The recent performances of Michael Morrodona and the Berkshire Maldini have been clear for all to see in 2021.
Even in the absence of club captain Liam Moore, the pair have formed a solid partnership at the heart of Reading’s defence as two of the Royals’ standout performers, providing the platform for those up top to take the game to the opposition and win vital points. It’s now come to a point where Moore will quite simply have to earn his place back in the starting lineup, a real indicator of the impact McIntyre has had in his place.
The Scottish youth international is not the only academy graduate who has been a revelation this campaign though. Going into the season, we had one orthodox, senior left back to choose from: Mr Omar Richards. Last September, it was clear he still needed to prove doubters wrong and despite my faith in him, he has raised his game even beyond my expectations so far in 2020/21 – and it looks to have earned him a move to former Champions League winners Bayern Munich in the summer.
Am I surprised a team of Bayern Munich’s stature has come in for him already? Naturally. But the guy has been sensational this season and will only grow into an even better player in Germany.
Even without him, the presence of Lewis Gibson (although what he can offer offensively can be questioned) will help to keep Richards on his toes and would be an adequate replacement should the 23-year-old sustain an injury or pick up a suspension. This is a position which will need close scrutiny in the summer, especially with Richards’ rumoured departure, but we have two decent options there right now and the versatile Tom McIntyre also ready to step in if needed.
On the right, Andy Yiadom, who I would argue is one of the best full backs in the division, has missed a huge chunk of 2020/21 through injury, in what would have been a huge blow if Tom Holmes had not stepped up to the plate and been a sufficient substitute for him, with Felipe Araruna also out injured for the vast majority of this season and Tennai Watson set to leave at the end of the campaign. And though Gabriel Osho’s departure was a disappointing for us fans, it has only helped to bring through Holmes who we may not have seen a lot of this season had the former signed a new contract and stayed in Berkshire.
So, all in all, some of the younger players have done a fine job this season, stepping up when needed and proving they are very much up to the task of performing in the Championship.
The glue that has helped to ease these players in comes in the form of two of the more experienced players: Liam Moore and Michael Morrison.
In recent seasons, I have questioned whether Moore was able to back up his words with performances to match. The former Leicester City centre half speaks well, is a good influence in the dressing room and has the wisdom to lead a club to promotion – but the last few seasons have not gone to plan for either him or the club. Moore knows that as much as anyone else and was seemingly on his way out before Veljko Paunovic’s arrival. Since then, he has shown exactly why he instantly became a fan favourite in 2016/17 and has more than matched the performance levels of that promotion-chasing campaign this year.
His recent injury was a massive source of frustration but it was great to see him back on the bench against Bristol City and will no doubt be a vital asset going into the final few months of the season when calmness and composure will be much-needed.
Moving on to Michael Morrison, what more can I say about this man? The 32-year-old has been unbelievable and probably just as important as captain Moore this season. His leadership skills and defensive solidity has helped the Royals negotiate some fairly tricky fixtures this not just in 2020/21 – but in 2019/20 as well.
And with the likes of Lucas Joao up top, Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent running the midfield and Michael Olise continuing to shine, the defence can only help to compliment our attacking strengths. In 2011/12, our defensive record was the key to unlocking the Championship title. This season, promotion is also on the agenda. Whilst Swansea’s games in hand and Brentford and Watford’s quality present the Royals with a real challenge if they want to secure a top two spot, many points are still up for grabs this season.
It’s a reason to be excited, it’s a reason to be terrified. That is the beauty of Championship football and its torturous trials and tribulations.
But a solid defence, as shown before at the Mad Stad with Coppell and McDermott’s promotion winning teams, can take you far. It certainly doesn’t do you any harm and whilst we continue to see Michael Morrison and Liam Moore on top form, we must be grateful to be witnessing this and keep believing in the process.
The ingredients are there for a promotion push even if we have to do it via the playoffs – and securing a place in the top six has to be the main priority. We have a mix of youth and experience, a brilliant team spirit, several game changing players and a workaholic of a manager.
From that, the football club has four main objectives it needs to achieve if they are to keep the promotion dream alive: keep Lucas Joao fit and firing, maximise our creativity, increase our consistency and keep that backline solid even against some of the league’s most prolific forwards.
Do that – and the Royals have a chance (even if it’s a small glimmer of hope) of achieving the unimaginable despite a lack of squad depth when injuries start to mount up.
The club has their own objectives, now it’s our turn to do our bit. How can we do that? It’s quite simple really and can be summed up in three words.
Keep the faith.