The arrival of Nelson Oliveira on loan until the end of the season leaves Jose Gomes with a lot of options up front. In total, there are now eight forwards on the books at Reading who have appeared for the first team - fitting them all into a system that normally only uses one forward won’t be easy.
So what does the future now hold for them? Some may not have a long-term future at the club, while others may need to adapt if they’re to fit the new regime.
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson
Until Oliveira’s arrival, the Icelander was probably Reading’s first-choice striker. Bodvarsson's aerial ability, hold-up play and work-rate made him the best fit to spearhead Gomes’ preferred 4-2-3-1 system.
However, Bodvarsson now stands to lose out a lot. Except as cover for Oliveira, there’s no obvious other way that he can fit into this team. There’s little chance of Gomes playing two up top, and even if he did it would more likely be done to accomodate a pacier forward like Danny Loader.
In addition, unlike the other strikers in the squad, Bodvarsson can’t really play anywhere else. Loader, Yakou Meite and even Sam Baldock have played deeper or out wide this season, but that’s not a trick the former Wolves man has up his sleeve. That could lead to a sharp drop-off in game-time for him at Reading.
The Ivorian is arguably Reading’s most versatile forward, as he’s capable of playing not only up front, but also on either wing. Because of that, I can see him fitting into Gomes’ formation pretty easily, whether Oliveira is selected or not. I'd go so far as to say that we’re more likely to see Meite play out wide than we are to see him as an out-and-out forward.
That might be a disappointment for a young talent who’d seemingly cemented his role under Paul Clement - that of a quick, muscly striker with increasingly sharp finishing. But he shouldn’t be worried. If he were to be moved to the right wing, there’d still be plenty of chances for him to cut inside onto his left foot and go for goal, or push up in direct support of Oliveira.
In Reading's pretty narrow 4-2-3-1, an inside forward with the experience of playing both up top and out wide could come in handy. Plus, he’s got the work-rate to track back and help out his full-back. In contrast, Gomes highlighted Aluko’s lack of that ability when asked about pushing the Nigerian out wide.
Crucially, the 18 year-old very much has time on his side, and for me that almost makes the signing of Oliveira irrelevant. Whether Reading had brought in a new first-team forward or not, Loader's role in the squad wasn't going to change - that of a very talented striker who should be one for the future.
It's understandable to expect a lot from a youngster who'd been impressing both for the under-23s and his country, but there's no rush for him to translate that into first-team form. At the moment, he just needs to keep picking up experience - and hopefully a few confidence-boosting goals here and there.
That will likely come as a lone forward - Gomes has tended to play Loader there so far - but he can also line up as a second striker or winger if needed.
Oliveira’s arrival means Baldock is now essentially fifth choice at Reading, but that’s not the first sign of his misfortunes in Berkshire. Despite appearing regularly under Paul Clement, the summer signing never really nailed down a specific role in the first team.
Lone striker in a 4-3-3, main forward or support man in a 4-4-2, or even a left-winger in a four-man midfield, it’s still not clear which of those best suits Baldock. Similarly, his playing qualities aren’t that obvious. Beyond a strong work ethic that makes his strike partner’s job easier, he’s not himself that quick, strong or dangerous in front of goal.
Fitting him into Gomes’ 4-2-3-1 isn’t straightforward either. Oliveira, Bodvarsson and Meite are all better bets to spearhead the attack, and for me he’s not naturally creative enough to play in the three behind.
In his favour though, he’s got the right experience and character for this squad, having been part of Brighton’s rise from 20th in 2015 to 3rd a year later. Gomes would be wise to make full use of that.
I feel sorry for McNulty to be honest. After a fantastic season in League Two, the Scot was deservedly handed his chance to impress in the Championship with the move down south - but the opportunities just haven’t come. Even when he has played, Reading haven’t made that many goal-scoring chances for him, hence his current (and probably final) return of one goal in the blue and white hoops).
Even if Gomes did fancy playing two strikers in a game, there’s a) too much competition for McNulty, and b) reports that he’s on the transfer list alongside Vito Mannone and David Meyler. The most likely thing for him now is a move away, perhaps on loan to a League One side in need of goals.
Sam Smith and Andrija Novakovich
They’re out on loan at Shrewsbury Town and Fortuna Sittard respectively, so won’t come back into play until next season. Both will be hoping to impress in those temporary stays away though - Smith struggled for game time at Oxford United, while Novakovich had to recover from injury.
Whatever league Reading are in next season, Smith and Novakovich will return to a crowded squad. Besides the above strikers (perhaps Oliveira too), Ben House will also be looking to barge his way into first-team contention.