After a pitiful capitulation against Ipswich Town in Reading’s last home game which saw them concede four, the Royals went into the fixture against Cardiff still not fully safe, needing a result against the second-placed side or for results to go in their favour to ensure that they would be playing Championship football next season. Thankfully for Paul Clement’s side, their 0-0 draw and losses for Barnsley and Burton kept the Royals up.
It was a nervy game for Reading but they stood resolute against what has been a very potent Cardiff attack this season to earn a clean sheet and a point. However, with the way they had been playing in recent weeks, they are very lucky that the season is over now because based on their points total since Christmas, only Sunderland have won fewer than them. A worrying slide for sure.
Ali Al-Habsi returns
Former Reading goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi was a massive part of the Royals’ play-off charge last season with his outstanding shot-stopping ability earning them invaluable points over the course of the season. His decision to move to Al Hilal at the start of this campaign was a massive loss for the club.
However, the 36 year-old stopper made the journey from Saudi Arabia to South Wales to cheer on the side in their survival fight in a move which was sure to help the spirits of the travelling Reading fans and, more importantly, one that worked as the Royals secured their Championship future.
Major overhaul needed
One thing is certain for next season and that is the need for a major personnel overhaul. So many players in this Reading squad are simply not good enough or are too injury-prone to build a promotion-challenging side around. Joey van den Berg, Tyler Blackett and Dave Edwards have all made costly mistakes this season, whilst Sone Aluko has gone missing far too often for the amount of money spent on him.
Callum Harriott, Garath McCleary, Paul McShane and Stephen Quinn are all good players but both Harriott and Quinn have not appeared for the Royals in the league this season, whereas McCleary and McShane have only been fit enough to play in 39% and 56% of Reading’s 46 league fixtures this season respectively. There are other players who could probably be sold but there definitely has to be a massive clear-out over the summer.
Smart summer signings
Now leading on from the clear-out, there needs to be some smart recruitment in the coming months. Last summer as Reading looked to build on their third-place finish and play-off final heartbreak, they made seven new additions but the biggest story was the failed pursuit of a 20 goal-a-season striker with bids being knocked back for the likes of Nelson Oliveira and Jordan Hugill, meaning Reading were going to have to rely on their only two senior strikers for goals, an aging Yann Kermorgant and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson who only mustered three goals for Wolves in 2016/17.
While Bodvarsson impressed, ending the season as joint top-scorer alongside Modou Barrow with 10, only just hitting double figures is not really what you want from your main goal-scorer. This must be addressed in the summer.
Danny Williams’ move to Huddersfield was also a huge loss as the tireless midfielder was never truly replaced like-for-like with Leandro Bacuna being forced to play at full-back due to injuries for most of the season and the lacklustre performances of Dave Edwards. Of the existing midfielders at the club, none of them can do what Williams did and an energetic workhorse in midfield is another thing that must be addressed in the summer.
As I’ve said many times, Sone Aluko has to be the worst value for money signing Reading made this season with his tendency to go missing one of the most frustrating parts of this campaign. It seems as though the only reason he has kept his place in the side has been the injuries to McCleary and Harriott, sale of Roy Beerens and loaning of Adrian Popa. As a result he has to most definitely be replaced. Depth on the wings is badly needed because Reading cannot just rely on Barrow for next season.
Finally, the defence must be addressed as McShane and loanee Tommy Elphick have struggled with injuries and Tiago Ilori and Blackett have been far from dependable. Liam Moore is the only centre-back who it can be said has had a good season but he may well be on the move in the summer so the heart of defence is perhaps the most important area that has to be addressed in the summer.
Optimism for next season?
It is very difficult to feel any sort of optimism for next season at the moment after only just being able to survive relegation this year and, as I have detailed above, the state of the squad at the start of next season will be so very important as to whether any Reading fan can feel upbeat about the club’s future. On the face of it, there are likely going to be three teams worse than the Royals once again next season but everyone knows how unpredictable the Championship is so everything is far from certain.
Reading did not seem mentally ready for a relegation battle and struggled to show any sort of fight or bottle for a lot of it and that is hugely worrying. If a few more strong characters and leaders such as Moore and Gunter can have an impact in the dressing room and this season’s battle scars can be used as motivation then there may be some slither of optimism for next season but there are so many variables at play now that it is difficult to see any right now.