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2014/15 Position Preview: Strikers

Marc Mayo purveys the dearth of strikers at the club, and previews how Nigel Adkins will utilise the most limited Royals strikeforce in recent memory.

Ben Hoskins

What a difference a year makes, at this stage last year we excitedly looked at Premier League standard strikers ready to fire Reading back to the top division. Adam Le Fondre was one of the top English strikers outside the Premiership, Pavel Pogrebnyak was to provide able assistance, and the eventual return of Jason Roberts would be bolstered by Nick Blackman, an on-form Hal Robson-Kanu and some promising youngsters such as Gozie Ugwu. Last but not least, we had the possibility of reinforcements, which would come in the shape of Billy Sharp.

Not just for strikers, too, Bucks notes a similar situation in the wingers department. This meant it all looked so rosy, and Nigel Adkins espoused theories of breaking into a century of goals, which even evaded the glorious '106' team.

Granted, this turned out to be true, to an extent. The Pog had a great season, Le Fondre notched plenty, including two hat-tricks in a row, while HRK and Blackman added occasionally, as they were shifted into various positions across the front line. Of course Roberts wasn't to return, but we all secretly knew that anyway.

So now we find ourselves in a different position with our strikers. We have just the one proven goalscorer in Pavel Pogrebnyak. While he offers a great target man option with a partner, or up top alone, he'll need to stretch last seasons 13 goal tally to make up for the lack of Alfie. An injury to the Big Russian would certainly leave Reading high and dry, especially when facing weaker sides at home who sit in for the point.

Moving on to the only other first-team players we can reasonably play up front: Hal Robson-Kanu and Nick Blackman. Starting with ex-Blackburn man Blackman, and we see a striker who showed glimpses of class last Christmas, but otherwise maintained a profligacy that has sparked a rocky relationship with the fans. This clearly affects the 24 year-old, who still has time on his side, but needs to receive the backing of the fans and press on with his natural, direct game to make a positive impact this year.

Hal Robson-Kanu, who returned from injury to be somewhat underwhelming in the Wycombe friendly, only to be re-injured at Stevenage, needs to be fit. He hasn't been 100% for a while now, and will not get near to a recreation of his 2012/13 form without full fitness. On top of that, he needs to pick a position. Like Blackman, he can play up top or out wide, but unlike his team-mate he's usually played out wide.
Being shoved into the middle out of necessity occurred last season, and probably will again, but it's his public preference to be a striker that worries me. His physical presence and technique does make for a good striker, but if that doesn't turn out to be the case, HRK and his team stand to lose out. He has always been a very competent winger, showing his class on many occasions, so let's hope this isn't abandoned in a futile pursuit of striker-dom.

Last but not least, let's consider the academy prospects. The chances of Dom Samuel breaking into the first-team remain limited, after a wretched season of injury he has played in the reserve friendlies and will probably go out on loan. Joining him may be Craig Tanner, who has been on fine form for the U21s and now must gain some senior experience in the lower leagues before being worthy of a place in a Championship squad.

It is hard to be optimistic with our striker selection, as it is. The main problem is that an element of pace, via a new signing, seems way off- it looks like we'll be without signings for the start of the season if not the whole summer. With that in mind, a key injury consistent with last season's bad luck, will see us really struggle to have a dependable leader up top.

This also represents an opportunity for those I've just mentioned, it's time for someone to step up to the plate.