The fantastic win over Leeds on Friday was soured somewhat by the news that Royals midfielder Jem Karacan will miss the rest of the season after breaking his ankle during a challenge with Michael Brown. It's a sad end on what has been a great season for the Turkish midfielder but the good news is that he should be fit to take part in pre-season and we wish him all of the best in his road back to fitnes.
So with five games to go Reading now face the prospect of replacing their influential midfielder but who is best placed to take the mantle on.
2011/12: 10 starts 8 sub appearances - 0 Goals
Tabby has been a regular in the squad throughout the season and was keeping Karacan out of the side early in the campaign before being knocked unconscious at Burnley in October. Karacan came on in that game, scored a late winner and went from strength to strength. Since then, Tabb has been mostly a substitute, bar a few games deputising for an injured Leigertwood and a start in the 1-0 cup defeat at home to Stevenage at the start of 2012.
However, the former Coventry man has made a couple of decent substitute appearances recently, particularly at Millwall where he helped Reading push on for a win, while he also looked good when on for Karacan at West Ham just over a week ago.
Sadly Tabb also picked up an injury at Upton Park and didn't make the squad for Friday's win over Leeds. In the build up for the game he was being called a 'late decision' so hopefully he'll at least be in contention to play a part at Brighton on Tuesday, if not Southampton on Friday.
Has been involved in the team all season long
Played alongside Leigertwood earlier this season
Looked in decent form pre-injury
Lack of goal scoring threat
An injury doubt
2011/12 36 starts 1 sub appearance (34 starts for Portsmouth) - 1 Goal
The former West Ham and Pompy man joined the team at the end of the loan window and was straight into the team at right back for our trip to Barnsley. Mullins then started at Peterborough but was dropped for Cummings against Blackpool and didn't appear in the 16 against the Tangerines or at West Ham a week later. He came back onto the bench to replace the injured Tabb against Leeds and played a couple of minutes as a late sub for the injured Robson-Kanu.
While not having played that many minutes for Reading, he made 34 starts for Pompy this year so match fitness shouldn't really be a big issue. That being said I always see him more as a Leigertwood than a Karacan, as he doesn't have quite the same engine as Jem does.
Physical presence could be key against a strong Brighton side.
Hasn't made a Reading start in midfield
Used to playing at lower intensity at Pompy
2011/12 37 starts - 5 goals
If Reading have been trailing or chasing a win over the past two seasons, one of Brian McDermott's stock moves is to put Jobi McAnuff into the centre of the midfield and bring on a winger/striker. The move has had mixed success over the years, but has been used twice recently, both at West Ham and against Leeds on Friday.
Jobi is a better attacking option than either Tabb or Mullins, while if Tabb is injured, he'll be better placed to match Karacan's intensity/workrate than Mullins will be (at least to start with). The downside is that he's not a natural central midfielder and his defending, while ok, isn't on the same level as our other main options.
With two consecutive away games against top 8 sides it would be a gamble to start with such an attacking lineup and I can see McDermott keeping this move as a 'plan B' as he has throughout his tenure.
Captain, regular in the side
Top work rate
Has played in the position several times.
Not a natural central midfielder
Defensive work not as strong as Tabb/Mullins
Limits ability to change things if game is going badly
2011/12 3 starts 9 substitute appearances - 1 goal (3+6 and 1 goal for Derby)
It's been hard not to feel a little sorry for Tomasz Cywka. He made a couple of brief cameos after joining the club and looked to have something about him, notably winning a penalty against Bristol City. Jimmy Kebe's return to fitness has meant no space on the bench for the former Derby man but he's been in the 'extended squad' most of the time, often warming up with the players before the game.
Cywka was brought in to give us a more creative option and can play anywhere across the middle or just behind the striker. Reports of his time at Derby suggest he's not quite strong enough to play in the centre in a straight 4-4-2 but Brian might be tempted to employ him in a 4-5-1 if he decides to change tactics, perhaps in a similar type of role that Gylfi played during his time here. If Leigertwood & Tabb are both ruled out he certainly stands a chance of at least being in the XI.
Point to prove as on a short term deal
Gives attacking/goalscoring threat
Has been with squad for longer than Mullins
Hasn't played 90 minutes for Reading
Not played much Championship football in 2012
Arguably not strong enough to play in a 4-4-2.
Brian has a few other options he could call on if he decides to go for a bit of a wildcard. Brian Howard and Brynjar Gunnarsson are both still on the books at the club, but with neither having played much first team football lately it would be a big ask for them to play in a role that's so fitness intensive..
Lawson D'Ath hasn't made a start for the club but is due to return to Reading after the games on Easter Monday so it's possible he might be involved in the squad for the Southampton game. He's been fairly impressive at League One level but this might be a bit of a tough ask to come straight into a Championship side.
A further left field option might be for Brian to go to more of a 4-3-1-2 as he did in the second half at Peterborough, with Le Fondre in the hole but given it's general ineffectiveness that night I can't see it being repeated unless we're chasing the game.
Sadly nobody can really replace Karacan who has had his best few months for the club and has been a vital cog in our surge up the table. With fitness doubts also hanging over Jay Tabb, Mikele Leigertwood it looks as if the squad might be forced to prove it's mettle in the next week but hopefully whoever is chosen to play in the next five games rises to the challenge and sees us over the line. In saying that, I'd generally pick them in the order that they're listed above though if all were fit.
But who would you go for? Let us know your thoughts below.