It's been a weird year for Reading FC, hasn't it? 2015 started with a degree of optimism after the arrival of Steve Clarke in December 2014, before a magical cup run saw the Royals scare the living daylights out of Arsenal at Wembley. The poor league form in the background was, for a time, put to bed not long into the 2015/16 campaign, but eventually reappeared in recent weeks.
Throughout all of that, we've had some truly stunning strikes to enjoy from Reading players - throughout the calendar year. In fact, there's been so many contenders for our 'Best Reading Goal of 2015' award that you're bound to have forgotten a few gems (anyone remember Chalobah vs Sheffield Wednesday?). Because of that, I've split this piece up into a couple of categories - individual strikes, team goals, set pieces and important goals (not necessarily the best in themselves, but the context made them truly special). With all that in mind, I'll crack on.
One of the favourites here is, in fact, our most recent goal - Danny Williams' belter against Blackburn last Sunday. The ball was deftly flicked on by Hal Robson-Kanu, with the American powering his way past his man. With the ball in mid-air in the inside right channel, Williams crashed a volley across and over Jason Steele into the far top corner. What a way to mark the start of Brian McDermott's second spell at the club!
Our next strike is, well, phenomenal. Ipswich were already well beaten by this point, but Oliver Norwood's torpedo made September's game against the Tractor Boys into a rout. After David McGoldrick had lost the ball in midfield, the ball eventually found its way to Norwood, whose shot was too much for the Ipswich goalie.
Nick Blackman's had a terrific start to this season. Having been written off as recently as last summer, the ex-Sheffield United forward suddenly looks like a top prospect. If any goal showed that, it was this wonderful exhibit against Rotherham. Picking the ball up from Oliver Norwood's pass (assist of the year anyone?), Blackman lashed home from distance.
If the last section was the brawn of Reading strikes, this is the brain. Well-crafted team goals show an impressive level of chemistry and footballing intelligence. Popping up again, Nick Blackman earned national acclaim for capping off this move, which looks like it came straight out of La Masia. Mere words cannot do it justice - enjoy...
This next one comes from a game that was pretty representative of Reading's 2015/16 campaign thus far - the infamous 4-2 loss at Fulham. Starting off really rather well before tailing off depressingly, it was an afternoon to forget. On the other hand, Reading's opener was counter attacking football at its best. Matej Vydra starts the move from deep, before laying off to Orlando Sa on the left wing. The Portuguese striker charges down the flank and crosses for Vydra, who slides in Lucas Piazon for the finish. Lovely stuff.
We go back to Reading's first home win of 2015/16 when Ipswich were the visitors, and on the end of a 5-1 mauling. On his way to a hat-trick, Orlando Sa capped off another precise counter attack by slotting home from distance. Oliver Norwood had set Matej Vydra forward from his pass, with the Czech galloping through the middle to supply Sa. OK, it wasn't the most intricate of moves, but the speed at which Reading went from defence to attack was deadly enough.
It was at this moment that you started to believe in Nick Blackman (it was also when his famous chant came into life). Coincidentally, Reading's first win of the 2015/16 campaign came on this day - a grey afternoon at Griffin Park. After Orlando Sa had opened the scoring, Nick Blackman hit a rocket from the inside right channel to send the away fans into raptures.
The other contender here is, surprise surprise, from Oliver Norwood. Before Nick Blackman started hitting the postage stamp from 30+ yards, the ex-Terrier frequently had free-kick duties. In contrast to Blackman's use of power, Norwood often finds a way to squirm the ball past the goalie from the most ridiculous angles. Exhibit A...
These moments come, unsurprisingly, exclusively from the glorious cup run of January to April, when Reading stormed to the semi-finals. The belief really started to grow in the 5th round, when the Royals surprisingly knocked out high-flying Derby County at the iPro. With the scores at 1-1, new-signing (and inevitable flop) Yakubu popped up to barge his way through the County defence before slamming home a finish into the bottom corner.
Side note - @JacobSouthKlein won't forgive me for reminding everyone of this but, well, we can't allow this beauty to be forgotten, can we?
If Yakubu scores today, I hereby promise to name my firstborn son as Aiyegbeni. #readingfc— Jacob South Klein (@JacobSouthKlein) February 14, 2015
Carrying on chronologically, we come to my personal moment of the year. 2-0 up and cruising, Reading were in jubilant mood at home to Bradford in the FA Cup replay. The atmosphere was electric in the Mad Stad and the Royals were on their way to Wembley - all it needed was a cherry on top of the cake...
Yup, this was wonderful. Having well-earned their place at Wembley, Reading were battling it out with Arsenal for a spot in the final. And, to our credit, we thoroughly looked like getting there - all we needed, after Alexis Sanchez' opener, was an equaliser. And that came in rather hashed fashion from Garath McCleary, but right in front of tens of thousands of Loyal Royals.
So, that completes my nominees! There really have been some terrific strikes in 2015, right up to the very end of the calendar year. Which goal was your favourite though? Vote in our poll, leave us a comment below or tweet us @TheTilehurstEnd using the hashtag #BestReadingGoal2015.