The continuing evolution of the squad
This season started with the dark clouds of financial oblivion hanging over the club. But, either despite the situation we were in or because of it, the squad has gone through massive upheaval. Some of that was forced - the sale of Adam Le Fondre couldn't come quick enough, with HMRC circling, whereas the club prudently stashed away a few million for Messrs Morrison and McCarthy. The last year has also seen several long-term servants of the club seek pastures new. With McDermott favourites Kaspars Gorkss, Jobi McAnuff, Mikele Leigertwood, Jason Roberts and more moving on, was the 2014/15 season the end of an era?
The evidence from our arrivals is a bit mixed. Only two permanent signings, Simon Cox and Oliver Norwood, made much of an impact - and the form of both dropped markedly under Steve Clarke. Looking elsewhere, you'd be forgiven for forgetting that Anton Ferdinand, Jure Travner, Yakubu and Zat Knight were signed at all.
More positively, the academy continues to flourish. As Will previously discussed in his stats analysis, Reading gave debuts to a whopping 11 youngsters, with 49% of players used this season being ones to come through the ranks in Berkshire. The likes of Craig Tanner, Jake Cooper, Jack Stacey, Aaron Kuhl, Tarique Fosu and many more besides are big prospects for the future.
To further demonstrate how far the squad has changed, here are the starting lineups from our previous two last games of the season.
Reading vs Burnley, May 2014
Subs: Federici, Gorkss, Hector, Cummings, Taylor, Robson-Kanu, Blackman.
Derby County vs Reading, May 2015
Subs: Andersen, Kelly, Cooper, Williams, Fosu, Cox, Blackman.
Looking back on the campaign just gone, Nigel Adkins could very well feel hard done by. After a 6-1 mauling at Birmingham City, the former Southampton boss was sacked - with Steve Clarke quickly installed to steer the club away from relegation danger. Looking at league form, despite early success, things soon got even worse than the original problem. In fact, before the win at Derby on 2nd May, the Royals hadn't taken three points since 10th March. The fact that we could still limp over the line with a nine-point gap (those nine points being accumulated in the last 11 games of the season) suggests that we were in a strong enough position under Nigel Adkins in the first place.
It's been discussed elsewhere, and it's pretty undeniable that any manager would struggle for success with the weak squad we have at the moment. Some of our better performers - Glenn Murray, Jamie Mackie and Nathaniel Chalobah - were all here on a short term basis, and it's unlikely we'll see any of them in a Reading shirt again. Also, casting our minds back to the first half of the season, the Nigel Adkins squad was devastated by injury. At times, we were happy to only have around 10 players unavailable.
I for one am confident in Steve Clarke as a manager, and look forward to him putting his stamp on the squad and its playing style. But, comparing his league record to his predecessor's, Nigel Adkins can look on his time at the club a little more fondly.
Some great causes... and some silly decisions
It may have been an ugly campaign on the pitch but, to its credit, the club came up with some gems off the pitch that will stick in the memory. #RyansRoyals was one such gem, and the players looked great in a special kit for a special day.
Reading FC (@ReadingFC) April 9, 2015
And on our big day out, the blue and white mosaic was something to be proud of...
Then again, there were some uses of social media that won't be forgotten. Such as this one from former Ref-Watch maestro JSK. The worry that we weren't far away from being relegated this season is quickly abated by the thought that, one day, we could have a Tilehurst End contributor called Aiyegbeni South Klein.
If Yakubu scores today, I hereby promise to name my firstborn son as Aiyegbeni. #readingfc
— Jacob South Klein (@JacobSouthKlein) February 14, 2015
People of Interest
One of the bigger issues this season is the ownership of the club - worries have circled for quite a while now, and they've been analysed to death. Interestingly however, the whole topic seemed to drop out of conversation in the closing months of the season. Although Reading on the whole appears to be on a much firmer financial footing, major questions still linger.
Despite appearances from shareholder Khunying Sasima Srivikorn, the involvement of mystery man Samrit Bunditkitsada has never been fully established. His rumoured financial stake in the club never materialised, but the signing of Anton Ferdinand (who reportedly almost moved to Bunditkitsada's Police United in Thailand) suggests some influence in Berkshire. It's also worrying that it took until the Bradford replay match for us to know what our majority shareholder - Narin Niruttinanon - looks like.
Understandably, issues of league form and cup progress took over our attention as the season went on. But, now that we're firmly focussed on the future, the ownership must come back under the spotlight. Big questions are there for the club to answer.