For the last time this year, and indeed this decade, we’re asking you to vote for your player of the month.
It’s actually been a really good month for Reading who have shot up to the lofty heights of 14th, putting a poor start to the season behind them - at least for now. Over the course of December, the Royals played six league games, losing once, picking up two draws and ending with three wins.
The 3-2 reverse to Birmingham City at the Madejski Stadium was a real low performance wise, although Ovie Ejaria and John Swift were both missing on the day. We followed that up with two straight draws: a 1-1 at Barnsley that featured a horrendous defensive gaffe from Michael Morrison, and a drab 0-0 at Stoke City in which neither side had a shot on target.
Since then, Reading picked up real form. Continuing where they left off from the Stoke match, the Royals registered three more clean sheets in wins over Derby County (3-0), QPR (1-0) and Preston North End (2-0). The last of those was a particularly impressive team performance - and had to be in order to see off the best home side in the division on their patch.
But which of Reading’s players stood out the most in that run? We’ve put together a five-man shortlist according to the highest average scores from our player ratings, although one sneaks in thanks to his productivity in front of goal.
Vote for your player of the month in our poll at the bottom of the piece.
Average rating: 6.5/10
Man of the match awards: Birmingham City home (1st), Barnsley away (1st), Stoke City away (2nd), Derby County home (3rd), QPR home (3rd)
Somewhat impressively for someone we all thought didn’t have the fitness to play regularly, Adam played in every one of Reading’s December matches - although he only got 90 minutes against Barnsley. He picked up an assist for Lucas Joao’s late consolation against Birmingham City and even opened his account for the season by converting the first of two penalties in the 3-0 win over Derby County.
The 34 year-old has truly rolled back the years in the last few weeks and is now an important part of the first team. That’s not only due to his impressive range of passing, particularly when picking out teammates over long range, but also his experience in the midfield.
Average rating: 6.5/10
Man of the match awards: Barnsley away (2nd), Derby County home (2nd), QPR home (1st), Preston North End away (2nd)
Reading have been racking up the clean sheets recently, and they can thank Rafael for that in large part. The goalkeeper shone ever more as December went on, and put in two top individual performances against QPR and Preston to make sure the Royals made it three straight wins at the tail end of the year.
His shot stopping and command of his box have both been excellent, and those qualities are giving the defence in front of him much more confidence that they can rely on their ‘keeper.
Average rating: 7.67/10
Man of the match awards: QPR home (2nd), Preston North End away (3rd)
He only played three times in December after missing the previous four through injury, but Swift played a key part on each occasion. First an assist for Joao on his return against Derby - Reading’s first goal from open play since the win at Wigan Athletic - then a Boxing Day stunner from outside the area and close-range finish at Deepdale.
When he’s in the team, Reading benefit so much from his quality and creativity, and it’s no surprise that our recent improvements have coincided with him being in the team. It’s also been the time in which he’s been higher up the pitch, with Pele and Adam typically lining up deeper than Swift in midfield.
Average rating: 6.4/10
Man of the match awards: Barnsley away (3rd), Stoke City away (3rd)
He hasn’t won many plaudits recently, but Chris Gunter’s quietly been improving significantly for Reading. The Welshman was given a first-team return after Andy Yiadom’s injury against Birmingham City, and in the subsequent five games he’s been a reliable presence at right back, even if he doesn’t offer the same attacking thrust as Yiadom.
Gunter was rewarded by getting into the top three of our man of the match awards twice, and only two players with more than three appearances in December (Rafael and Adam) have higher average ratings than him.
Average rating: 5.83/10
Man of the match awards: N/A
He may not have got a particularly high average rating, or indeed got close to a man-of-the-match award, but Joao’s goalscoring record in December speaks for itself. Having only found the net on his debut against Hull City all the way back in August, he hit form in the last few weeks, scoring four times in six appearances: Birmingham at home, Barnsley away, Derby at home, Preston away.
Joao has also become more important to Reading tactically too. In the absence of George Puscas and Sam Baldock, he’s typically played as a lone striker recently, and has shown off a much better all-round game against QPR and Preston. That work rate and hold-up play give the team an extra dimension up top and allow Ovie Ejaria and Swift to strut their stuff in midfield.
So those are the five candidates, but which of them impressed you the most over the course of December? You can vote for your choice in the poll below - or, if it doesn’t show up your device, go through this link here.