We’re almost at the end of our positional review mini-series, and this time we’re turning our attention to the wingers. Although a lot of players lined up ‘out wide’ for Reading over the course of 2018/19, we’ve limited this article to just six of them; perhaps the most notable absentee is Yakou Meite who’ll be discussed in tomorrow’s piece on the strikers.
How the wingers did last season
Modou Barrow had been one of Reading’s best players under Jaap Stam in 2017/18 but, after the arrival of Paul Clement, struggled for form. That was certainly true this season, with the Gambian’s only goal also being the last of Clement’s time in charge - an equaliser in the 2-2 draw with Stoke City.
Up until that point he’d barely contributed anything, but had a moment of revival in scoring the winner at Portman Road. He netted another crucial strike a week later against Wigan, registered a goal and assist against Preston before setting up Yakou Meite twice more: Norwich City away and Brentford at home. That partnership was a long time in the making, but bore fruit in the Spring.
Otherwise, it’s seriously slim pickings, although Garath McCleary featured pretty regularly over the course of the season after recovering from his ankle break in February 2018. His age showed though, and beyond adding experience (particularly in helping to see out leads a few times as a substitute) he couldn’t bring much to the attack.
That said, he ended the campaign with four assists - winning a penalty at Bolton Wanderers, teeing up Nelson Oliveira and Ovie Ejaria with near-identical pull-backs (against Ipswich Town and Rotherham United respectively) and playing in Andy Rinomhota at Carrow Road for his first professional goal.
Injury also played a big role in Callum Harriott’s season. The former Charlton Athletic man finally made it back out onto the pitch on New Year’s Day, scoring a consolation in the 4-1 rout at the hands of Swansea City, but played little part from there on in. The Aston Villa and Stoke City matches were the only occasions on which Harriott played more than 60 minutes, as he was instead typically consigned to the bench.
For the first half of the season, Sone Aluko was, well, typically Sone Aluko: really not very good at playing football. However, he seemed reinvigorated with the arrival of Jose Gomes, putting in eye-catching performances against Queens Park Rangers and Derby County - the second of those displays was one of the best I’d seen from anyone all season until that point. Nonetheless, he was sent out on loan to sister club Beijing Renhe in February, which hopefully allowed Reading to pocket a hefty wad of cash.
Amazingly, Adrian Popa did play actual professional football for Reading last season, doing next to nothing in a sub appearance against Bolton Wanderers at home. He was otherwise either injured, not in the team, or on loan at Ludogorets.
On the other hand, Michael Olise looked bright in his few games. The 17-year-old academy graduate made his debut at home to Leeds United off the bench, later playing against Stoke City, Middlesbrough and Birmingham City - the last of those being particularly eye-catching.
A fair number of other players featured on the wing to some extent, however small, but have been included fully in other sections of this series. Besides Meite, Ovie Ejaria also often lined up there under Jose Gomes, and there was an odd spell in the autumn when Paul Clement used Sam Baldock as a left winger.
The talented Jack Nolan could very well have been given his debut last season, but was ruled out for the season through injury.
Who might leave?
Callum Harriott definitely is leaving at the end of his contract this summer. In truth, that wasn’t too surprising, with Gomes opting against playing him that much in the last few months. Hopefully Harriott can properly bounce back from that long-term injury elsewhere.
Similarly, Sone Aluko won’t be on the books, although his loan stay at Renhe is due to expire at the end of this calendar year - not this summer. He may very well be sold to bring in some cash either in the summer or next January.
That essentially leaves us with four players: Adrian Popa, Modou Barrow, Garath McCleary and Michael Olise. The first will almost certainly be allowed to go, having barely played in the last two seasons, and he could be joined by Barrow who’s one of Reading’s more sellable assets. With FFP a concern, flogging him for a couple of million is a possibility - especially after serious interest in him from Championship rivals in January.
I would expect McCleary and Olise to stay though. Although Reading will want McCleary’s wages off the books, there aren’t likely to be many suitors for him this summer - his contract does however expire in 2020. Olise, at the other end of his career, should get game time after the others leave without the need to head out on loan.
Who might come in?
This is a position I really thought Reading would have prioritised for recruitment in January, but in the end it was overlooked. However, we can’t do the same this time - the wide department needs an overhaul. Assuming that McCleary, Barrow and Olise are on the books next season, that leaves Reading needing one more option as the likes of Josh Barrett, Yakou Meite and apparently Sam Baldock can all play as wingers in Jose Gomes’ 4-2-3-1.
If we did have cash to spend, I’d love for us to look at Jamal Lowe from Portsmouth, a bright young talent who’d make the step up well but also give good sell-on value. Ayub Timbe is also a possibility - he’s currently at Beijing Renhe but seemed pretty sure in January that he would move to Reading at some point:
“Yes it is true that Reading wants to sign me in this (January) transfer window but there have been hitches concerning my current contract. This might force the deal to the next window.”
Otherwise, there are plenty of young Premier League players kicking about that would be good value on loan. Assuming we can keep our Chelsea link going, Charly Musonda could be worth looking at - despite not making the grade at Chelsea or Celtic, Gomes might be the manager to get the most out of a very talented chap.