LEAGUE RECORD IN 2015:
Played: 46 Won: 13 Drawn: 12 Lost: 21
Points: 51 out of a possible 138. Points Per Game: 1.11
Win Percentage: 21.7%
Goals Scored: 47 Goals Against: 57 Goals Per Game: 1.02
2015 was a year where league wins where as elusive for the Royals as a proposed Russian investment. So it came as a welcome relief to all Reading fans that it was also the year where the club embarked on their most successful cup run since 1927. After having dispatched of Championship rivals Huddersfield Town, Cardiff City and high-flying Derby County, the Royals booked a third FA Cup quarter final in five years against giant killers Bradford City. Despite needing a replay to do it, Steve Clarke's men overcame Chelsea's conquerors to set up a Wembley showdown against 11-time winners Arsenal. Heroics were required across the park so as to match the Gunners' class and it was found in all areas, ranging from Adam Federici's crucial saves throughout the game to Gareth McClearly's clinical finish at the other end, which sent the Royals fans into ecstasy. Unfortunately, we all know the cruel twist in the tale that put an end to our run. But nonetheless, the class of '15, including the club's latest cult icon Yakubu, wrote themselves into Reading folklore with their Cup exploits and provided the fans with a day out to Wembley that they will never forget.
Over the past few years, many Royals fans were starting to wonder if the existence of a transfer window may have escaped the powers that be at the club. How often had fans longed for a transformative, ambitious signing or two, only for the like of Daniel Carrico or Jure Travner to be the only new arrival to supposedly whet our appetite? So imagine the unbridled optimism and joy that broke out around Berkshire this summer as Reading splashed out on an array of talent, including a joint record club transfer fee being paid to secure the services of Watford star Matej Vydra. As well as this, some prudish free transfers such as the double acquisition of Hull's Paul McShane and Stephen Quinn, saw the Royals adding some much needed Championship experience and class to a squad that could only manage a 19th place finish in the previous season. It was a breath of fresh air to see the club finally engaging in some transfer activity, after a couple of seasons trying to wade ourselves out of the financial mire that the Zingarevich era had left the club in.
Total Football at the Madejski...briefly
As this wealth of talent arrived, expectations amongst the fans had been tentatively raised. What many had marked down as yet another 'transitionary' season was suddenly being touted as a year for a possible promotion push. But would the new players settle and would performances come? The answer seemed to be an emphatic yes. The Royals' first game after the transfer window saw them tear apart Ipswich Town with an utterly scintillating display, which saw Orlando Sá net a hat-trick in a 5-1 win. Further wins followed, with an increasingly impressive brand of football on the pitch seeing promotion favourites such as Burnley and Middlesbrough being brushed aside by the Royals' newly expansive attacking style of play. After having previously experienced 10 hours without a home goal prior to the demolition of the Tractor Boys, Reading fans were now witnessing some of the best football seen at the club since the record-breaking squad of '05-'06.
Where did all the wins go?
Whereas 2015 saw the Royals embark on their greatest Cup run in over a generation, their league performance left a lot to be desired. Having racked up a win percentage of just 21.7%, Reading found themselves with one of the worst records in the Football League this calendar year. This comes as no surprise to Royals fans, who have had to sit through some terrible runs in the last 12 months. After winning away at Wolves on the 7th February, Reading managed just a further three wins from their final seventeen Championship games of the season. This season, as the Royals soared to second in the table with their win over Charlton, fans would have been forgiven for thinking that such a rut was a thing of the past. Alas, no. Once again, we find ourselves entrenched in a run of dismal form and lacklustre performances. What once looked like a team capable of mounting a serious promotion challenge, now find themselves treading water in mid-table after just two wins in their last eleven Championship outings. Finding a winning formula in the league will be Brian McDermott's tallest and most pressing order in 2016 if the feel good factor is to return to the Madejski any time soon.
