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The Mount Rushmore of Reading Strikers

With Jahmari Clarke’s recent emergence as a new option for Reading’s striking corps, let’s run through the best Royal finishers of all time.

Soccer - Coca-Cola Football League Championship - Reading v Ipswich Town - Madejski Stadium Photo by Tony Marshall - PA Images via Getty Images

Over here in the United States, it’s fairly common for journalists and fans alike to refer to a team’s best-ever players as their “Mount Rushmore”. Google “Mount Rushmore of sports” and you’ll find no end of photoshopped photos of the monument in North Dakota. Well, we’ve got some time before the next Reading game, and Jahmari Clarke’s well-taken brace against Birmingham City has put me in the mood to discuss prolific Royals past and present, so welcome to the Mount Rushmore of Reading FC strikers!

With this list, I’m going to show my age. I’m going to be keeping it just to the 21st century. So that we’re not just running through the usual suspects, I’ve picked one player who may be a controversial choice. I’ve also included G+A-Pk per 90. There will be a test, so pay attention. That basically boils down to non-penalty-kick goal involvements per 90 minutes played. Stats today are from FBref.com. With that out of the way, let’s sit back, enjoy some great Reading FC goal highlights, and gaze upon the magnificence of the Mount Rushmore of Reading strikers

Kevin Doyle

154 games / 55 goals / 18 assists / 0.49 G+A-Pk per 90

Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Reading v Manchester United - Madejski Stadium Photo by Adam Davy - PA Images via Getty Images

For my money, when assessing Reading strikers, there’s nowhere else to start but Kevin Doyle. That’s likely a lot to do with the seasons in which he found himself in peak form.

Arriving in June 2005 for the princely fee of £78,000, most Reading fans could’ve been forgiven for being more excited about our new £1,000,000 outlay on Leroy Lita. Doyle immediately made himself undroppable though, starting 41 games on the way to 106.

Doyle was one of the first names on the teamsheet in our first Premier League season and was a true sensation that year. During the promotion year, Doyle and Kitson shared the bulk of the striking duties, scoring 18 each in the league. In the Premier League though, Doyle truly kicked on, leading the club with 13 league goals, the most Premier League goals ever scored by a Reading player in one campaign. He scored many memorable goals, some of which are captured in this video from the club.

After relegation, Doyle put up another impressive season in the Championship, with 18 goals. After Reading couldn’t get promoted at the first try though, it was time to go. But even then, Doyle provided serious worth to the Royals. After signing for £78,000, Doyle was sold to Wolves in the summer of 2009 for £6.5million, an 8233% increase in price in just four years!

Shane Long

174 games / 44 goals / 15 assists / 0.5 G+A-Pk per 90

Liverpool v Reading - FA Cup 3rd Round Replay Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

You knew before you opened this article that there would be at least two Irishmen here, right? Did you know that out of Noel Hunt, Kevin Doyle and Shane Long, Long is actually the striker who played the most games for Reading? He’s also the member of that Irish trio that scored the most Premier League goals, though admittedly not close to the goals-per-game ratio Doyle achieved. The first stat surprised me, the second did not. I think that sums up a lot of Long’s legacy.

Long’s legacy lies in one season in which he truly excelled for Reading FC, the momentum he helped to instill in the football club, and the longevity of his career in the Premier League. Long arrived from Cork City alongside Doyle in 2005, but his breakout season wouldn’t arrive until five years later, in 2010/11. That year, Long scored 21 goals in the league, the best return from a Reading player in a decade.

Long’s emergence as a top striker helped turn Brian McDermott’s caretaker role into a full-time head coaching position on the way to the play-off final. That alone secures Long’s legacy and his place in this list. In a time when Reading were transitioning from one era to the next, Long’s sudden improvement allowed Reading to maintain their upward momentum.

Adam Le Fondre

104 games / 39 goals / 6 assists / 0.62 G+A-Pk per 90

Southampton v Reading - npower Championship Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

Reading’s comeback hero. Scrap that, Alfie is just a Reading hero. With a name like a 19th-century detective and a penchant for leaving it late, Le Fondre had an uncanny habit of popping up at just the right moment. The first of those moments would be popping up just as Shane Long left the club. Reading needed a striker to replace at least some of Long’s production, and Alfie put up a first season return of 12 goals from just 17 starts.

He popped up again at the end of the 2011/12 season, scoring two memorable goals at St Mary’s to give the title to Reading.

And then, once in the Premier League, Le Fondre scored five goals in January 2013, including a late brace against Chelsea to steal a draw at the Madejski Stadium. It’s near impossible to find good highlights of that game online, but even in 240p, Le Fondre’s second finish is a joy to watch. For his efforts, Le Fondre would become Reading’s only ever Premier League player of the month!

Possibly my favourite Royal of all time, Le Fondre represented a time when Reading’s recruitment was smart and opportunistic. The club picked up Le Fondre from Rotherham after a prolific season in the lower leagues, and gave him time to bed in to the team, before reaping the benefits. He helped the club transition out of Long’s domination up front and proved his skill across two leagues. He’s fully deserving of a place on this list.

Lucas Joao

60 games / 25 goals / 11 assists / 0.65 G+A-Pk per 90

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This may be a controversial pick, but should it be? Except for the back half of last season, Joao has looked like possibly the most talented striker Reading have ever been blessed with. He combines a precise shot with an ability to beat a player and can even pick a pass. He has a louche flair about him that can be frustrating when its not clicking, but absolute “yoga bonita” when it is.

He’s also scored some of the best goals I’ve ever seen a Reading player score, including this goal against Bournemouth in which he made Steve Cooke look like Ali Dia.

Joao has had one season in which he seemed to make the whole of Mark Bowen’s plan work when fit. He’s had another season in which he spent half of it looking like the best striker in the league, and half looking like he’d never seen a football before. It’s been a mixed bag to say the least, but whenever Joao is in the team, Reading look like a more dangerous prospect going forward.

And statistically, look at that goal-involvement ratio. At 0.65 non-penalty goal involvements per 90, Joao has the best of any striker on this list. His sample size is small, but the numbers don’t lie: Joao is dangerous.

If Joao flames out with Reading, and the back half of last year looks like his mean, then this will look silly. But the eye test suggests to me, and the stats back it up, that Joao has a chance to be one of the best strikers Reading have ever fielded.