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Is this the dark before the dawn for Reading FC?

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It's safe to say that our guest writer Neil Maskell's match report and player ratings from this weekend's mauling up at Nottingham Forest has divided our readership. For some it's an overly negative and harsh assessment of a team in transition yet for others it's a welcome breath of fresh air to cut through the PR coming form the club. The question is which opinion and to which degree should we buy into?

Mike Hewitt

Before we delve too far into opinion and conjecture, let's look at the solid facts here. Reading so far have four points from four games and while that's hardly a statement of intent, it is the same number of points we had at this stage during our title winning season in 2011/12 and one more than we'd earned in 2002/03 when we went on to also achieve a play-off place.

With that being said, there's also been one other occasion where we've also stuttered to such an extent early on and that was during the 2009/10 campaign under Brendan Rodgers and for me this is where the inspiration for this very piece comes from.

If we look at the two campaigns it's hard not to notice the similarities.

  • Second season after relegation from the Premier League - check
  • Top goalscorer from the previous season sold - check
  • The release of a long-term captain and several veterans - check
  • A summer that's seen relatively few signings until late in the window - check
  • Club captain starting the season injured - check
  • Academy products thrown in at the deep end - check
  • Newish manager trying to change the playing style - check

I don't want to turn this into yet another look back at the Rodgers era, that's been done plenty here and elsewhere, but we all know how long he lasted when presented with the above parameters.

Like Nigel Adkins, Rodgers also had to endure a heavy early season defeat on the road, with that coming in a 3-0 defeat up at Newcastle. However, much like Adkins, Rodgers didn't exactly have too much experience to call on - here's the two sides.

2009 - Federici, Rosenior, Bertrand, Pearce, Cisse, Tabb, Kebe, Karacan, Davies, Long, Church

2014 - Federici, Gunter, Cummings, Pearce, Hector, Kuhl, Taylor, Obita, Blackman, Edwards, Cox

For me, the interesting part is to look at the side that ended that 2009/10 season, so here's Brian McDermott's team that smashed Preston 4-1.

2010 - Federici, Griffin, Bertrand, Mills, Pearce, Tabb, Howard, Kebe, McAnuff, Sigurdsson, Long

Over the course of that season we gradually evolved, replacing those who were either stale (Rosenior/Cisse), not quite good enough (Davies/Church) or the too inexperienced (Karacan) to build a team that was in Championship winning form over the final few weeks of that year and would go on to reach Wembley a season later.

If you're on the positive side of the coin, then it's almost certain that Nigel Adkins knows that similar changes are needed to turn his team into promotion contenders. I have no doubt some of those named up at Forest will have big parts to play but through both the transfer market and physio room, Nige will have plenty of room to build a side over the next 42 league games.

With Stephen Kelly, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Williams, Jem Karacan, Danny Guthrie, Garath McCleary, Pavel Pogrebnyak, Jamie Mackie, Hal Robson-Kanu and Oliver Norwood all set to be available by the end of October, Reading could field a very, very different side come the final two thirds of the campaign.

On top of that, we're giving vital experience to plenty of Academy products and it's been pleasing to see how players such as Aaron Kuhl and Jake Taylor are making such positive contributions already. It's too early to label them the next Karacans or Sigurdssons but with Kuhl in particular it's evident there's plenty of quality there.

When that injury list is added to the knowledge that fresh investment is coming into the club via profits on the Sean Morrison deal and the takeover by the Thai Consortium, is it really fair to make too many judgements so early?

Sadly there is an argument to say, yes yes there is.

While the list I've mentioned above is certainly a good looking one on paper, it's sadly fraught with players that haven't proved they can stay fit over an entire campaign or in other cases prove that they're consistent enough to take the club up another level.

Stephen Kelly was woeful enough at left-back to be dropped for an untested Jordan Obita, Ferdinand hasn't played for anyone in nearly a year while Williams, Karacan and Guthrie have all missed giant chunks of the last few years with various injuries.

McCleary's back injury is serious enough that we won't know how long it'll take him to return to form while Norwood and Mackie are still in their early days at the club and will take time to settle in.

In Pog I'm sure you'll get a decent shift every week but who knows how his body holds up while being the only target man at the club and Hal Robson-Kanu has gone alarmingly backwards since his breakout half-season in the Premier League.

So while you can sit there and say 'oh we've got players to come back' until we see them on the field and actually performing it's still a case of maybe rather than a certainty that things will get better.

You also worry about the damage to the confidence of some of the younger players if they have to endure more afternoons like Saturday. It took the likes of Alex Pearce a while to rebound after some of the pains of that 2009/10 season while others like Scott Davies just never really found their feet.

Likewise, will the new owners have the patience to give Nigel Adkins the time to build a squad? As we've seen above Brendan Rodgers was given less than six months to impose his own style of play and while the new owners are suggesting they're fully in support of Adkins, the same noises were said by Anton Zingarevich about Brian McDermott, only for Brian to get the Axe just over 12 months later.

History is also littered with clubs that are seemingly 'rebuilding' only to suffer further plunges down the table. Southampton, Charlton, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United and Norwich are all examples of clubs who've tasted the third tier just a handful of seasons removed from playing in the Premier League while many of those clubs have also endured ownership changes in that timeframe.

So should we be optimistic or pessimistic?

Personally I'm still leaning towards the positive side of the coin.

I think we're inevitably going to have to put up with some very frustrating afternoons but with the ownership situation finally nearing its end game and a massive list of experienced and good Championship players to return to the squad, I can't see this team being in the bottom half come May.

Sure there's reasons to be concerned and without careful management this could all go horribly wrong but after working under such tight restraints for 18 months, Nigel Adkins has earned the chance to build a side in his own image and try and replicate the same successes he's had at Bangor, Scunthorpe and Southampton.

So what say you Tilehurst End readers, is this the dark before the dawn, or is this the dawn of the darkness?