Ryan Edwards (released, free agent)
Already in squad:
Garath McCleary, Hal Robson-Kanu, Nick Blackman, Jack Stacey, Tarique Fosu
What has previously been a strength for Reading Football Club has become a bit of a conundrum. From the days of the lightning quick and tricky Jimmy Kebe and Jobi McAnuff just a few years ago to the days of the inconsistent yet still capable Garath McCleary and the infuriating Hal Robson-Kanu, Steve Clarke may need to dip into the transfer market to strengthen this area—or are the two academy products able to make an impact?
Garath McCleary: The only thing Reading have close to a 'superstar' in their squad, Garath McCleary has the 'wow' factor but last season lacked the end product required to be truly effective. During the 2013/14 season McCleary scored 5 goals and managed an impressive 11 assists, last season only the one goal and just the four assists. A big drop in output, which could be down to the back injury and surgery he went through a year ago. He'll be one of the first names on the team sheet, but Steve Clarke will demand much more from him. If not, he could lose his place.
Hal Robson-Kanu: The ever-divisive Hal Robson-Kanu will likely start the season as first-choice left winger to the ire of many a Reading fan. Robson-Kanu has all the tools at his disposal to be a decent winger, but as yet he's yet to utilise them. His brightest stint in a Reading shirt was during the 2012/13 Premier League season, which led many to believe he'd finally done it—wrong. Robson-Kanu has a lot to prove this season and with one particular youngster vying for his position on the wing, he's got more reason than ever.
Nick Blackman: The man with "nothing to prove" has, actually, got everything to prove this season. The striker-cum-winger will most likely vie with McCleary for a spot on the right wing but has yet to really impress in a Reading shirt. You'd hope this could be put down to the fact that he arrived at the Madejski Stadium as a striker, but whenever he plays in that position he fails to convince. He scored an absolute belter against Swansea and has been bigging himself up in the press, but can he really get that spot on the right wing long-term?
Jack Stacey: Jack Stacey broke into the first team towards the end of last season and has clearly impressed Clarke, but the one criticism of the academy graduate is, as evidenced in his six appearances in the Championship last season, his lack of outstanding attributes. He's not the fastest, nor is he the trickiest, nor the strongest, but he is good at a number of things. Whether this acts as a pro or a con will be down to how he acclimatises this season. He's got a fight on his hand, especially considering he's ruled out with an injury for the beginning of the season.
Tariqe Fosu: After his outstanding debut against Derby, fans are getting excited about the potential of this 19-year-old. The club tied him down to a long-term deal in the summer and in the absence of McCleary and Robson-Kanu during pre-season, Fosu has been doing his best to stake his claim to start the season as a first-choice winger. It looks like he may just do it, but fans will be hoping his performances aren't a flash in the pan and the youngster is the real deal.
The others: Jordan Obita graduated from the academy as a left winger, but has been converted to a left back and won Reading Player of the Season in the 2013/14 season in the position. He could be moved back to the left wing, but with the competition further forward and the absolute lack of any other options at left back, Obita may be hoping a new defender is brought in before he's considered for the left wing spot. New signing Stephen Quinn has been stationed on the left during pre-season, though at this stage its hard to tell whether this is down to lack of options or a new tactic Steve Clarke has conjured up. You wouldn't think he'd be first choice for the left wing spot once everyone's available. Simon Cox also got a few minutes on the left against Espanyol, but again this seems like an emergency move rather than anything else. Academy graduates Jake Taylor and Craig Tanner are seen primarily as attacking midfielders/strikers, but they could be called upon for the wing spots if we're hit with another injury crisis.
You'd imagine Garath McCleary and Hal Robson-Kanu will be the first choice wing pairing for the coming season, though a lack of form and/or consistency will open the door for the likes of Blackman, Fosu and Stacey to break in and make a name for themselves.
Steve Clarke has said he's on the lookout for a few more signings before the window closed and despite the emergence of Fosu and Stacey, you'd probably like a more senior winger to vie with McCleary, Robson-Kanu and Blackman for a spot on the wing.
What do you make of the options for the wing? Are they good enough to mount a serious promotion push or does Clarke need to move in the market? Let us know in the comments below.