Reading came back down to earth with a thud on Saturday, slumping to a 1-0 loss at home to Blackburn Rovers. The source of ire for quite a few Royals fans on the day was the performance of Jobi McAnuff, being at fault for Rovers' goal and generally having a poor game. But what surprises me so much about the reaction to this is that, given just one bad performance, his critics will spontaneously come out in force, making out that he's a worse player than he actually is, and forgetting the good games that he's had.
Looking back over Reading's recent run of form, Jobi has had very good games in difficult away matches, with Watford and Millwall standing out as good examples of this. Indeed, going back just a week before last Saturday's defeat, Jobi put in a top performance against Queens Park Rangers, showing a high work rate throughout the game that has become typical of his play. Moreover, he was crucial in two of our goals in that match - cutting inside from the left and driving at QPR's defenders for our first, and supplying Pearce from a well taken corner for the second.
That said, like any player, he has his faults - he hasn't scored in the league since our match away to Barnsley... almost two years ago. In fact, last season he set the Premiership record for most number of shots without scoring any of them. Added to that, he's lost that extra yard of pace that's so important for an attacking winger to beat a defender, and his age is arguably now starting to tell. Despite having added a commendable defensive side to his play, the fact still stands that we're not getting the attacking threat from him that we once were.
Ultimately, Jobi has his good days and his bad days, good attributes and bad attributes. But what sets him aside from other players in the squad is that he doesn't get due credit for his good games, whilst effectively becoming a scapegoat for bad team performances like the one against Blackburn. In contrast to that, some players are instinctively remembered for a few good performances, and are quickly forgiven for average ones. Take Adam Le Fondre as an example - two hat-tricks in successive home games rightly earned him praise from all, and the idea of dropping him is now unthinkable. But remove those two performances from the equation, and the picture is very different. In my view, he's looked pretty anonymous in the last couple of games, especially away from home (he hasn't scored an away goal since November). My point isn't to criticise Alfie though - he has his good games and his bad games. However, where he is forgiven, McAnuff is criticised.
Our squad may not be the biggest at the moment, but one position we certainly are well-stocked in is that of left-winger, so if Nigel were to make McAnuff's place in the team available, there would certainly be no shortage of players raring to take such an opportunity. Indeed, the three most obvious candidates to replace Jobi on the left side of midfield have hardly done much to prove themselves so far this season, so perhaps it's not a surprise that Jobi has managed to hold onto his place in the team.
One of last season's star performers, Hal Robson-Kanu, despite scoring a few goals so far, has been side-lined with poor form in the first part of the season, and injuries later on. However, scoring 7 goals in the Premiership is no mean feat for our academy graduate, and getting him back in that sort of form could be crucial to promotion hopes this season.Brought in last summer, Royston Drenthe has hardly set the world alight so far, also not opening his account. Some creative performances in the opening games eventually subsided, and he's been more or less left out of the team recently, asides from a relatively encouraging cameo on Saturday.The final option is perhaps less glamorous than Messrs Robson-Kanu and Drenthe, but could still be a gem waiting to be found. Nick Blackman, frequently derided for poor performances last season and for much of this one, could very well have been frozen out of the match-day squad for a long time. However, supported by Nigel Adkins throughout the season, his form picked up over the New Year's period with some encouraging performances, not to mention a very tidy finish in the 7-1 demolition of Bolton Wanderers (although it was probably Mills' fault).
In each case, we have talented, creative wingers with something to prove - be it getting back to old form, showing what they're really capable of, or simply building on past promise.
Despite being limited in his attacking play, his work rate should not be underestimated. His place in the team could be under threat, although personally I think he'll keep it for the near future. In the longer term, to borrow the old cliché, he isn't getting any younger, and we will eventually have to say goodbye to a captain who, let's not forget, has been at the club for almost five seasons, being a key cog in that exhilarating run on the way to winning the title two years ago, a season that none of us will ever forget.
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