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The Tilehurst End Round Table - January 2013

It's been a while but we're back with our first round table since the start of the year where five TTE contributors chat survival, signings and TSI.

Gareth Copley

How have you viewed the season so far, has it gone the way you expected or were you hoping for better/fearing worse?

Michael Wade: Historically I suppose it is going to plan in that we have improved after a slow start. I am happy that we have begun to put up a fight against relegation - nothing less acceptable than a meek surrender in my opinion.

Jonny: We're about where I expected us to be - in or around the bottom three - but obviously a month ago it was a lot more gloomy. Wins against West Ham, West Brom and Newcastle have certainly helped our cause recently.

urzz1871: Late November and early December were absolutely dire and we were premier league laughing stocks at that point, correctly written off by everyone - far worse than I feared because we weren't even fighting or competing - just meekly surrendering. The season started mid-December, really - and things are definitely on the up since then.

Michael Wade: I always thought, and still think, we are in the worst three teams in the division, but that doesn't mean we won't stay up. Team spirit counts for a lot at Reading, whereas at QPR although they have better players they have no spirit. Home games against Sunderland, Villa, Wigan, Saints, QPR and away to Norwich will be defining.

Chartley: At the start we were finding our feet, but stayed in many games through heart and desire. It has lived up to my thoughts as I felt we would be down there. But we are doing are usual and are defending better plus we have a goal scorer in ALF and Feds is improving

Wimb: I think we're roughly where I expected but I hadn't expected us to be at quite such a low points mark. The saving grace has been that other teams have also struggled badly so we're still in the hunt for survival.
I didn't expect quite as much instablitiy on the pitch or in the dressing room either. The bust ups with Federici, Pearce and Guthrie have all been unexpected low points.

On the topic of the season so far, which players have exceeded your expectations and who's been below par?

urzz1871: Leigertwood has been the weak link in midfield, and until Kelly arrived we were desperate for an effective Right Back - I'm also unconvinced about Pog as a lone striker, but he does seem to be scoring goals despite everything!

Michael Wade: Jem has proven he can cut it at this level. ALF too. And Pearce. Morrison has broken through and surprised me, McAnuff is ok but not a long-term asset, while Leigertwood is not good enough unfortunately. Feds I'm undecided about.

Jonny: Gunter has been a real downer for me, and I think it speaks volumes that we've reached for another right-back just 6 months after paying a hefty sum for him. Mariappa has settled well with Pearce in recent weeks, that could be potentially a great partnership going forward - and if Pearce leaves, even Morrison has shown he's at least up to Championship level.

Wimb: Agree about Pog, his overall play wasn't anywhere near up to scratch until Christmas. Danny Guthrie was the biggest diappointment for me personallly. I'd hoped he'd really change the way our midfield worked but sadly his ego got in the way and we ended up having to put up with weeks of Tabb and Leigertwood. As for Gunter... well, he's looking like heading into Greg Halford, Emerse Fae territory.

Michael Wade: Mariappa is improving all the time and is a great asset.

Chartley: It is tough to be to hard on any of the players. For a lot of them though it has been a step to far. Cummings and Gunter has been shaky at RB, Kelly has been solid since signing. Midfield Ledge is not good enough neither is McAnuff. I am glad that Gorkss is no longer in the back four. Kebe has shown his ability to step up on ocassion.

Jonny: Tabb actually surprised me, he was quite effective for the time he was in the team. But then, he is what he is - a good scurrying midfielder who doesn't have the nous or skill to quite succeed at this level. Wishing him all the best wherever he lands

Michael Wade: Jon - Pearce doesn't strike me as someone to be making unrealistic demands. But who knows.

Chartley: Alfie is the pick at the moment showing that a goal scorer can do it at any level

urzz1871: Assuming Tabb leaves - no reports of any significant interest yet

Michael Wade: I think Tabb will stay until the summer unless he gets a blinding offer. He doesn't have an agent so will rely on people like Sky talking about him, or selling himself around to clubs, which I don't think he will be doing at the moment.

Jonny: Chartley - Kebe has been great now that he's not playing as a second right-back!

Chartley: Yes Jonny, Gunter and Cummings were so shaky.

Michael Wade: Special mention for Kebe, his workrate defensively has been superb and going forward he has been influential. He has been very important and is thriving in the PL.

Wimb: Alfie has been great from the bench but I still think there are lingering question marks about him as a 90 minute player. Karacan has had a good season, as have both left-backs really. Oh and Alex McCarthy was outstanding before the injury

urzz1871: Agree on McCarthy - one of the real bright spots of the early part of the season.

