How the strikers did last season
The performance of Reading’s strikers in 2018/19 can really only be defined by one word: streaky. By the end of September, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson had scored seven goals. He never scored again. Nelson Oliveira scored three goals in his first six games. He never scored again. Sam Baldock had scored five goals by December. He never scored again. Even top scorer Yakou Meite didn’t score a league goal in the months of August, September, December, January, February or May.
Such on-off performances from the club’s leading frontmen make it no surprise that Reading drew a blank in a whopping 19 of their games last season. That’s almost 40 percent.
We can add in Danny Loader scoring only once in 21 appearances - albeit the best goal anyone scored all season - and Marc McNulty also registering only once - having previously missed a decisive late penalty at Leeds. All six names just mentioned are either well-established at this level or have serious potential. They must do better.
Now for the counter argument. Bodvarsson and Baldock suffered significant injury problems, as did Oliveira. Meite performed above anyone’s reasonable expectations to finish with 13 in all competitions, and Loader is still but a young pup. And McNulty... did well at Hibernian, which is nice for them?
For the second year running, Andrija Novakovich headed to Holland and notched a hatful of goals, this time for newly-promoted Fortuna Sittard. They achieved safety while the American international ended with nine from 29 games, their top scorer. Jose Gomes wants the 22-year-old in the squad for pre-season - we’ll have to wait and see what happens next.
Elsewhere, Ben House failed to make an impact at Swindon Town and those further down the academy production line aren’t yet ready to be considered for first-team action. Sam Smith wasn’t on song at either loan club: Oxford United and Shrewsbury Town.
Who might leave?
McNulty made no effort to hide his enjoyment playing for Hibs, scoring seven times in 15 matches at Easter Road. But, the SPFL side simply won’t have the £1 million-plus fee we spent on him last summer and there’s little appetite for the Royals to take a hit on a 26-year-old with clear goalscoring ability.
Reading’s best hope is Hibs either agree to a fresh loan, covering his wages and then some, or another club come in with proper cash, or that he and Gomes strike up a relationship to help him find some form.
All three options seem somewhat unlikely at this stage but the Royals’ money problems will dictate our early movements. Meite could head back to France, something he’s admitted to liking the idea of. Bodvarsson may retain some value for clubs abroad as a player with European and World Cup experience. Baldock has a steady Championship record and wages we may seek to offload. Loader is now a known talent, reportedly wanted by Wolves.
Who might come in?
Many fans would have urged Reading to bite Norwich’s hand off for Oliveira after his early spell in the team, with a fee of around £3m mooted to make his loan deal permanent. However, Gomes has claimed the club cannot afford such a fee.
In any case, Oliveira’s injury troubles towards the end of the season and subsequent tailing off may lessen the blow. It could well be argued he has served his purpose and, unless a bargain deal is offered, can move on with both parties relatively happy.
In any case, the sheer quantity of forwards currently at the club, coupled with the financial worries, make finding a new striker the least of Gomes’ problems. He has talent in his squad, he has experience and youth, he has players with different styles to fit different occasions. Unless anybody wants to sign them, what he has now is most likely what he’s got to work with next season - and it’s up to him to make that work.