I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a soft spot for an unlikely hero. Big-name signings are great, and there’s always something satisfying about seeing an academy player make the grade, but a bargain addition - with lower expectations from the fans - is better than both of them.
Ian Harte is a great case in point. From my memory at least, supporters were a little disappointed when Reading reacted to selling Hoffenheim-bound Gylfi Sigurdsson by bringing in an ageing full back from Carlisle United - even if the Irishman’s set pieces were on par with Gylfi’s.
But, almost a decade on from his arrival at the Madejski Stadium, we can look back on Harte’s time in Reading with great fondness, and the part he played here makes him a worthy entry to our team of the decade. He got there pretty comfortably in the end - 46.7% of you picked him, clearly ahead of Jordan Obita (32.1%) and Ryan Bertrand (21.2%).
In all, Harte would score 15 times and register 15 assists in 99 appearances over a three-year spell that took in a playoff campaign in his first season, title win in his second, and Premier League stint in his third. Not bad at all for a left back that only cost £70,000.
Although he was less involved after promotion to the Premier League in 2012, Harte played a key role in getting Reading there, with his experience at the back and deadly set pieces proving decisive at both ends of the pitch.
It’s not just Reading fans that rated Harte’s impact in the 2010s though. He was named in the PFA team of the year in successive seasons between 2010/11 and 2011/12 and, in an official EFL poll on Twitter a few days ago, the Irishman came highest in a four-man shortlist of Football League full backs. That earned him a spot in their team of the decade too.
Memorable moment: Middlesbrough 0-2 Reading
For a defender, Harte sure did have a lot of goals for me to pick out. I nearly went one for a penalty - the one he slotted home against West Ham United in a crucial 4-2 win in 2012 before shushing the Upton Park crowd. But, to suit Harte’s reputation as a master marksman from further out, it had to be a free kick.
In the end, his screamer at the Riverside earlier that same season has the edge for me. Reading were 1-0 up in the game at this point, with Noel Hunt poking home Alex Pearce’s pass - after Pearce himself had been set up by a vicious cross from Harte. And, when Jason Roberts was fouled not too far outside the area at the end of a Reading counter after the break, Harte had an opportunity - albeit a very tough one - to go for goal.
It’s further out than many of his free kicks, and very central, meaning that both high precision and power were needed if he were to hit the back of the net. But he nailed both of those, sending a truly gorgeous strike into the top corner.