Chartley: Wimb, He is the new Shane Long. Coming of the bench to get key goals.

Michael Wade: Agree with Wimb about ALF as a 90 minute player. Started yesterday against a League One side and didn't score but scored twice from the bench against Newcastle?

urzz1871: I think ALF scoring is more about the change from 541 to 442 than ALF himself - although he does put them away well when he gets those chances

Wimb: He's very much a Jamie Cureton for me and like Curo, has his limitations in a 4-5-1

Chartley: What about Pavel? Looked decent in spells but has lacked service at times, Guthrie is showing his quality in midfield at the moment.

Michael Wade: Pog is showing his worth now, but given the money we have spent on him I think better value could have been found.

We've already signed three this January, with Stephen Kelly, Hope Akpan and Daniel Carrico in. What have you made of the three signings in the limited chance you've had to see them and where else do we need to strengthen if anywhere?

Michael Wade: Akpan will be a younger replacement for Tabb, a squad player to start with who will develop and progress in the next year or two. Carrico is a weird one, a bit left field for Reading to sign a player of his calibre and if he proves his worth we could sell on for a tidy profit which would be very like us. And Kelly is typical Reading, in the mould of Griffin and Murty he is steady and will do a quiet job effectively.

Chartley: Kelly is a steady Eddie. Carrico and Akpan its to early to judge. We need a creative Midfielder. Someone who can create centrally as we are to predictable. A new striker possibly too.

urzz1871: If Carrico comes off and turns into the holding midfielder that Leigertwood ought to be then it'll be a master-stroke signing. But he needs to get fit as his first appearance didn't impress. Kelly looks to be what I want from a RB - quietly efficient and does his job well. Still slightly perplexed by Apkan - bit of a gamble there and can't see him being anything other than a perennial sub.

Michael Wade: Jon - re Akpan being a gamble - no one knew much about Doyle or Long when we signed them, Stephen Hunt was a gamble, Gylfi blew up from nowhere. We have a history of talent spotting (it doesn't always work) and Akpan could turn out to be another good spot.

urzz1871: Agree on Akpan - just a bit surprised to see him getting his chance so quickly last week.

Chartley: Coppell must have Rated him at Crawley

Jonny: Kelly - has allowed Kebe to play as a winger, it's no wonder he was up there to set up both goals at Newcastle, he also headed one down for Pog to blast over. Akpan - looked raw but energetic, could be useful to bring on late in games. Carrico - looked in dire need of match fitness but showed enough to suggest he'll have the class to succeed. But will he get a game in front of Leigertwood, who seems to be one of McDermott's great untouchables?

Wimb: I've really liked the signing of Kelly, though what it says about Shaun Cummings and Chris Gunter in particular is worrying. Akpan is one for the future but it's concerning that Carrico couldn't even get on the bench yesterday, unless he's injured? I really think we need another forward option. With Roberts' injury problems getting worse we have nobody to play up front on their own if Pog gets injured/needs a rest. A creative midfielder also wouldn't go amis...

Michael Wade: As for strengthening elsewhere, as teams like Stoke and Fulham have shown, you can't stand still in the PL and if an upgrade is available anywhere you must take it. So we can strengthen every position if the right player is available at the right price.

Chartley: Will be interested to see if we do sign Sunzu. Sonko type centre back.

Wimb: To be fair, centre back is probably one position we don't need right now. Happy enough with Morrison/Pearce and Mariappa until the end of the season, plus Gorkss if it gets desperate/bench cover.

Chartley: Carrico is not match fit according to McDermott. Strange because a home cup tie would seem ideal to give him the chance to build that.

Wimb: Carrico seems more of a gamble than Akpan... I'm sorry but you don't just go from £10m prospect to ending up at Reading for £600k for no reason.

Chartley: Plus Carrico rejected a couple of La Liga clubs

Michael Wade: I wouldn't be surprised if he proves himself in quickly and we sell him to a bigger club for a quick profit - probably a case of seeing the chance of buying something for a tenner at a jumble sale that you know is worth £100 if that makes sense?

Jonny: But squad depth has been a problem this year especially with injuries - which game was it that we had Samuel and Gunnarsson on the bench? Sunderland or Villa away I think. From the little we've seen, at least Akpan and Carrico can change a game more than (say) Tabb off the bench

urzz1871: Let's just say they're both gambles - but with one the stake and the possible returns - are so much bigger.

Wimb: Question is, do we actually see Anton dipping into his pocket on deadline day? Or is this what we've got to work with?

Michael Wade: By Anton dipping into his pocket - in terms of what budget?

