I'm not a frequent visitor to the Madejski stadium as I currently live in Poland (don't ask). Indeed when I went to the Brentford game on the 28th of December it was my first Reading home game since April 2014. Lots of things have changed since that time - two managers, Nigel Adkins and Steve Clarke have gone - and the atmosphere at the club is significantly different along with the players which we have at our disposal.
The change that most stands out is the way we play the game. In my 20 years as a Reading fan the dominant style that we have been known for has been one of direct wing play, tough tackling centre midfielders and two up top. In some respects then, the typical English way of playing. When it has worked it's been exhilarating, as I reminded myself recently when I re-watched the highlights of out most triumphant season - 2005/06 when Convey, Little, Doyle, Sidwell and Harper were just too good for the Championship.
Fast forward to the start of 2016 and Reading are playing a very different way. Suddenly we have players of great technical ability, and most of our best play is on the floor. Now, it's not that we haven't had technical players in the past - vide Convey, Shorey, Little and Sigurdsson - but we weren't known as a side which passes the ball in pretty circles - the idea was to get the ball up to the front players and wingers as quick as possible and play from there.
The Reading of 2015/16 is not like this - against Brentford - and the live game I watched on telly vs Wolves on Boxing day - we had a tendency to overplay to an extent that the old Reading sides wouldn't have done. Now this wouldn't be a problem if we had a cutting edge - but the players seemed to not want to take the iniative - something which we were known for in the past.
Of course Reading are in the midst of a poor run, and at the beginning of the season we seemed to get the mixture of interplay and directness right. After watching the Brentford match my views about Brian McDermott have changed somewhat. When he was appointed I was critical of the way he used tactics in the Premiership season - leading to the miserable lack of fight in the side as we went down. Now I'd actually argue that the current Reading side require someone like McDermott. Someone who understands the way the club and team has been run in the past. What we require is a sense of belief and the marrying of a direct style with the undoubtedly talented individual players (Blackman, Vydra, Norwood, Williams) that we have in the squad.
In my opinion the key is to get these talented players contributing fully on the pitch. For me the biggest conundrum is how to get the best out of Vydra. Vydra is certainly a very capable player - his interplay in the Brentford goal was superb - as was his tackle in the Bristol City game. Personally I would stick Vydra at the apex of a 4-3-3 with McCleary and Blackman on either side of him. The idea is to get Vydra to run onto through balls and McCleary and Blackman to cause havoc with their technical ability and pace. I believe that McDermott will mould a team in the next couple of months. And, if it works out, we could still make a playoff run. I hope I'm right.