With Reading performing so well this season, it is perhaps easy to forget about those Royals players who haven’t had the chance this season to become a part of the success story that Jaap Stam is writing.
For whatever reason, whether it be through injury or being the last one in the door, they haven’t made the same contribution to this season that others have. I’ve put the six players below into three categories which broadly describe their circumstances: those who have suffered injury during this campaign, those younger players who are still coming through, and relatively recent signings who have failed to upset the existing squad.
Let’s take a look at the ‘Forgotten’ Royals.
The arrival of Stephen Quinn brought some much-needed solidity to the team in the summer of 2015. He became a vital part of both Steve Clarke and Brian McDermott’s team, a tireless box-to-box midfielder who was capable of playing in multiple positions. He showed every sign of continuing this with the new regime at Reading this season, even captaining the side during the first two rounds of the EFL Cup. But injury following the Arsenal defeat has left Quinn out of the team ever since.
Quinn is the type of player who would fit into Stam’s team quite well, with passing and tackling at the forefront of his abilities. But the current crop of midfielders has grown during his absence, with Liam Kelly graduating into a first team regular and Jordon Mutch coming to the club on loan for the rest of the season. He is due back any day now, but won’t find returning to his usual starting place easy.
As one of Brian McDermott’s transfers last January, Deniss Rakels might have been concerned that the new regime would write him off instantly. But he appeared in the first two league games of the season, and there is no telling how he would have progressed had an early-season injury not ruled him out for most of the season, an injury he has still not come back from.
He is apparently nearing a return, but just how close he is to establishing himself in the first team remains to be seen. It’s possible he was used at the beginning of the season as Jaap Stam didn’t have all the players he wanted yet; now that Lewis Grabban has arrived, he might find himself as the odd one out.
Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number
If Jaakkola is despondent about the lack of game time, then Jonathan Bond will be worse off, now the third-choice ‘keeper at the club after being handed the #1 jersey last season. Despite this, veteran goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi made himself first choice with some stellar performances last season.
He spent the first half of the current campaign on loan to League One’s Gillingham but only made seven appearances. He’s remained in Berkshire, although this might just be because nobody came in for him in January. There is no chance that Al Habsi will be usurped other than injury, so Bond might need to wait for his chance. He is only twenty three, after all.
Tennai Watson’s inability to lay down roots in the first team squad has very little to do with the youngster, who has already shown his quality briefly last season, but perhaps more to do with the fact that he is contesting a place in the team which is fielded by one of the team's better players, vice-captain Chris Gunter.
The Welsh international is a pure athlete, and has been a consistent regular in the team despite the fixture congestion which is part-and-parcel of the Championship.
He has been a regular on the bench this season and, with no loan move in January, he is doubtless in Stam’s plan and will need to bide his time before becoming a familiar face in the first team, but there is a long list of academy graduates who have gone on to have successful careers at Reading, and points north.
In With The New
With players like Paul McShane and Liam Moore in the centre of defence, it would be hard for any player to worm their way into Jaap Stam’s plans. Which means it is near impossible for Danzell Gravenberch, the first of the summer transfers.
While he has made just token cup appearances this season (and coming on for the league defeat to Aston Villa), his most notable moment at Reading was during the 2-0 EFL Cup loss to Arsenal, when, despite just 22 minutes of playing time, he earned a rebuke from Arsène Wenger for his heavy tackle on forward Lucas Pérez, who was forced to limp off afterward.
With no call-up to the starting line-up even with the recent heavy casualties the Reading defence have suffered, he likely doesn’t quite feature in Jaap Stam’s plans yet as a formidable centre back.
Conversely, however, he wasn’t sent out on loan like Jake Cooper, so there may be a role for him to play in the side this season. He was brought to the club by technical director Brian Tevreden, so at least he has the backing of the current leadership.
The lack of goals from strikers has been a constant problem for Reading this season, so perhaps there is a question to be asked as to why he has only featured eleven times in all competitions so far.
While first-choice forward Yann Kermorgant is undoubtedly talented in other areas beside goalscoring, the fact that the Frenchman scored just once in the first ten games of the season suggested that Jaap Stam should explore his options. While there is a case to be made why Dominic Samuel didn’t quite fit the mould for a lone target man up front, Mendes has a similar propensity to Kermorgant, but his game time has been limited to late substitutions and two starts, both in the EFL Cup.
He has spent the last two seasons with Le Havre in the French Ligue 2 (the English equivalent would probably be the English Football League One), playing under former Swansea City head coach Bob Bradley, neither of which testifies to a talented player overlooked. The arrival of an additional striker in Lewis Grabban won’t help his chances either.
Which of these players do you think should have featured more for Stam this season? Leave a comment below or tweet @TheTilehurstEnd.