Of all the pleasant surprises of the 2016/17 campaign, the red hot form of Yann Kermorgant was probably one of the biggest.
The striker had joined Reading in January 2016 and showed little promise in his first half a season in Berkshire, scoring only three times in 17 appearances under Brian McDermott. Even in Jaap Stam’s first few months in charge he struggled to hit the back of the net consistently - returning just five goals in 22 games between August and December.
But on the turn of the year, a different beast emerged. Kermorgant began 2017 with a brace in the dramatic 3-2 win at Bristol City and then went from strength to strength, claiming the Championship player of the month award for April following a run of seven goals in seven matches including vital strikes against promotion rivals Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds. He played as big a role as anyone in Reading’s ultimately unsuccessful play-off campaign, netting the winning goal in the semi-final and holding his nerve to slot home in the shoot-out in the final. At the age of 35, the striker achieved a career-best tally of 19 goals for the season.
That kick from 12 yards under the Wembley arch was Yann’s last touch of the ball for Reading, as in July it was revealed that he had undergone hip and groin surgery and would miss the start of the new campaign. It left a gaping whole in the squad’s attack, and although Sone Aluko, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Mo Barrow were brought in over the summer to reinforce the front line, none of them look like 20 goal a season forwards. Aluko is yet to even get off the mark in the blue and white hoops.
Failure to capture that prolific target-man in the transfer window has shown. Reading’s attack has looked very limitless at times this season, whilst only Birmingham, Burton and Bolton have registered fewer goals than the Biscuitmen’s ten. So when Jaap Stam confirmed this week that Kermorgant was in contention for the trip to Sheffield United this weekend, the Reading fan base was understandably overjoyed.
It would be easy to think that all our problems are solved with Yann back in action. But this is a man who has not played first team football for nearly five months. He’s not going to come straight back into the starting XI and bag a hat-trick. Especially at his age, Kermorgant is going to need to be eased back into the fold slowly so as not to aggravate the injury that caused his lengthy absence. We’ll see 20 minutes of him here and there as he gets back up to speed - it’s unlikely he’ll complete 90 minutes until December at the earliest.
In truth, Kermorgant will unfortunately probably just be a bit-part player in his final season in the professional game. We were fortunate that he had the season of his life in 2016/17 but the chances of him getting back into that red hot form, another year older and after surgery, appear slim. You only need look at Jason Roberts to see how some players just aren’t their goalscoring selves after injury, and Yann may follow the same path.
With the former Charlton striker unable to be relied upon for goals and retiring next summer anyway, a new striker must remain the priority in the January transfer window. It seems that we were just priced out of the market on deadline day, but if the funds are available, then firepower needs to be added. Whilst Jason Roberts is a good example of a player never really recovering from injury, he also provides evidence as to how big an impact a mid-season buy upfront can have.
Of course Yann could surprise us (again!), and finish his career with a flourish with another unexpected hot streak. As well as his goals, his personality off the pitch has made him a big hit with supporters, so it’s important that that fact is not relinquished if he does sadly fizzle out.