It’s time to round off our across-the-pitch previews for 2017/18 with the most debated position of them all, the strikeforce.
Players available in position
At the time of writing, Reading are undoubtedly looking a little short of firepower. Last season’s top scorer Yann Kermorgant is entering his final season in the professional game but will miss start the season following hip and groin surgery.
Similarly, fellow Frenchman Joseph Mendes missed the pre-season tour to the Netherlands through injury and is fighting to be fit for QPR, meaning that new signing Jon Dadi Bodvarsson could be the only fit senior striker come Saturday.
However, Jaap Stam has had a chance to take a look at a couple of academy players during pre-season, such as Sam Smith and Danny Loader, the latter of whom is just 16 years old and netted four in a friendly against QPR.
If the gaffer really wanted to go rogue, both Garath McCleary and Pelle Clement - more natural wide players - have very occasionally played upfront earlier in their respective careers.
Performance last season
Yann Kermorgant was the Royals’ main man in 2016/17 despite being 35 years old. After a relatively slow start to the campaign, the former Charlton striker finished the season with 19 goals in 48 games in all competitions - his best ever tally in his 15 year career. It was also the most number of goals a Reading player has scored in a single season since Shane Long hit 25 in 2010/11.
Behind him, most of the team’s goals were shared out by the midfield, with Mendes the second highest scoring striker, but he only managed to net three times following a summer move from Le Havre. It appeared as though the 26-year-old had become a bit of a ‘joke’ signing after featuring more for the Under-23s than the first team, but he shocked everyone by scoring twice on his first league start against Aston Villa in April. His only other goal came versus Burton on the final day of the regular Championship campaign.
Dominic Samuel (two goals) and Lewis Grabban (three goals) were the only other strikers available to Stam last season, but both have since departed the club. Finally, new man Bodvarsson only managed to score three times for Wolves, a disappointing total but something that has been put down to two consecutive summers without a proper break.
What needs improving
It’s evident that Reading need at least one more striker, and the press have picked up on this, linking the Royals with any and every frontman. The rumour with the most credibility to it appears to be that of a reported £4 million bid for Brighton’s Tomer Hemed, which the Seagulls have rejected.
But the Israeli is not what we need. We have enough strong and tall target men at the club - Kermorgant, Mendes and Bodvarsson all at least hit the 6ft mark, and are good at holding the ball up for others. The type of striker that Jaap Stam needs to bring in now should be small, quick and nippy to play off one of the aforementioned trio when the three/five at the back formation is used. The way Jermain Defoe partnered Peter Crouch at Portsmouth and then Spurs in the late 2000s.
Having said that, “small, quick and nippy” strikers are a lot harder to find, and when they are found, they aren’t cheap. Nahki Wells is exactly the sort of player we should be looking at, but reports suggesting that the club would have to fork about £8 million for him tells you all you need to know about how expensive that type of player will be.
It remains to be seen whether the new Chinese owners have that sort of cash to splash, but if we are to make just one or two more signings this summer, surely a new striker should be the priority. It seems quite unlikely that Kermorgant will be able to be relied upon so heavily again for goals, so an additional face in the striking department would be hugely beneficial. One thing not to worry about though is Reading’s conversion rate. Only Norwich (7.7) had a better shots per goal ratio than the Royals (8.1) in 2016/17.
Expectations ahead of season
If Reading go out and spend some significant money on a new striker that isn’t too similar to what we already have, things will be looking very positive. A crop of four fairly decent strikers would surely be our most promising frontline since 2011/12. Granted, it wouldn’t match the quartets of Sheffield Wednesday (Forestieri, Rhodes, S Fletcher and Winnall) or Middlesbrough (Assombalonga, Braithwaite, Bamford and A Fletcher), but it would certainly allow the Royals to compete near the top of the Championship again.
Call me pessimistic, but I don’t expect Yann to get anywhere near his goal tally from last season. He’s another year older and who knows what sort of effect his summer operation will have had. Luckily, he is unlikely to have such a goalscoring burden on him again, and will do well to hit double figures.
Hopefully Mendes can build on the couple of performances that earnt him so many adorning fans last season, but the player I’m most excited about is Bodvarsson. He may have failed to impress in front of goal last season, but reports from Wolves fans (who seemed pretty disappointed to see him go) are much more positive. Having had a proper summer break for the first time since 2014, he could make a real impact in Berkshire and I’m going to stick my neck on the line and say that he’ll score at least 15 goals (I’ve definitely just jinxed him).
Finally, youngsters Smith and Loader are unlikely to be given much first team action unless injuries become a real issue (which currently they are!), but we may perhaps see them feature in cup competitions dependent on the opponent.
This is the last of our positional previews ahead of the Championship opener against QPR tomorrow, and you can read our thoughts on the goalkeepers, full-backs, centre-backs, centre midfielders and wingers here.