It’s been a topsy-turvy run of games for Reading: THAT defeat at Norwich, the emergence of Sir Joseph Mendes against Villa, and the second-half turn around against Rotherham have undoubtedly shown a resilience from the Royals.
Fans have been quick to praise the character of the Reading squad as they bounced back from the disappointment in Norfolk, and their comeback in the banana-skin fixture on Easter Monday. Throughout these games I’ve been impressed by the character of one of the most divisive players I think we’ve had at the club in recent years: Chris Gunter. The Wales international kept his calm and represented the club well after the Norwich game on the BBC’s Football Focus. He went on to play a strong game at centre-back against Villa. Then he played one of his best games of the season against Rotherham.
The biggest thing that’s caught my attention about Gunter is that, in McShane’s absence, he’s finally shouldering the responsibility of the captaincy. I used to dread the days when Gunter wore the armband: I’m a fan, but he seemed to be nervous in the role. How times have changed.
Think back to our 1-0 win over Leeds: did anyone ever expect to see the unassuming Gunter squaring up against the hulking figure of Souleymane Doukara? Plus, there was a moment where he won a free kick in the dying stages of the game and celebrated it like he’d scored his second league goal for the club!
On Monday there was one particularly telling moment where he retrieved the ball for a free-kick near the East Stand. Gunter gestured for the crowd to make more noise – something met with some incredulity by those around me.
“**** off Gunter, how about you do something!”
Gunter did do something, setting up Swift’s winning goal. It was a perfectly timed run and cross, the kind of attacking presence that Royals fans – and his critics − have been begging Gunter to add to the team. That kind of performance, and encouragement to the fans, is a joy to behold from a previously shy player.
Although, even before now, Gunter’s critics could never accuse him of hiding his feelings when he’s on the pitch. I’ll never forget his disgusted look in response to sarcastic chants of “We’ve just scored a goal” during a poor run of form. Those moments during his Reading career visibly pained him. But now he’s playing like a captain: showing real passion and pride in his play, encouraging those in Reading shirts both on and off the pitch.
We can’t ask for more from a captain. When McShane is fit, he deserves the armband, but I hope that Gunter continues to show these leadership qualities. Of our outfield players, he’s arguably the most experienced at the top level.
What we’re seeing is the full-back who played in the semi-finals of Euro 2016. The player who played a perfect cross to set up a goal in the quarter-final. The Chris Gunter who Wales fans adore. He’s on track to be their highest ever capped player, especially if he continues to be injury-free. Gunter has always looked like a confidence player. He does his job well: when people malign his play as he passes back to the centre-back, we know he is following Stam’s conservative model.
What we as fans need to do is appreciate Gunter’s workrate, commitment, and genuine ability. He’s no world beater, but then neither was another iconic British right-back for Reading. When we support Gunter, we see his best. Let’s hope we keep getting his best for the run-in!