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Defensive Shake-up

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Ivar Ingimarsson, out. Zurab Khizanishvili, out. Matt Mills rumoured to be out. Ian Harte and Andy Griffin getting on a bit. Marcus Williams chucked out on loan. Shaun Cummings, Alex Pearce and Sean Morisson unproven at this level. It could be quite a summer for the Royals' defence.

Next season could be pivotal to this current Reading era; will we manage to improve on last seasons dramatic and heartbreaking play-off final, or will we find ourselves drop down to mid-table mediocrity?

Read on to see how a defensive refreshening could help our cause.

In, out, in out

Ivar Ingimarsson fist-pump

One of the few remaining 106-pointers has left

It's a shame, it's sad, but the time was right - Reading legend Ivar Ingimarsson has left the club and joined Ipswich on a free transfer. Zurab Khizanishvili rejected our contract offer and joined Kayserispor in Turkey. Matt Mills is rumoured to be subject to interest/bids from Wolves and Stoke.

With only Alex Pearce, Sean Morisson, Jack Mills and Michael Hector on our squad list with centre-back listed as their favoured position, we could be in for quite a summer. Assuming Matt Mills does leave, we'd be left with just Alex Pearce who has had Championship experience.

There are rumours that if Mills does leave then McDermott will be looking to Magnus Okuoghae (Colchester United) to replace him; but even if this does happen then Pearce will still be the only defender with Championship experience.

The odd thing is that if Mills does leave and we are left with an inexperienced back four, I don't see it as a bad thing. I think the time is right for a defensive refreshening.

Full backs (breaking)

Ian Harte and Andy Griffin are 33 and 32 respectively, which has shown against pacey and direct wingers this season. Just think of the play-off final, where Dyer and Sinclair caused havoc with their pace and skill that twisted up Harte and Griffin.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think they're bad, I just think that if we are serious about wanting promotion we might need to look at them as back up, bench players. Ian Harte would be the hardest to drop because of his prowess from dead ball situations but if you think of the number of goals he scores and the number of goals he could be (partly) responsible for because of his lack of pace, then I think the two would even out.

The best thing is I think we have the full-backs who could step into their shoes and younger, pacier full-backs. Shaun Cummings has played brilliantly for the Royals when he has been given opportunities, even on the wing against Cardiff he excelled and I think he could be a key defender for us next season if he manages to shuffle into Griffin's right-back spot.

Other side of the spectrum is Marcus Williams, who we signed on a free transfer last summer to replace Ryan Bertrand (who had been on loan from Chelsea). I saw him play a few times and you could see why McDermott signed him, he's quick and likes attacking but his defensive game was not up to scratch. However, I remember thinking the same thing about Cummings last season and if McDermott can work his magic on Williams then I think we could well have a decent Championship left-back on our hands.

Centre-backs (strengthening)

Surprise, surprise, Wolves are rumoured to be interested in a Reading player. They must have a fantastic relationship with the Royals' staff because it feels as if every player we sell is heading to Wolves. This time round they're rumoured to be interested in Mills, but let's just assume that Mills is loyal to the Royals and stays.

We would still only have Mills, Pearce and Morisson as centre-backs who have had football league experience.

Jack Mills was on loan at Telstar in the Dutch Second division, whilst Michael Hector was on loan at Dunkirk last season; and whilst they are both being touted as possible stars of our defence for the future, I don't think next season would be the right time for them to play in the Championship. Maybe in 2012/2013, but even then it would depend on how much they had improved over the 2011/2012 season. I'm not doubting their credentials or their potential, but I'd rather see them have more experience at lower leagues than being thrown in the deep end.

So that means that we need to sign at least one other defender. @thegoonblog has reported that Arsenal's released defender Tom Cruise (what a name!) will have a trial with Reading in July, which would be a welcome addition to the team, having been hyped upin the past few years. Although not particularly impressing on loan at Colchester last season, he is young and could improve dramatically given game time.

Okuonghae

Could Magnus be the replacement for Mills?

Alex Pearce will almost certainly be first choice centre-back at the club if Mills does leave, with Morisson likely to be given a lot of game time. If we sign Magnus Okuonghae and Thomas Cruise then we will have four centre-backs who favour that position, as well as Brynar Gunnarsson if things really do get to the bare bones.

Stronger?

So, if everything changes and we are given a brand new backline next season, would the new back-line be any stronger than last seasons?

Griffin - Mills - Khizanishvili - Harte

or

Cummings - Pearce - Okuonghae/Morisson - Williams

I'm not sure, but it's certainly younger with a lot more potential.

Whatever happens, in my opinion Cummings should be our first-choice right-back next season with Griffin as reliable back-up, whilst whatever happens to Mills I expect Pearce to be a consistent feature of our back line next season. Williams should be given another chance during pre-season and it will be intereting to see how he has changed (if at all) since last season. I haven't seen much of Morisson or Okuonghae but I trust McDermott's judgement and if he thinks they can do the job, then they can do the job!

So, what do you think? Would a refreshing of the backline help or hinder the Royals in their quest for promotion? Would it concede less or make more mistakes? Is now the right time? Leave your comments below with your thoughts.