a side, but also one of maximising the output of all resources already at hand.

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