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Grading The Reading Squad’s 2020/21 Season So Far: Full Backs

How have our full backs fared in our mid-season grade cards?

Reading v Bristol City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

It’s now time to get stuck into the full backs to see how well they have done so far in the 2020/21 season. There have been injuries, unexpected replacements and academy graduates flourishing in this position so far this season - and long may it continue! Omar Richards has been a particular highlight this season - but let’s see how I have rated each individual player.


Andy Yiadom: C

How were things going before this season?

Yiadom has been one of the better players for Reading in a dire past few seasons. Getting him in on a free was an absolute bargain, one of Ron Gourlay’s best buys. Then again, that isn’t hard. It’s just a shame he missed the latter stages of last season through injury, especially with what he can bring to the team.

How well has he done so far this season?

One of the Ghanaian’s only appearances this season for the Royals came against Derby County on the opening day of the Championship season. That day, he looked solid enough down the right, providing an attacking threat too - but a knee injury ruled him out for the next couple of months before coming on as a substitute against Preston North End.

Derby County v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Jon Hobley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

And after starting against Stoke City in the following game, his previous knee injury came back to haunt him yet again - and has been on the sidelines since then. In his three games, he’s done alright - but I can’t give him higher than a C because of the amount of matches he’s been absent for.

What does the future hold?

At 29 years old, it might be now or never for Andy Yiadom if he wants to make the step up to the Premier League. The right back was actually close to joining then-Premier League side Huddersfield Town in 2017, before running down his contract and joining the Berkshire club the following summer. His first priority right now though will be recovering from this persistent knee injury - and will then have the task of trying to work his way back into the starting lineup.


Tomas Esteves: C+

How were things going before this season?

Very few Reading fans (barring a few Football Manager players and those who are deeply invested in Portuguese football) had heard of the teenager before his rumoured arrival. I have to say I enjoyed his highlights reel - and it’s quite clear he is highly rated by those at Porto - to the point where their fans were disgusted by his departure. He seemed like one of the hottest young prospects in European football - but has he lived up to expectations.

How well has he done so far this season?

Considering the full back is 18 and competing in a new league, Esteves has not done too badly. However, with all the hype surrounding him and a few moments where his defensive weaknesses have been exposed, a lot of Reading fans have been quite underwhelmed with his performances so far this season.

AFC Bournemouth v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

One thing we didn’t really see on the highlights reel was his defensive abilities, something I was quite worried about and those initial worries have been justified. However, if he can improve on this and enhance the attacking side of his game, he could become a great asset to us for the remainder of this season

What does the future hold?

One bad season should not define where you will be in a few years time - and the same applies to Esteves if he doesn’t manage to improve on previous performances. His time will be invaluable in the Championship and who knows - maybe he will get a shot at Porto next season based off their fans’ comments. There have been glimpses of real quality from the Portuguese full back - and he will go on to have a successful career in Europe. I’m sure of it.


Tom Holmes: B+

How were things going before this season?

Holmes made his surprise debut as a 17-year-old under Jaap Stam against Bolton Wanderers and performed reasonably well - but was rarely seen again at a senior level for the next year or two. After going out on loan to sister club KSV Roeslare last season, none of us knew what the future would hold for him.

It always felt as though he was in the shadow of fellow academy graduate Tom McIntyre, especially with the Scottish youth international performing well alongside Michael Morrison at the end of last season.

How well has he done so far this season?

However, Mark Bowen’s switch to a back three in pre season gave Holmes the opportunity to come on against Tottenham Hotspur - and he did very well in the second half against a strong Spurs side. An injury crisis at right back then gave him the chance to start against Watford, an opportunity he took with both hands and has been a regular in the starting eleven since then. The 20-year-old has made the odd mistake - but that’s to be expected.

Reading v Bristol City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

There is one thing I would like him to improve on though. He would benefit from continuing to work on the attacking side of his game out wide, especially as a natural centre back, but he has stepped up to the plate and defended well when needed. For me, it’s only a matter of time before he scores.

What does the future hold?

