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Midweek Musings: Happy Birthday Alfie, Missing The Mad Stad, Super Olise

This week, Ross looks back at an iconic super sub, discusses what he misses about the Mad Stad, and explains why Olise is so important.

Reading v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

I should go away more often! While I was coordinating the cooking and eating of a large Thanksgiving Turkey last week, Reading were finally able to snap their losing streak. I’m glad to be returning to a team unbeaten in their last three, so with everything seeming a little less urgent this week, I thought I’d focus on a few of the smaller stories around the Madejski.

Editor’s note: this was written before the 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday.

Happy Birthday Alfie!

When I heard that this was the birthday week of one of Reading’s most memorable strikers, I immediately got nostalgic. How can you not, when you’re talking about Adam Le Fondre? Whether your brain zips first to his fantastic goals against Southampton in 2012 to wrap up the league; or his super-sub performance against Chelsea in the doomed Premier League season, Alfie just stirs up positive feelings in loyal Royals.

Considering the impact he had on the club, and his respectable goal record of 39 goals in 104 games, Le Fondre’s signing for just £350,000 from at the time League One Rotherham still seems like a steal. Indeed, when we signed Josh Laurent on a free from League One Shrewsbury Town over the summer, much of my positive feeling around that move was built around how well Reading have done in the past at developing lower-league players such as Le Fondre. There were nine years between those two signings, which shows just how much confidence was left over for me from the Le Fondre years!

Skipping ahead to that Premier League season, Le Fondre’s chances were limited from the beginning by the (still odd) arrival of Pavel Pogrebnyak. That it was Alfie who was usually coming off the bench, and not the big starting Russian who finished as our top scorer that season with 14 goals in all competitions, speaks to how eagerly Le Fondre would seize his chances.

Reading v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images

2013 stands as the peak of Le Fondre’s Reading career, as he picked up Reading’s only ever Premier League player of the month award in January, and later broke the record for the most goals scored off the bench in a Premier League season. His player of the season award was a just reward for the excitement he provided in a somewhat glum campaign.

Alfie has gone on to become something of a journeyman in football, and has never given a club as many appearances as he turned out for Reading. You can’t deny his love of the game though, and his willingness to use his career to see the world. He even managed a 20+ goal season last year with Sydney FC!

So happy birthday to Adam Le Fondre! Here’s to a man who made sure that I was glued to the screen until the final whistle of every Reading game… because we never knew when he’d pop up with a late goal!

Missing the Madejski

This has been a tough year for everyone. Things as simple as seeing family have become difficult as we all do our best to limit the spread of Covid-19. For ex-pats such as myself, many of us have been entirely separated from our families this year with flight cancellations and coronavirus restrictions when entering countries forcing us to cancel usual annual trips home.

It’s not surprising that I’ve been pining for the UK then since the holidays started, but the news that the Madejski will be opening its doors for the first time in months has me really missing Blighty!

If you are able to get one of the 2,000 tickets available for the game, I hope you have a wonderful time at the Mad Stad. Our stadium isn’t the prettiest in the country, it’s not the biggest and it’s certainly not the loudest! Still, it’s a special place where thousands of us have spent freezing January afternoons forging precious memories on those bright blue seats. I’ll usually get back home for two to three games a season and when I’m only watching on iFollow, there’s lots that I miss.

Reading v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship - Madejski Stadium Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images

I miss the walk up the hill to the stadium past the roundabout and the away coaches. It’s frustrating that the stadium is pretty far from other attractions. But that said, I’ve always loved the way that the Madejski sits on a hill over the town, like one of the iron-age hill forts that dots the UK.

I miss the little glimpses of the pitch that you get through the corner tunnels as you desperately hustle around the stadium to your gate on the far side of the away end. Just seeing that shade of green stretch out from ground level fills me with excitement for any game I’ve come to see, even if it’s Colchester United in the League Cup.

I miss the back row. It’s by far the row I’ve sat in the most at the Madejski and with good reason: that corrugated iron back wall. When I’ve been at wins, such as the 3-0 against West Ham including the infamous Jimmy Kebe socks incident, the wall has made for an excellent drum for cheering the team on!

There’s lots to miss at the Madejski, and even if we don’t have the most iconic ground in the country, it’s ours and the little things make it feel like home.

Please, please: don’t drop Olise

Look, I’m sure he’s very effective further back, but after two glorious assists in the last week or so, there’s just no reason to pick Alfa Semedo over Olise’s in that #10 role. Indeed, we’ll even have to have a discussion about where John Swift fits back into the team later this month. After a short period on the bench however, Olise has come back with a vengeance. Two glorious assists over the last week speak incredibly well for Olise’s vision and ability to perfectly weight a through ball. His six chances created in the rout against Bristol City show the incisiveness Olise brings to the team.

Semedo’s talent seems to be for making striding runs into the opposition’s half, but his ability to pick a pass is limited, and he gives the ball away a lot with heavy touches. The Millwall game stands as a microcosm of the different confidence with which the team plays when Olise is on the field. With Semedo playing in the #10 role for the first half, Reading mostly failed to penetrate Millwall’s defence at all, and their inability to dictate any kind of tempo in the game led to Millwall dominating the half. Frankly, it appeared as though Reading had no ideas for unpicking a Millwall defence that couldn’t be undone by crosses into the box.

Once Olise came on, Reading looked far more dangerous. Runs were being picked out and Reading were able to swing the momentum, and capitalise on that with Joao’s goal from Olise’s fantastic assist. At the time on the goal, Another Football Analyst’s Flow of the Game (EPV) tracker showed Reading dictating the flow of the game for the first time in the match. It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means, and Reading faded again once our old friend Jon Dadi Bodvarsson entered the game, but Olise’s introduction was enough to at least breath some life back into a Reading team that desperately needed ideas.

We can talk about Olise vs Swift once the latter is back in the team, but for now and for me: the debate is over. Olise should be starting in the central role behind the striker every week. Plainly: he gives us the best chance to be creative and win games.