For once, Reading were actually quite busy in the January transfer window this year, bringing in five players who looked as though they would really help cement the club's place in the top six and perhaps end the season with promotion. On deadline day, the Royals beat Birmingham City 1-0 to sit third in the table and six points clear of seventh.
Yet less than two months on, and Reading are fifth, out of the automatic promotion hunt and nervously looking over their shoulder at Fulham just three points below them in seventh. The new signings haven't had as good an impact as expected, but can our drop in form be put down to them?
Jordon Mutch (Average TTE rating: 5.4)
First up, Jordan Mutch, who has started the most games out of the new signings (6), but apart from scoring his debut against Ipswich has really done very little.
"He doesn't offer anything that we don't already possess" and "discussions about him never include 'Mutch adds X to the side'". These are both quotes from a Crystal Palace fan in our View From The Town End following the signing of Mutch, but they could very easily have been heard in Y26 as they have rung true so far in his time at Reading.
Wimb's Further Reading column following the Newcastle game show that the 25 year old does not rank top of any attributes such as pass completion of interceptions out of his midfield counterparts. Being brutally honest I really cannot see the point in the signing of Mutch, apart from the fact that he is fairly versatile in the middle of park.
His arrival has given Jaap Stam a selection headache, and has meant that the likes of Danny Williams and George Evans have had to settle for spots on the bench, when really they haven't done an awful lot wrong. It could be argued that midfield was perhaps our strongest and most settled department before January, but Mutch has seemed to disrupt that somewhat.
Lewis Grabban (Average TTE Rating: 5.5)
With four starts and four substitute appearances, Lewis Grabban on loan from Bournemouth has also featured a fair amount but been equally as ineffective. Having scored a combined 34 goals in his last two Championship seasons, hopes were high with Reading desperately in need of some firepower.
But Grabban is yet to score a goal in blue and white, and he has had just seven shots at goal, with just one being on target. That's also just one shot every 64 minutes. For a player with his record, that is incredibly poor. Is fitness an issue? Perhaps, but the 29 year old is also rarely deployed as a striker by Jaap Stam, and only against Newcastle last week did he start upfront alongside Yann Kermorgant for the first time. Only Roy Beerens is dispossessed more times per game on average than Grabban (1.9).
Err...who were the others?
Adrian Popa earned his first start against Wolves and showed some promising signs before being taken off just after the hour mark, meaning he has played just 100 minutes of football for Reading. Meanwhile, his pass accuracy is the worst in entire time at 45.5%. It's strange that he has not been given more of an opportunity, as surely at 28 years old he was signed for the here and now and is not 'one for the future'?
Reece Oxford does fall into that category, but the fact that he was only signed on loan from West Ham suggests that he would also have expected to feature more than he has. However, the 18 year old's absence can be explained by an a hamstring injury, which he returned from by playing 17 minutes against Preston at the weekend. Hopefully that should mean we start to see more of him in the coming weeks, but is an inexperienced 18 year old really the best person to be playing in a tough play-off run in?
Ironically, the signing who would have had the biggest impact, Tiago Ilori, got injured almost straight away leading to a lengthy spell on the sidelines. With injuries to Paul McShane and Liam Moore since January creating a worrying-looking backline, the record signing would have been the perfect the replacement, or the ideal fit to join the duo in the three at the back system that Reading have looked most comfortable in this season. The fact that he is still quite a few weeks from return is incredibly frustrating.
All in all, I'm fairly disappointed with the impact of our January signings for various reasons. Mutch and Grabban arrived with high Championship pedigree supposedly to give us that extra bit of quality in the play-off push, but perhaps a lack of football earlier in the campaign has worked against them as neither have really improved the side. I would much prefer players who are likely to have more determination towards the cause and who didn't do that much wrong to lose their place in the side.
For a player who was playing European football earlier in the season, I expected Adrian Popa to have made more than just one start, and I'm sure he would have too. Obviously it's still early days, and unlike loanees Mutch and Grabban, there's not that much pressure on the Romanian to make an instant impact. You'd hope that as he gets more accustomed to English football, he would begin to feature more, but that time might not come until next season.
Oxford and Ilori's lack of impact has been out of their control, with injuries keeping the pair on the sidelines. How much we'll see of an 18 year old in a pressured run-in is debatable unless injuries to other players become a real problem, whilst Oxford is unlikely to have even been signed had Ilori not got injured in only his second game for the club. The former Liverpool man may well have had a key part to play otherwise, and that will frustrate Jaap Stam as much as it does the fans.
A good indication of their impact is our player ratings given after each match. In a total of 20 games between them, just one rating of above a six has been achieved - Grabban's seven on his debut against Ipswich. So the five-some haven't quite had a Jason Roberts type impact, but who knows, one might just pop up with a crucial goal that could send us to the play-offs/Wembley/the Premier League. Well, here's hoping.