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A Midfield That Can Inspire The Royals

The Inspector believes our midfield trio of Swift, Evans and Williams can emulate one of our greatest ever sides.

Mick Gooding of Reading FC in action

The 1995 play-off final at Wembley, a match that ranks among the most traumatic, thrilling and eventually heart-breaking in Reading FC's history, featured a midfield trio which was arguably the best the club has ever known.

There may be arguments for claiming that the Steve Sidwell - James Harper partnership which took the Royals into the Premier League was equally or possibly more effective but as a threesome Scott Taylor, Simon Osborn and Mick Gooding take some beating.

They were so good that club legend Phil Parkinson could not even get in the side and the reason why is related to their versatility and range of skills.

Taylor, the whippet-like fast man, who could score goals; Osborn, the master craftsman, with the touch of a gynaecologist and a genuine understanding of his role; Gooding, the all-purpose midfielder, who liked a tackle, worked his socks off and did whatever it took to win.

The team thrived around this brilliant trio only to be robbed of its rightful place in the Premier League by bureaucrats (Reading finished second but were not promoted automatically), bad luck (they finished the final with only nine fit men), Stuart Lovell's missed penalty (only the second he had taken) and a weak referee, who failed to send-off Bolton's Jason McAteer (for bringing down Michael Gilkes when he was through on goal, having already been booked).

The reason for recalling the TOG (Taylor-Osborn-Gooding) tag-team was that, admittedly on limited evidence, the Royals may have unearthed a possible challenger to their 'best-ever' crown...

OK, so it's only two matches, but the way that George Evans, John Swift and Danny Williams played on Saturday against Preston and in the EFL Cup against Plymouth suggested that this is a combination to take the team places. There may be some misgivings about the defence and the ability of the forward line to convert possession into goals but the midfield - wow!

All three were outstanding against an admittedly average Preston North End side, then a League Two team. And the other reservation is that we're mostly talking about the first 45 minutes of each game. But let's not be bashful about this - wasn't it a joy to behold?

Swift is clearly a talented footballer, with quick feet, a sure touch and an appreciation of the game. Brentford sources claim he had a habit of drifting out of games, especially when the going got tough and he did go missing a bit in the second half. But there's no denying that he's a proper player.

Evans was a revelation. Thrust into Oliver Norwood's role he looked not merely an adequate replacement but possibly an improvement. Is that a case of sour grapes directed at a former player? Maybe. But Evans has qualities of physicality, athleticism and presence that Norwood could never match (and I think Ollie the Seagull is a good player). And the ex-Manchester City youngster's distribution was pretty good, too.

We've always known Williams can be top-class (remember Wembley and the FA Cup semi-final) even though he seemed to lose his way at the end of last season. His powerful running was something else and it was frustrating to see him twice hacked down when he'd broken clear of the Preston midfield ( ven though any team, ours included, would do the same).

Of course, these three may not be destined for a long-term relationship. Swift may be deployed further forward, Evans could play in the back four and Williams may even be sold before the end of the transfer window (perish the thought!).

But let's indulge in some wishful thinking here. Let's hope's they play together, stay together and develop as a unit as the season progresses.

For this is a threesome around which Jaap Stam can build a team, which may yet surprise us all.

- The Inspector.

Agree with The Inspector that our Swift-Evans-Williams trio could become a special unit? Is there another midfield axis you look on as the best in our history? Let us know!