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Pog: playground fad from the 90's, Championship striker or soon to be former Reading player?

One of the biggest disappointments from last season (and there were many...) had to be the tiny goal return from much heralded signing Pavel Pogrebnyak. The Russian international found the net just five times in the league last season, only one more than he'd managed in a single game for Fulham during his loan spell the previous year. Now it seems the big Russian could be off to pastures new but should we do more to keep him or is it time to say goodbye?

Ben Hoskins

The expectations

Few Reading signings have generated as much excitement as that of Pogrebnyak. Signed on a free from Stuttgart, the 6ft 2 Russian was seen as the big name signing we needed to really have a decent shot at staying up. 'The Pog' had just come back from a prolific loan spell with Fulham where he'd scored six in twelve and as a regular in a good Russian International side, few complained at his arrival.

There was constant press speculation about his wages, with many claiming he'd smashed the clubs previously prudent wage structure, with figures between £20,000 and £60,000 being bandied about. While getting him on a free was great business, the fact he was costing us between £1m and £3m a year in wages added to the expectations.

One of other the big problems for Pog was that as the summer wore on, it was fast becoming apparent that he would be our only big name capture and as the other leads on players like Defoe, Long, Sigurdsson, Austin dried up, Pog became more and more the focus and embodiment of our survival hopes.

The early performances

The early signs were pretty good for Pogrebnyak.

He played well and scored during our final dress-rehearsal against Crystal Palace and followed that up with a goal in his first away start, a terrific header at Chelsea. Pog soon had his third goal in four games when he found the net against Peterborough in the League Cup and by the time he scored against Swansea on October 6th, he'd scored four competitive goals in his first eight games for the club and five in nine if you included the Palace game.


That's not to say he was without his critics. While he did have four goals, just two had come in the Premier League and despite his size and stature, he wasn't quite as adept at holding up the ball as many had hoped. While he could certainly finish, he wasn't great at creating chances for himself and with Reading struggling to adapt to the Premier League, many wanted a little more from the Russian.

The struggles begin

As Reading's form began to fall apart, Pog became more and more ineffective. Brian McDermott pushed the panic button as October ended, giving Jason Roberts, Noel Hunt and Adam Le Fondre plenty of game time and Reading's midfield soon consisted of Jay Tabb and Mikele Leigertwood.

Pogrebnyak soon found himself benched, starting just one game between October 30 and December 22nd.

Reading were soon looking more and more certain for the drop as Christmas rolled around and Pog's only goal after the Swansea away game on October 6th came during the crazy 7-5 defeat to Arsenal in the League Cup.

Back with a bang

Finally Brian McDermott went back to 4-5-1 and Pog was reintroduced as the lone frontman with positive results. The Russian smashed three in three including goals against West Ham, West Brom and Tottenham as Reading snuck clear of the relegation places. Suddenly he was giving us value for money and a key part of our survival challenge. He was still getting little in the way of chances and creating fewer, but results were all that mattered.

The final comedown

You know how this story ends.... Reading's form nose-dived and the beginning of the end saw a starring role for Pogrebnyak who was shown a straight red for a horrible tackle in a 3-0 home defeat to Wigan. Pog would go on to make seven more appearances as the season came to a close but didn't find the net and cut an isolated figure in an otherwise rejuvenated side under Nigel Adkins.

Good player in a poor team or poor player in a poor team?

As the inquests continue some have turned their frustrations towards Pogrebnyak, Five goals over a Premier League season was a poor return and many now want the Russian as far away from the club as possible.

However, owner Anton Zingarevich, who was a big factor in Pog choosing Reading, believes that Pog was a victim of being in a poor side, telling a Russian newspaper back in May.

"Regarding his five goals, Pogrebnyak can be blamed the least. Yes, he couldn't score some chances but the team couldn't create a single chance for him during some games.

Is there much merit to that argument?

Well the stats do support Anton's view. In 29 league appearances last season, Pog had just 33 shots on goal, so a little over one shot a match. That's a staggeringly low total for a player who was up front all of last year and started 26 of those 29 games. Of those 33 shots, 15 were on target and of course five found the net.

For comparison, Adam Le Fondre had 55 shots in the Premier League despite playing 1,488 minutes compared to Pog's 2,033. In such circumstances it's easy to see why Le Fondre finished with 12 goals, especially when 3 came from the penalty spot.

On the other hand, while Pog scored six times in just 953 minutes for Fulham he still had just 19 attempts on goal, a pace which would have given him roughly the same number of attempts as he had at Reading last season. Those six goals also came from just seven shots on target, so perhaps suggesting that Pog prefers quality chances over quantity.

Go back further and his league shots to game stats at Stuttgart were 10 in 14, 44 in 26 and 34 in 28 so it's not as if Pog has ever been given, or taken any more than two attempts a game. Again, he's either very picky, or has just played in struggling sides.

The skills (or lack of)

While he missed one or two golden chances (Fulham at home springs to mind) it's hard to dispute Pog's finishing prowess. His finishes against Chelsea and West Ham were top class and he showed his poaching instincts in games like QPR in the cup and against Spurs in the League.

He doesn't have pace but isn't quick, and while he doesn't have strength he isn't weak either. He just seems to fit into a bit of a middling area with most skills and perhaps that's why he gets so much stick, he just doesn't stand out. As mentioned in the expectations, you look at this giant Russian and you expect him to be a brute, a player capable of winning plenty in the air and battering teams down in the same way as a Drogba, Lukaku or a Jason Roberts. Pog proved this year that he just isn't that player, he doesn't have the aerial skills and he doesn't have the burst of power to get past top quality defenders. Pog also isn't a Le Fondre, he doesn't sit on the last man waiting for a chance and won't get into those positions to arrive late and get chances like Alfie does.

So what is Pog? Again I'd argue just a solid 7/10 player in most departments.

Now that may not be good enough for the Premier League and it certainly isn't good enough as the lone striker in a poor side but is it good enough for the Championship? I'd suggest so.

The future

Pog's future remains very much up in the air. Zingarevich confirmed he's got a clause that allows him to leave the club but what that clause is and how it's activated remains a mystery. There has been constant speculation about a return to Russia, while the latest reports say that Pog may even cancel his own contract to leave the club.

On the pitch and the fact that Pog was overlooked for Le Fondre in the club's final pre-season game against Swansea wasn't a positive omen for his Reading prospects and with Jason Roberts on the mend, the club may well decide to cut their losses and let the Russian go.

Personally I'd like to see him stay and have a crack at the Championship. With Reading's midfield now better behind him and the defences in front of him substantially weaker, Pog could well be an effective force in this division and if his confidence grows who knows what type of player we could have on our hands? I understand the argument that maybe he's just not built for an Adkins side and that his wages might be better spent elsewhere but personally I'd like to see if there is a decent striker lurking behind the goal-shy forward we saw fall from grace last season.

But let us know your thoughts? Should we keep him, get rid or only sell if the offer's too good to refuse?