Just over a year ago, I took a look at the problems that Reading were having on the left wing. To recap, Jobi McAnuff had recently left the club and it was becoming evident from the first few weeks of the season that Nigel Adkins was having trouble replacing him. It seems like Steve Clarke is having a similar problem now.
What's the issue?
After arriving from Hull City on a free in the summer, Stephen Quinn had been in delightful form. Although he provided an attacking threat down the left wing, it was his all-round game that impressed me the most. Unlike most other wingers at the club, he's a tough-tackling, tenacious prospect that looks after those around him. I don't think it's any coincidence that Oliver Norwood and Danny Williams have been so impressive this term - Quinn's work-rate means that we're often effectively playing with three central midfielders.
Plus, he's had a big effect on his flank partner Jordan Obita, whose job has been made a lot better by the presence of the experienced Irishman. One of the big factors in the impressive form that Obita showed during his break-out season was having a Mr Reliable ahead of him. McAnuff took a lot of flak from the fan-base for a lack of goals, but he certainly did a great job of protecting and supporting the academy graduate.
Where do we go from here?
Quinn's injury is a big spanner in the works. He was one of the first names on the team sheet when he was fit but the man who's seemingly replaced him in the side, Lucas Piazon, hasn't fully convinced. So, if not Piazon, who else can Steve Clarke turn to whilst Quinn is unavailable? My first choice pick would have been Hal Robson-Kanu, whose improved form and experience on the left should have made him the natural choice but, well, irony struck and he's also been ruled out for a couple of weeks. I'm also excluding Paolo Hurtado who we haven't really seen enough of to judge properly. That said, without further ado, let's take a look at the options.
Before you interject - no, I'm not suggesting we play Tshibola on the left wing - centre midfielders playing out wide doesn't often work (see Steve McClaren's choice of playing Frank Lampard as a left winger against Spain as a particularly bad example). But the academy graduate would be a good bet if Steve Clarke decided to forego the whole wingers thing and play some kind of compact 4-3-3. That'd certainly give Norwood and Williams some help, and judging by the Fulham game, they could use it.
I don't think Steve Clarke likes that system very much though, and Reading don't tend to look at their best without using the wings. File this option under 'interesting, but unlikely to happen'.
I'm a fan of Ola John - pace, power and a willingness to run at the opposition are all exciting traits in a winger. But really, that misses the point. If Steve Clarke was after an attacking option down the left flank, John would probably be a shoe-in. Instead, the requirement above all is to be a good prospect all round. The Dutchman attracted accusations of laziness at his parent club Benfica, and on the evidence I've seen, I find it hard to contest those criticisms. Throw him on in the dying stages of a game sure, but he doesn't have the defensive side to offer us what Quinn does.
As it happens, Nick Blackman was my choice for McAnuff's replacement on the left wing last year. Not only is he a left footer (like Quinn, and unlike McAnuff), but he does also have a better grasp of the defensive aspect of a winger's job than, say, Ola John or Lucas Piazon. Taking that all in isolation would suggest he's the logical choice, but a lot's happened to the Football Genius in the last few months, let alone the last year.
Why Steve Clarke insists on playing his best striker, the league's top goalscorer, on the right wing is beyond me. Yes, against teams like Middlesbrough or Burnley we need him to show some positional discipline and drop back to protect Chris Gunter, but doing so restricts his attacking impact. Blackman, when unrestricted, does damage in the final third, so for me he's not the man for this task.
The Jamaican is almost perfect for this task. Unlike all the above, he's a) naturally a winger b) protects his full back and c) isn't best deployed in another position. Well, technically not. Although he is indeed a winger, we don't often see the ex-Forest man anywhere apart from on the right. Maybe he could do a good job as a direct replacement for Stephen Quinn, but his inexperience on that side of the pitch for me makes it a risky move.
Which brings me onto my pick - Jordan Obita. The academy graduate, who's been plying his trade at left back ever since Nigel Adkins thought to play him there, did of course use to be a left winger. He made the switch so well that, after only about a month, 75% of you thought he should make the move a permanent one. So why reverse the change?
I think the experience that Obita's picked up at left back has been valuable in making him a better all-round player. Previously, we thought of him as an exciting creative player, but being part of a back four has taught him the importance of positioning and awareness, not to mention the importance of a defending. Letting him apply that knowledge in a more advanced role, whilst unchaining him from some of his defensive duties, could mean that Reading end up with, like Quinn, a well-rounded player who's naturally suited to the position.
Plus, it would hardly be a case of throwing him in at the deep end. Not only is he fairly familiar with that job, but he'd also have a seasoned veteran in Andrew Taylor to support him. Sure, it might not work, but wouldn't it be worth trying?
Do you agree with Bucks? Is Jordan Obita the man for the job or is he best left where he is in the team? Vote in our poll below and leave us a comment.