Simeon has stitched me right up here with this structure because that’s a hard question. When the likes of Andy Yiadom and Felipe Araruna finally return, Holmes will have a fight on his hands if he wants to retain his place in the starting lineup. Because of the attacking threat and experience Yiadom offers, it’s likely the former Barnsley captain will come straight back in when fully fit.

When Araruna returns, I’m not sure - but I think Holmes has the potential to keep the Brazilian out in the cold. In the long term, I hope the academy graduate keeps his place in the matchday squad - he has done enough to deserve his place in the first team.


Felipe Araruna: C

How were things going before this season?

After joining the Royals in January as a largely unknown figure, Araruna suffered with injury problems in the second half of the 2019/20 season - leaving Reading fans none the wiser as to whether he was good enough to be in the Championship or not. Originally brought in as a central midfielder, it was hard to see where he would fit in alongside Andy Rinomhota, Pele, Charlie Adam and John Swift who were existing options before his arrival.

How well has he done so far this season?

In the first competitive match of the 2020/21 season, a Carabao Cup tie against Colchester United, Felipe Araruna operated as a right back, much to the surprise of Reading fans. However, after the departure of Chris Gunter in the summer, the Royals had limited options. After Yiadom’s injury post-Derby, Araruna came in as a replacement and did quite well up until his injury at the Cardiff City Stadium. This really was a cruel blow - and I would have probably given him a B if it wasn’t for his injury so early on in the campaign.

Reading v Luton Town - Carabao Cup Second Round Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

What does the future hold?

With Reading’s injury record, I think there will always be a place for Felipe Araruna in the first team squad, whether he stays at full back or reverts back to being a central midfielder.

Right now, it’s unlikely he will break up the formidable partnership of Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent - and he will face a tough task competing against Yiadom and Holmes - but the Brazilian will manage to get some Championship minutes under his belt when he does finally return. Judging by his recent activity, his return might not be far away - and it would certainly be a boost for the first team squad. We need all the players we can get at the moment.


Omar Richards: A

How were things going before this season?

The guy had doubters - there’s no getting away from that. To make things worse, the academy graduate was competing with established Championship left backs Tyler Blackett and Jordan Obita last season - and we had no idea what the future held for the youngster who was very highly-rated in the academy. The potential was there - now he needed regular minutes in the second tier to prove that - and Richards was a beneficiary of summer’s mass exodus with Blackett and Obita both leaving the club.

How well has he done so far this season?

The full back was awarded the ‘Most Improved’ player in our 2020 TTE Christmas podcast - and it was well-deserved too. He has matured so much this season under Veljko Paunovic, showing consistency and oozing class throughout the first half of this season.

Reading v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

The most important bit of business we could do in the January transfer window is ensuring we get Richards tied down to a new deal. Otherwise, we could lose him for free in the summer and that would be a nightmare scenario. He has become an invaluable asset to us - and has been missed in recent games with his injury.

What does the future hold?

The sky is the limit for Richards - now he’s shown his true potential. Unfortunately, I can see him leaving the club this summer and there will not be a shortage of clubs after his signature either, especially as a free agent. Regardless of whether he stays at the club or not though, I back him to go on and do well in the future. The Premier League awaits him if he continues to perform the way he has so far this season. Consistency will be the key - something he has definitely shown in this campaign throughout several months.


Anyone else?

Lewis Gibson is a player who filled in at left back against Queens Park Rangers (substitute) and Norwich City in the absence of Omar Richards - and did well in the former to ensure we took all three points away from White City. In the Norwich game, he did get caught out by Max Aarons in the build up to their penalty - but has done alright overall at left back. Had a stinker against Stoke City at centre back.

Under-23s player Ethan Bristow has appeared a couple of times for the Royals and looked reasonably comfortable at a senior level when he played - he could appear more over the next year. Keep an eye out for England youth international Imari Samuels too, although he is probably behind Bristow in the pecking order at this moment in time. On the right side of defence, Tennai Watson’s time at Reading may be coming to an end, even after appearing on the bench a couple of times - and at 23 - he will want to kickstart his career elsewhere.