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OPINION: Reading FC Expectations v Reality

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While Reading fans are searching for answers following a five-game winless run has the most obvious explanation been in front of us all along?

Six weeks ago it was easy to get caught up in a rising wave of positivity around Reading Football Club. On the pitch we were beating all comers, dispatching three of last year's play-off teams, winning at a relegated Premier League side and nudging our way into the automatic promotion places for the first time in years, Things were so positive that even myself as a renowned Reading pessimist forked out  a good forty quid on us to win the whole damn league.

Fast forward six weeks or so and things look a bit different.

Reading are now 10 points behind the top two and only 11 ahead of the bottom three. While I can't see relegation being much of a threat this season, the prospect of us reaching 80+ points is also looking a little bit shakier by the game. So how have we gone from plotting trips to Anfield and the Emirates to sulking away from the Madejski unable to beat Huddersfield?

The initial explanations are injuries and bad luck.

The bad luck front points to the fact that we average the most shots and the fewest shots conceded in the division yet sit eighth. The basic law of averages would suggest that should such trends continue that results will improve but the fact that we're just 17th in terms of shots inside the box perhaps points to a bigger problem on the creative front.

That issue hasn't been helped by a growing injury list. The past couple of months have seen Stephen Quinn, Hal Robson-Kanu and Aaron Tshibola all succumb to serious injuries and none of the three are likely to be fit again until the new year. Quinn was the dynamic engine that we missed last year, Robson-Kanu a utility winger who was finally showing much teased potential and Tshibola was one of the best central midfielders to have emerged from the youth system since Jem Karacan and Gylfi Sigurdsson burst on to the scene.

Throw in niggles to Matej Vydra and Paul McShane plus suspension to Orlando Sa and we've had to employ plenty of starting XI's patched up with a rotating cast of squad players. It's that fact that perhaps explains just why we're struggling....

Perhaps the squad just isn't as good as we thought.

Steve Clarke made a raft of signings this summer. Orlando Sa, Paul McShane, Stephen Quinn, Paolo Hurtado, Lucas Piazon, Andrew Taylor, Jonathan Bond, Ali Al-Habsi, Alex Fernandez, Ola John and Matej Vydra all arrived at the club while Adam Federici, Mikkel Andersen, Alex Pearce, Stephen Kelly, Danny Guthrie, Jem Karacan, Hope Akpan and Pavel Pogrebnyak were chief among the departures.  The question we have to ask now is how much the squad actually improved, especially when our current injuries are taken into account.

Both Quinn and McShane have proved good purchases and upgrades but elsewhere it's a lot more open for debate. The two goalkeepers have both had flappy moments while Taylor has been solid but far from spectacular. Piazon and John have failed to find any sort of consistency while Vydra and Sa have both been hit and miss. Most worryingly, Fernandez and Hurtado have managed just 185 minutes between them.

So while our starting XI when fully fit may have made some good strides forward, is the squad really so much better than the one that combined to finish last season in 19th position?

Most of our pre-season and early campaign optimism was based on the fact that we seemed to have so much more depth than last year should injuries strike but if that depth continues to flounder than you've got to take a very different outlook.

So should we be moaning that we've fallen behind the top two or positive that we're in touch with the play-off places?

I'll leave you to compare Clarke's first team with his most recent one and allow you to make up your mind up on where our expectations should be heading out of the break.

v Watford (December 2014)

Federici, Obita, Pearce, Hector, Gunter, Norwood, Williams, Blackman, McCleary, Cox, Murray - SUBS: Andersen, Kelly, Cummings, Cooper, Taylor, Tanner, Stacey

v Cardiff (November 2015)

Al-Habsi, Taylor, Ferdinand, Hector, Gunter, Norwood, Fernandez, John, Blackman, Vydra, Sa  - SUBS: Bond, Cooper, Obita, McCleary, Hurtado, Williams, Libburd