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5 Things - 2014

2014 was a long, hard year in Berkshire; failure on the pitch has been compounded by worries off it. Bucks Royals wraps up the last twelve months with his five things from 2014.

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1) Back from the brink?

2014 was a Rollercoaster ride for Reading's financial fortunes. The year started with no signings arriving at the club in the January transfer window, but key players were somehow retained. With a seemingly endless list of potential suitors hovering around the club (Richard Iribarne, Mohit Burman and Teddy Sagi anyone?), failure to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking plunged the club into a desperate state of affairs in the summer. Veterans McAnuff, Leigertwood and Gorkss were all released, whilst Adam Le Fondre was quickly sold to pay off a looming tax bill.

It also became clear that matters behind the scenes were far less straightforward than may have been expected. The involvement of groups like the Vibrac Corporation in the running of the club was unsettling, and links between Chris Samuelson (brought in by Anton Zingarevich) and the mysterious Phoenix Consortium that tried to buy Reading were troubling also. Fast-forward to New Year's Eve and, although the club appears to be in safe hands, the makeup of the ownership and unclarified involvement of Samrit Bunditkitsada implies that this saga still has a long way to run.

2) You just might win something with kids

On the flipside, 2014 was one of the best years in the team's history for youth progress. Following on from success in the Youth Cup and the u21 Premier League last season, this campaign has seen more academy players make a first-team debut than any other. The likes of Aaron Kuhl, Aaron Tshibola and Craig Tanner, not to mention earlier graduates like Jordan Obita and Michael Hector, all have big futures in the game.

Despite losing 3-2 and being knocked out of the competition, Reading's FA Youth Cup semi-final second leg against Fulham showed off the next batch to a wider audience, being broadcast live on ITV4.

3) The end of the experiment?

With the appointment of Steve Clarke in December following Nigel Adkins' sacking, it appears that the use of 'Adkins football' is at an end in Berkshire. Despite having more than a year and a half to implement his style of play, Reading's squad never looked comfortable with dominating possession in order to win games. The arrival of Steve Clarke, whose time at West Brom showed a more direct brand of football, suggests a move towards tactics more commonly seen during Brian McDermott's time at the club.

4) Some dreadful days at the office

I don't think that there are many calendar years in our recent history with the same amount of embarassing results as 2014. It was far from a dreadful performance, but the last day of the 2013/14 season saw the Royals yet again denied Playoff success by Burnley, and the spontaneous pitch invasion far from helped. That season's success was largely derailed by poor home form after back-to-back January hammerings of Bolton and Blackpool. I was fortunate enough to not be one of the 18,697 who watched Reading fail to beat an 8 man Yeovil side in March, but sadly witnessed the Royals being soundly beaten 3-1 at home by Barnsley. For context, both of those sides would go on to be relegated. Also, batterings later in the season at Bournemouth and Wigan showed just how limp and lifeless Reading could be last season when they really set their minds to it.

5) An ever-changing squad

It's interesting to see just how far the Reading squad has evolved in the last 12 months. This was the team that Nigel Adkins put out against Nottingham Forest on New Year's Day 2014...

Subs: Federici, Keown, Sweeney, Akpan, Taylor, Drenthe, Le Fondre

Although most of those players have been retained, the makeup of the side has changed a lot. Injuries and poor form have knocked the likes of Williams, Guthrie, McCleary and Pogrebnyak out of the side in recent months, whilst Nick Blackman hasn't really kicked on since his man of the match award that day. On a financial side, the club were forced into selling Adam Le Fondre in the summer, before McCarthy and the team found a QPR offer too good to turn down, with the goalkeeper into the last year of his contract. Financial worries were also aroused by the failure to keep another in the lineup that day, Billy Sharp. With the Southampton loanee being expected to sign permanently in January, funded by Russian cash, the inability of the club to do so was one of the first major indications that something was seriously wrong behind the scenes.