Just over 24 hours until our latest Premier League game against Newcastle and ahead of the match we spoke to Ben Woolhead from Black'n'White & Red All Over.
How have you viewed the start to the season?
A mixed bag, really. We're yet to hit the heights of last season and haven't excelled over a full 90 minutes, though we've had our moments (not least a couple of corking goals from Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa). Two defeats in nine games isn't too shoddy, though, especially as those were away to Chelsea and Man Utd, and also considering we've suffered a spate of defensive injuries. Hopefully there might be a concerted improvement now that our captain Fabricio Coloccini and Cheik Tiote are fit again, and Papiss Cisse has remembered how to find the back of the net. It will be a tougher season than last year: expectations are higher (though perhaps more amongst neutral observers than Toon supporters) and we're no longer under the radar - everyone knows we're a decent outfit.
Alan Pardew wasn't exactly a popular choice when he was appointed, has he fully won over the fanbase now?
Stepping in to replace a popular manager who was instrumental in rescuing us from Championship meltdown and who many felt (and still feel) was very harshly dismissed, Pardew certainly had a tough task to win over the fans. Chris Hughton's departure was partly prompted by the fact that Mike Ashley felt he was too close to (and influenced by) the senior players, whereas Pardew initially seemed to be too close to the owner, a yes man to add to the much-vilified ‘Cockney mafia' at the club. However, though it's hard to know what Hughton would have achieved, there's no doubting Pardew has proven himself beyond all expectations, getting the very best out of a talented but not highly fancied side and showing a particular talent for man management to which the players have responded well. That said, he'd be the first to admit that he's not solely responsible and that our success can also be attributed to other factors: astute investment, a superb scouting team headed up by Graham Carr, players performing to the best of their abilities.
Similarly there's always been lots of beef with Mike Ashley, again has that calmed somewhat?
The problem with Ashley is that he would often seem to be doing good work quietly behind the scenes and then make a bizarre decision that almost seemed calculated to upset the fans. Take the appointment of Kevin Keegan, for instance - why reappoint a club legend as manager only then to undermine him and effectively force him out? Even last season, with goodwill towards him at an all-time high, he chose to ride roughshod over decades of tradition and rebrand the stadium in a bid to attract new investment - a bid which has thus far proven completely futile. Nevertheless, I think most fans, while still a little mistrustful, would give him credit for turning around our fortunes and sorting out the unpleasant and potentially fatal financial mess we were in. It's thanks to Ashley that the club is now in good health in advance of the new financial fair play rules - not long ago it would have seemed ludicrous to be hailing us as a model club for others to follow. The transfer policy he's instigated (sell players for profit, bring in cheaper and younger replacements, refuse to offer long-term deals to thirtysomethings) has been bearing serious fruit - though of course its success is dependent on that much-lauded scouting network continuing to pull rabbits from hats.
What are you favorite memories of Reading v Newcastle?
We haven't actually met very often in the last couple of decades, but a few moments stick in the memory: Emre's brilliant winner as we came back from 2-1 down at St James' Park in December 2006; the 3-0 win that signalled things were finally clicking for Keegan's three-pronged strikeforce in April 2008 (a false dawn, as it turned out); and, most significantly, the Kevin-Nolan-inspired 2-1 triumph at the Madejski two years later that helped to clinch promotion back to the Premier League and the Championship title.
And the worst?
Easy. Being condemned to a miserable 1-0 defeat by Dave Kitson in April 2007. We were dreadful.
Who in particular should we be worried about in Newcastle's lineup?
Ba is the man in form in front of goal, though it's ominous for you that Cisse finally got off the mark against Man Utd. Ben Arfa has been brilliant thus far this season - there can't be many more skilful players in the league. Yohan Cabaye's had a quiet start to the season so is due a good game, and you should also be wary of Davide Santon, whose forays forwards from left-back are becoming increasingly frequent, confident and incisive.
Anyone the Toon Army are worried about?
No disrespect, but not really. Pavel Pogrebnyak showed he can be a handful in the Premier League with his loan spell at Fulham last year, and with a couple of goals under his belt thus far I guess he could trouble us. I don't think your wingers have been anywhere near as effective in the Premier League as they were last term. One player we will be watching out for, though, is Danny Guthrie - former players are forever destined to score against us. He was a bit unlucky not to get more games in black and white, and on his day he can be a useful combative box-to-box midfielder. We'll also have an eye out for Adrian Mariappa, if only to see if he features - we had three bids for him turned down in January.
1-3. Given your form and our personnel, we should have too much for you. But you're going to put in a good shift at some point and we have an unfortunate habit of rolling into town and rolling over for teams who are desperate for a win. As Sir Bobby Robson once said, we'd best not count our chickens before they hatch because they might not lay eggs.
Thanks again to Ben and you can follow him on Twitter @blackwhiterao