Wimb: Seven figures + Mike...

Chartley: I do see us being Busy this week, we need two more players in key areas to give us the depth to have shot of staying up

urzz1871: As far as I'm concerned there's still a great big question over whether there's anything in that pocket - or whose pocket it actually is that we're talking about.

Jonny: This is the thing with Reading. You look at the squad now and most of the "saleable" assets (IE players below 30) are worth a lot more than we signed them for - Morrison, Pearce, Karacan, Kebe, ALF, Cummings... Think we'll be a "buy low, sell high" club for a little while longer.

Michael Wade: Only if the deal is absolutely worth it, he won't gamble on players. I could see us bidding for example Tom Ince but whether he wants to join us is a different question entirely.

urzz1871: Looking like we might stay up has helped immensely in the chances of getting decent players to sign for us this week.

Michael Wade: In our current position, first season in PL, in bottom three, fighting for survival, lots of players may fancy going elsewhere unless we offer them ridiculous deals like QPR did with Remy.

Chartley: But we are not a drift Mike and have a shot of staying up. A couple of loan players would be a good move for me. Why gamble on spending money we can't afford.

Michael Wade: Chartley - I'm not encouraging us to spend big money, I'm saying if Tom Ince has a choice of going to Liverpool, leaving Blackpool in the summer and getting a move, or joining us now I can't see why he would choose us unless our offer was too good to turn down.

urzz1871: The players who'd sign for anyone no matter how they're doing as long as the pay-cheque is big enough aren't the players I'd want to see us sign.

Wimb: I know I'm dreaming but I'd just love to see us go for it and get someone like Tom Ince or a Jordan Rhodes... or dare I say it after his struggles at Spurs.... Gylfi on loan?

Michael Wade: If Spurs, as reportedly they are, want a new striker then we could make an offer for Gylfi who seems out of sorts.

Chartley: Would love Gylfi back even if it meant that his best mate Church stays

Jon touched on this, so lets delve a little bit deeper. How have you viewed the first year or the TSI era?

Michael Wade: TSI have been very under the radar generally. Anton goes to games (lots of new owners do at first generally though so it will be interesting if he keeps this up in future seasons), but apart from that he doesn't speak much in public and there doesn't seem too much change from the old regime on the surface. For now I would say the jury is out but I think it is fair comment that the dream of turning us into a European club in five years is probably not as realistic as first thought?

Jonny: We're in the Premier League so no complaints...! I think the acid test will be this summer - if we stay up, how much does Anton invest? If we go down, will he fire McDermott? Will he fund more investment/try and keep the squad together?

urzz1871: The only significant effect I can see is the purchase of Pogrebnyak - and I'm less than convinced that was a good thing as his wages seem to me to be partly behind the problems with Pearce and his contract. A Chairman's "marquee signing" - signed at any cost - is rarely a good thing.

Michael Wade: I have a feeling Anton does a fair bit of work behind the scenes with slowly developing us commercially, attracting sponsorship from local businesses, selling us to players and selling the dream, nurturing the fanbase in order to increase the stadium. I think Anton will want to invest money the club has earned as much as his own which is wise in the impending era of FFP.

Chartley: TSI have not been bad, their money got us up and we have not gone mad over spending and breaking the clubs ideals. I think some fans viewed the deal as we can afford a couple of big names in. I agree with Jonny that if we go down this year then what will happen. But he has stuck by Brian thus far and for that Anton deserves credit

Wimb: The push to get us up by signing Roberts, extending Kebe etc was excellent. However we've not go the extra push at the top level that some might have hoped. Then again we were told that not much would change from Sir John so perhaps we shouldn't hold that against them.

urzz1871: I'm not convinced that TSI have actually yet put any money in. I won't name sources, but I understand that the unexpected promotion bailed them out and we're still at the stage where the TV money means that no outside investment has been required.

Chartley: How much say has Madjeski got on the running of the club? Will that change in a couple of years when Sir John stands down?

Wimb: Wouldn't shock me Jon, the fact that Sir John's loans have been reduced suggests that there's certainly been some money leaving the club. Although it's Sir John's money he can do with that what he likes!

urzz1871: Indeed he can - the only problem comes with any mismatch between what is being sold to supporters and what is actually happening. But that is nothing new at Reading.

We've had it touched on before but how have you viewed the way the club has handled the off field problems this season. Pearce, Federici and Guthrie have all had issues, have they been dealt with in the right way?

