The Great Escape. The end is nigh?

Tony Marshall

Seven games left and seven points adrift, you’d have to be an eternal optimist to say RFC’s Premier League survival chances don’t look grim. But with such tight margins we’re far from fully writing anyone off just yet. But can new manager Nigel Adkins really turn things around?

To use a board game analogy, Reading are currently stuck in Monopoly’s Jail Square. The game’s just a couple of dice rolls from finishing and as it stands we’ll be dead last, unless we can breakout. There’s no obvious “Get out of jail free” card we could use, so it’s either roll a double to win our freedom, or remain locked up and face relegation. Realistically, May 19th will be more de-flatable day than inflatable. But with a bit of luck (and my word will we need it) there is still a chance!

If the margin stays the same, The Royals have just five games left as a Premier League club. It’s also gotten to the stage where Villa, Sunderland and Wigan’s results become very important given they sit just on the cusp of safety. Each round of fixtures could see them scarily narrow the already slim window of opportunity and with Wigan having a game in hand, it looks even more precarious. Plus this is the Wigan always predicted for relegation, only to dramatically climb to safety late on after Easter. So we can only hope that The Latics’ impending trip to Wembley for the FA Cup Semi-final serves as a huge distraction. With the less arduous opponent in Millwall, a further distraction via a potential historic Cup Final appearance could help us even more! So fingers crossed on that front!

One year on and once again Reading’s fate lies with a crunch game against Southampton. But this time Nigel Adkins is managing the team in hoops and with his successor Mauricio Pochettino not signing anyone in January, means no unknown quantities to the new RFC manager. Scrutinising any weakness Nigel knows in his former side will drastically enhance Reading’s chances and given the circumstances of his departure at Saints, a revenge of sorts will be in his mind. Nigel’s home debut couldn’t be any more contentious! Although they’ve had impressive wins over City, Liverpool and Chelsea recently, it’s hard to ascertain just how much has changed under Pochettino? Southampton may come to the Madejski three games undefeated, but poignantly have only won two away games all season, none of which were under Pochettino and are just one goal from having conceded the most away. The odds against Reading are less daunting as they were last April and there couldn’t be a better platform to begin grabbing the most of the remaining 21 points. The odds if they however don’t take any points… well.

Then comes Liverpool and along with them the league’s top scorer in Luis Suarez and former manager Brendan Rodgers. His first time back at the Madejski since the 2011 Play-off final. Like Adkins on Southampton the week before, Rodgers will know most of the Reading squad all too well and chasing a European spot he’ll likely exploit us. But Liverpool didn’t have it all their own way up at Anfield earlier this season and their last two visits here haven’t been successful either. A point which the squad will no doubt be reminded. As we know, Reading tend to up their game against the big sides and hopefully will follow suit again. With Alex Pearce reportedly being targeted by his former mentor in Rodgers; tightly marking Suarez to impress will greatly help towards causing another upset over the Reds.

However failure to pick up any points from these two games will put all eyes on the Etihad, Wednesday 17th April for Wigan’s trip there. If Wigan have beaten QPR ten days earlier and then go on to beat Man’ City, that will be the final nail perilously placed on the proverbial coffin. The same also goes for Villa, as just one point for either in their games after will send Reading back into the Championship. We can only hope this eventuality doesn’t materialise.

Having only lost three games at home this season, Carrow Road has become something of a fortress for Norwich. Although not safe from relegation just yet, “second season syndrome” has been a phrase scarcely mentioned in Norfolk. To date Norwich have only won once in their last ten and with visits by Swansea and a trip to Arsenal before they face The Royals, there may not be a better time to play them? If Reading have amassed some momentum and luck from other results before this game, they could arrive knowing anything from a point would make the travelling fans journey back to Berkshire, a hopeful one! Fans will no doubt remember that if McDermott’s men had just given that bit more against the Canaries earlier this season, they could’ve reaped rich rewards. This time around though, if Norwich haven’t picked up points beforehand, they’ll surely begin to feel very cold around the shoulders?

By the time QPR arrive for the final game of April; both clubs effectively could be playing out an exhibition match for the Championship next season. Depending on which way circumstance has gone beforehand, a victory for someone would almost condemn the other to relegation. As of April fools days, Rangers haven’t won in eight of their last ten games and have also only won two away from home this season. If there is any meaning to this game it could be a real belter and Reading fans would love nothing more than to slam the Premier League door on Harry Redknapp, who put out a Portsmouth reserve side that helped Fulham at Reading’s expense back in 2008. Did I mention they’re also rivals having copied the hoops from us, as well as sharing our rather perilous situation?

If Reading pick-up in form and points going into April, then last season’s drama will look like a molehill. But there is a mountain to climb and luck will be our biggest tool of all if we’re to climb it.

If you can find anything that can be… cross it!

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