What a difference a summer makes. The doom and gloom surrounding Reading's end of season struggles have been quickly forgotten and sweeping changes at the club have brought about a wave of positivity ahead of the 2014/15 campaign. Two months ago the prospect of losing Jem Karacan, Alex Pearce and Adam Federici – players with over 500 appearances for the club between them – filled supporters with dread and had some pundits talking about the possibility of demotion to the third tier.
But thanks to generous backing from the owners Steve Clarke has been allowed to act quickly and decisively in reshaping Reading's playing squad and has secured the signing of players he feels will take the club forward. Clarke has been allowed the freedom to completely overhaul the coaching staff with even the physio and kit man being replaced and for the most part fans have been left impressed with the way he has gone about his business.
Let's not get carried away though. Reading were well off the pace for large parts of last season with a squad that could and should have done better. Two wins in 16 league games between February 10 and April 28 is relegation form and there was a feeling that had the season gone on any longer Reading might well have gone down.
Now it feels like a chance to start over, and with one era of Reading players having moved on, another is emerging. Led by tenacious defender Michael Hector, Reading fans can realistically expect to see the likes of Jake Cooper, Niall Keown, Tarique Fosu and Dominic Samuel given opportunities to break into the first team picture next season. Alongside the experience of new arrivals Paul McShane, Stephen Quinn and Ali Al Habsi and regulars Danny Williams, Jordan Obita, Chris Gunter and Garath McCleary the squad now has a more balanced feel to it.
Hector will benefit from the experience of playing alongside McShane, an international with experience of promotion at this level, while Williams and Quinn could prove to be an excellent pairing in central midfield. Jonathan Bond - an England Under-21 international – arrives from Watford having experienced promotion to the Premier League to complete a new look goalkeeping unit that includes former Chelsea and Wimbledon stopper Dave Beasant as coach.
There is reason to believe one or two loan signings could be added from the Premier League with teenage Chelsea striker Dominic Solanke one of the names mentioned. The cause for optimism is genuine but ultimately only results in the Championship will decide whether this squad is actually capable of achieving anything.
The opening month sees Reading play Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Brentford, all sides who have also experienced upheaval and change this summer but it is the first competitive game of the new season that gives the Royals an opportunity to lay down a marker and show progress.
Reading begin the new campaign at Birmingham - the scene of a 6-1 defeat in mid-December which led to the arrival of Clarke. What better place to start a new journey and showcase how much progress has been made in a short space of time.