The bad wasn't just happening on the pitch in 2015. While the eyes' of Royals' fans were suffering due to the uninspiring performances on the pitch, they would soon also have to be worrying about their ears. We have many things to thank our new Thai owners for. For saving us from potential financial doom. For purchasing individual FA Cup Semi Final commemorative T-shirts for each fan at Wembley. For overseeing a large-scale squad overhaul thanks to generous investment in the transfer market this Summer. Yet, one gift that did not gain the appreciation of all Royals' fans this year were the songwriting efforts of Lady Sasima. Although designed as an inspirational anthem, "They Call Us The Royals" sparked vitriolic reactions on social media, as Reading temporarily became the laughing stock of the footballing world. However, as Royal Hoops wrote, there are far worse things the new ownership could have done to the club and this song has managed to find its way into the "Bad" section purely based on a) the reaction it provoked and b) the quality of the song itself. I mean seriously, it was the sort of track that Stock, Aitken and Waterman would have turned down for being too cheesy.
The Clarke Saga
There was undoubtedly one unfortunate episode that cast a huge shadow over the second half of 2015. It was a drama that none of the fans were expecting. Steve Clarke had began to endear himself to the Reading faithful after leading the Royals to their historic Wembley appearance in April. As well as this, the new Thai ownership had given the manager the backing to carry out a personnel overhaul both on the pitch and behind the scenes, and many fans were understandably enthusiastic to see where this exciting new project was heading. So you can imagine the shock when news broke in November that Clarke had asked for permission to speak to Fulham and was on the verge of joining the West London club. Like The Clash had done before him, Clarke found himself wondering "Should I stay or should I go?". In the end, he decided to stay. Debate raged amongst the supporters, with over half of the fanbase calling for his immediate sacking. For many his position was untenable, with his seeming lack of loyalty meaning that results were needed immediately to rebuild the bridges burnt by his flirtation with Craven Cottage. Dismal defeats to Nottingham Forest and then QPR left the Board with no option but to dismiss him. It was a sad and unexpected way for the former West Brom boss to leave the club. The team were finally looking like a decent outfit and were playing some of their best football in seasons, so such a public and ugly fallout has understandably left a sour taste in the mouths of many Royals' fans.
Who were the standout performers of 2015?
In 2015, we didn't score many (ok, Blackman did for a while but he's on quite the dry spell recently)...and we conceded quite a few. So it will come as no surprise that many of our best performances this year have come in the middle of the park. Danny Williams has been a bastion of hard work and skill in the Royals' midfield, contributing to the goal tally with some incredible strikes along the way. Oliver Norwood also has been a constant for the team, with his defence splitting passes displaying his ability to drop a ball on a penny when required. He's also chimed in with his own fair share of corkers too. In terms of our new additions, the undoubted highlight has been the industrious Stephen Quinn has proved himself to be an invaluable asset in balancing out the Royals' midfield, as well as proving himself a more than capable understudy at left back in the absence of Jordan Obita.
Where does the work need to be done?
In spite of the investment made this summer in the goalkeeping department, neither the experienced Ali Al-Habsi nor the young Jonathan Bond have been able to establish themselves as a worthy successor to a long line of strong Reading No.1's. Both keepers have made clangers this season, adding sizeable pressure to a defence which seemingly has little confidence in their shot stoppers. This will be an area that McDermott will no doubt want to strengthen in January.
Outside of this, the other key issue for the Royals this year has been at the other end of the pitch. Nick Blackman was scoring for fun earlier this season, but now the goals have very much dried up. The lack of an end product is becoming a matter of great concern for the Reading fans, as is the inconsistent form of many in the final third. Some fans fear that this perceived drop in performance could be due to eyes that have began to wander towards a potential move in the upcoming January transfer window. Hal Robson-Kanu does not seem to have taken to leading the line, Orlando Sá seems to be in exile after falling behind Rowan Liburd in the pecking order and Matej Vydra looks to be severely lacking the confidence that saw him tearing apart Championship defences on a regular basis for Watford. A more prolific and determined strike force will be a vital facet of any potential upturn in Reading's form.
To Sum Up...
The Royals only picked up 51 points from 46 games this year. That's a full season's worth of outings and a tally that would see the team finish in the bottom six of the table in each of the last six seasons, including relegation on one of those occasions. The talent is undoubtedly there in the squad, and the job of Brian McDermott must now be to turn what looks at times like a group of eleven individuals into a team that can fulfil its undeniable potential. This may be another transitionary year with plenty of hurdles to overcome before we can realistically think about challenging for the playoffs or maybe more. But under the stewardship of a manager who has already done this all before, there is still cause for optimism amongst the Reading faithful that 2016 should be a significant improvement on its predecessor.