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Hope for Hope? What's going wrong for Hope Akpan at Reading FC

If you look at the 2012/13 season I think it's safe to say that the positives were few and far between. Big signings flopped, bust-ups undermined the squad and above all we were pretty ruddy awful on the pitch. One of the few nice stories to come out of our ill-fated Premier League campaign was that of January signing Hope Akpan, who looked set to follow in the footsteps of other lower league success stories at the club after a very bright start. Sadly it's been pretty much downhill since then for the midfielder but what's stalling his development?

Scott Heavey

By the numbers so far....

When I think of the former Everton youngster, the first memories that come to mind are him setting him Alfie for three goals in two games against Newcastle and Chelsea. Beyond that it's a lot of energy and spirit but really he hasn't done a lot in terms of creating chances or putting in match winning defensive displays since those early games under Brian McDermott.

Looking back at the numbers from 2012/13 using Squawka, it's surprising to see that Akpan actually rated among the bottom of our central midfielders in most key categories.

In limited player time, Akpan's passing accuracy was just 71%, a mark 4% lower than Mikele Leigertwood who found himself the target for more than one boo boy last year after some lacklustre passing displays.

His average pass length was 17 metres, again lower than his fellow central midfielders Jay Tabb & Jem Karacan (18m), Leigertwood (20m) and Danny Guthrie (22m)

Defensively he seemed to hold his own, making 3 defensive actions per game, one more than Guthrie and the same per game as Karacan. Sadly he was again lower than Tabb (4) and Leigertwood (6).

Again though, It's important to take into account the fact that Akpan only made nine appearances, and only three times did he complete ninety minutes. Throw in the fact he had to jump from League One to the Premier League and some initial problems shouldn't have been surprising.

Crucially in terms of his development, Akpan was sidelined with an injury that kept him out of the final six games of the season, playing just 60 minutes under new boss Nigel Adkins and failing to make a start as the former Southampton manager sized up his options.


With relegation, the departures of Tabb and Carrico plus injury to Mikele Leigertwood, it was hoped that Hope could get some more game time under his belt. yet Akpan had to wait until the closing minutes of our 1-0 win at Yeovil at the end of August to make his Championship debut. Fast forward three months and he's still yet to start a game under Adkins despite an injury crisis that left Danny Guthrie and new signing Chris Baird as the only fit central midfielders in the squad. Even Jordan Obita has started a game in the middle this season ahead of the former Crawley man.

All together Akpan has played just 154 minutes this season so perhaps it's not surprising to see that has him at the bottom of it's player ratings for the club this season. His pass rating is again below his fellow central midfielders, with a passing success rate of 71.3% well below Baird and Guthrie who are both above 79%, while Williams has a 78% mark and the injured Karacan 84%.

I think the passing is perhaps one of the biggest reasons that we're just not seeing Akpan feature much under Nigel Adkins. Adkins has built his footballing philosophy around ball retention and it seems there's just no place for a man who's giving the ball away every fourth pass, as opposed to every fifth pass for the likes of Guthrie and Baird.

The Present & Future

Akpan's future has come under the spotlight after the midfielder publicly voiced his frustrations and suggested he'd be prepared to go out on loan to get first team football.

Surprisingly, Adkins decided to indirectly address Akpan's frustrations in his most recent news conference saying...

"It's quite easy to say ‘I'm going to go out on loan', but if there's nobody actually prepared to take you, then it might underline why these players aren't in the team.

"Sometimes they have to look at themselves and say, I wonder why I'm not in the side?

"There are obviously going to be factors for that."

Personally I don't have too many problems with a young player itching to play football, I'd much rather read comments like this as opposed to hearing about players NOT wanting to travel..... Still, it's somewhat disappointing to see that it's ended up playing out in the media and it just adds to that general feeling that it's still not the most harmonious atmosphere in the dressing room.

In the short term it's becoming very difficult to see Akpan nailing down a regular starting role. If he can't get into the side after they've been thumped 5-2 at Sheffield Wednesday and are down to two fit central midfielders, then the pending return of players such as Danny Williams and Mikele Leigertwood isn't likely to improve his chances.

So what's gone wrong, or is it the manager and not the player that's the problem?

To be honest we don't know but the numbers above do suggest that there's a technical reason that Adkins is unwilling to give Akpan time in the team right now. The sad thing is that players need to be playing to get better and Hope is hardly likely to improve while sitting on the bench. A loan move seems best for all parties right now and at just 22 years of age, Akpan has more than enough time to improve his game and prove to Adkins that he's worth a regular run in the team.

We've seen the flashes of potential from Akpan and he's highly thought of by a man who knows a thing or two about Reading Steve Coppell, who watched him progress from his position of Director of Football at Crawley.

To me, Akpan just seems to be a victim of a change in management.

It was clear how much Brian McDermott believed in him but he just doesn't seem to have the skill set to fully satisfy Nigel Adkins right now and until he demonstrates an ability to play more like a Baird or Guthrie, he's going to struggle.

I like what I have seen of Akpan in his first nine months at the club. To me he's very much a terrier in the mould of a Parkinson or a Karacan but just like those two, he'll need refinement if he's ever to fully succeed at the highest level. Personally I'm hoping he's given the time to develop while we've got him under contract but so far its questionable whether he'll get that chance while Nigel Adkins is in charge.

So let us know what you think, should Akpan be given more game time, is a loan best or is he just not quite up to it at Reading? Let us know in the comments below.