Saturday’s crunch clash against Hull City has significance for more than just the obvious relegation-themed reasons: it’ll be former manager Nigel Adkins’ first return to the Madejski Stadium after being relieved of his duties in December 2014.
His 21-month spell in charge had seen the Royals go from Premier League strugglers, then to play-off contenders, and ultimately onto Championship strugglers, although there were of course factors behind that trend which were out of his control.
Adkins defended his record at Reading the first time he came up against us, a 0-0 draw on Humberside in January. However, speaking ahead of this match, he’s had a chance to talk more in-depth about the Royals, how he feels about the club and his pride at developing youth.
Despite how his final season turned out, he claims he “really enjoyed” his time at the Mad Stad amidst difficult circumstances behind-the-scenes. Anton Zingarevich’s disappearing act meant Reading struggled for funds and stability after relegation from the Premier League, leaving Adkins unable to build a side as he would have hoped.
“I loved my time at Reading and I’d like to think we did a really good job there. Especially when you consider how close the club came to going to the wall.
“We kept the spirits high and played with the youth. We didn’t moan about things. There was lots going on behind the scenes but we got on with it.”
How we could do with someone to keep spirits high right now!
“I still keep an eye out for them and whenever I’ve gone back I’ve always been made to feel very welcome.
“Reading was always a club with good people. I noticed that straight away. I’ll look forward to going back.”
Adkins also gave a general overview of the 2013/14 campaign in which Reading came painfully close to sealing a play-off spot on the last day of the season; Garath McCleary’s wonder-goal not quite enough to get the team over the line.
“We were in the Premier League when we went in, right at the latter stages. We went down and then we didn’t have an owner. They’d left. The whole season in the Championship we didn’t sign anyone and let players go.
“We were trying to find new buyers and we missed the play-offs with the last kick in the last seconds of the season.
“We drew 2-2 with Burnley, who had been promoted, and at the final whistle we were in the play-offs. Then the centre-half at Nottingham Forest ducks and (Leonardo) Ulloa of Brighton scores a header and they go into the play-offs. That’s how close we were.
“After that everyone had to get sold and we just played the youngsters. We played nine of the under-23s in the Championship. New owners eventually came in and in those circumstances there’s normally a change.”
Most of that summary is pretty much on the nose for me, except the last paragraph. Sure, some key players were cashed in on due to a mixture of the club’s financial problems and those players’ desires to move to a higher level. Adam Le Fondre, Sean Morrison and Alex McCarthy were sold, whilst the contracts of Jobi McAnuff, Kaspars Gorkss, Wayne Bridge and Mikele Leigertwood were not renewed.
Although the club did have to promote youth fairly quickly, such as Jake Cooper, Ryan Edwards, Aaron Kuhl, Jack Stacey and Craig Tanner, that was in part due to some severe injury problems at the start of the 2014/15 season. Thankfully, that’s a problem we’ve since decisively solved...
New owners did come in, but they backed Adkins by funding some pretty smart signings. Glenn Murray and Jamie Mackie arrived on loan, with Simon Cox, Anton Ferdinand and Oliver Norwood arriving on permanent deals. There is indeed “normally a change”, but that only came mid-way through the season (December 15).
Nonetheless, Adkins’ emphasis on youth was welcome, and in that regard he left the club with a good legacy.
“We had a good culture with a pathway for the youngsters. Several of those have gone on to have good careers but I’ll be honest, Liam Kelly was the one player I’d have paid money to watch.
“He was class and he’s in Reading’s team at this moment in time. He was only small but what a talented player.”
Looking towards the match itself, and what he thinks the home support will make of his return, he admitted he’d “like to think [he’ll] get a good reception” from the Mad Stad faithful.
Do you think he deserves that? Tell us what you think in the comments below.