Michael Wade: It's been relatively new to Reading so it was handled badly but over time we have got to grips and sorted things. Reading, on the surface, has always been a relatively happy camp because we were doing well in the league and everyone was pulling together.

urzz1871: After a fashion, but it's all been very unlike Reading, and the initial responses were very poor and just made things worse. I think the club's publicity department are trying much too hard to "control the message" - and when it's obvious to all that they can't actually do that it just makes things worse.

Chartley: In hind sight all of these issues would have been dealt differently. Guthrie really took the piss, Federici was clearly out of form and unhappy that he had been dropped. I have heard that he had no injury.

Wimb: I think they should have been far more up front and honest at an earlier date. The Pearce issue was the most frustrating, with repeated flip flopping of reasons for his omission until they had no option but to play him.

Michael Wade: Regarding Pearce I think some of the management team have questions to answer about why he wasn't in the team for so long. It's no coincidence we've improved at the back since our POTY came back into the team.

Chartley: Pearce is doing a Sidwell though giving his all to get a big move on a free. He is important because as shown yesterday, Morrison still has a lot to learn and to improve upon. Pearce and Marriappa are the best pairing as proven in the past few weeks

Michael Wade: Sidwell never did the badge punching that Pearce has done. I may be naive but I think having come through the academy that Pearce is more dedicated to staying than Sidwell was (without detracting at all from Sidwell's contribution).

urzz1871: I have a theory that Pearce and his contract might depend upon whether we stay up or not - once we can feel confident of getting at least another year's TV money the financial shackles might loosen a little.

Michael Wade: Jon - I don't see why Pearce can't be a decent earner here now, he has proven he is one of our influential leaders, more than say Feds who also reportedly earns a fair amount.

urzz1871: Agree Michael - I think he's being treated a little harshly - but of course we don't know just how far apart his (or his agent's!) and the club's valuations are.

Chartley: Still none of these incidents have been as bad as the Fae/Sonko incident from the last time we were in the prem

urzz1871: Alternatively, perhaps it's just a fact that the levels of greed, money and scrutiny in the Premier League taint everything they touch, and the club were far too naive about this earlier in the season.

Michael Wade: You've hit the nail on the head there Jon.

Jonny: Agreed with Jon - mystery injuries for Guthrie and Shorey, the first of which was feebly covered up until the evidence just got too much. Twitter hasn't really helped these matters, although Jimmy Kebe's riposte this week was one of the best things I've read in a long time!

Chartley: Are the club and Pearce still talking?

Wimb: My sources have said it's very much as a standstill. I get the feeling both parties are now just going to wait until the summer and see where the club and player see themselves going. The club wasted their chance to get him tied up by leaving his negotiations until after Federici and Karacan

Chartley: If we go down he will be off.

urzz1871: If we go down I think Karacan, Guthrie and McCarthy will be gone too- possibly some others

Finally, to wrap this up. How do you think the season will play out? Cup glory and league survival or a dire drop back to the Championship?

Michael Wade: I think the best we can hope for is to climb out of it and end around 15th. However that relies on us keeping form and other sides like Newcastle, Wigan, QPR, Villa all dropping a lot of points, not improving, having bad runs. Realistically I would like to see us go into the final game away at West Ham with a shout of staying up.

Jonny: I think it could well come down to the last game of the season, and with another visit to Upton Park I'd back us on the final day! We have six very winnable home games, and it's important not to lose any of those matches - taking points off rivals is so important. I'm far more confident than I was a month ago.

urzz1871: The FA Cup is now just a sideshow after such an appalling draw - I can see us surviving - just - but being safe before the final day of the season. Newcastle have already joined the relegation fight and I can see Norwich doing the same, so pick 3 out of QPR, Wigan, Villa, Reading, Saints, Newcastle & Norwich, which is a lot nicer than a few weeks ago. As stated by others, the home matches against those around us are absolutely critical!

Michael Wade: What put us in this position is two points from 18 against QPR, Villa, Sunderland, Wigan, Norwich and Saints. However we have all of those sides to play again, mainly at home, and those 18 plus our current 19 could virtually assure safety.

Chartley: We can stay up, our recent run has given us a good chance imho. We have to play our rivals at home which will help. We are in a purple patch but we have put runs like we need to do together before plus McDermott has learnt. Do we have the best players no but we have a good team spirit and a good attitude which will help. The West Brom showed that.

Wimb: I just can't help but feel we've given ourselves too little margin for error. To have to win 6 in 15 having won just 4 in 23 is a big, big ask. That being said we CAN do it, I just personally see more final day heartbreak ahead.

Michael Wade: Wimb, I get that feeling too.

Thanks again to all of our contributors and let us know what you think on any of the issues raised in the comments section below.