There’s been a feeling throughout the season for many Reading fans that we’ve been three or four players short of a squad truly capable of competing for automatic promotion this year. Many times, that’s been because three or four of our best players have been sidelined with injury, often all at the same time. Still though, while the likes of Sone Aluko have proven there’s still perhaps a little left in the tank, better reinforcements off the bench could’ve really made a difference in the many games we’ve been chasing in 2020/21.
And with chasing games becoming a more common experience over the past few weeks, I’ve certainly felt as though more could’ve been done in January to give us a better chance of securing a play-off place this term. Hindsight is 20/20, but our bench during the pre-Christmas period last year should’ve been enough to show the ownership that back-up was needed. What’s done is done, but it certainly would’ve been nice to have a few different options or replacements available for crunch-time.
For fun then, what if we could’ve handpicked those replacements from Reading promotion history? The Royals have produced two exciting promotions to the Premier League this millennium, giving us a number of legends with experience of guiding a team to promotion to choose from. With the international break this week giving us a bit of time to dive into the past then, I’ll be picking out two players from each promotion team that I think would be the most useful to this current Reading team for the home stretch.
Boy, can Rafael make some lightning-fast reaction saves. And boy how he can frustrate at other times. Reading have been criticised in recent weeks for their shaky clearances from corners, and goals scored from second or third headers in the box at those set plays. Criticism has been mostly aimed at the defenders, and it’s due. However, it’s tough to remember many times in which Rafael has consistently helped out with punches or catches from corners. A box commanding presence, Rafael is not.
In the first of my alternate-universe selections then, I’d replace the flashy but infuriating Brazilian with the 106 team’s American wall: Marcus Hahnemann. The 106 season saw Marcus named in the Championship team of the year, so we wouldn’t be giving up any shot-stopping ability. His ability to command his box and confident collecting of crosses would also help to relieve pressure on the defence, and make us far more solid at set-plays.
Plus, if referees continue to deny us penalties, Hahnemann has the track record we need to ensure we’re getting our point across to the officials!
Regardless of the development of Tom Holmes and Tom McIntyre this year, it seems clear to me that January reinforcement at CB would’ve been much welcomed. Liam Moore and Michael Morrison are the entirety of our available CBs with more than one season of Championship experience, and we’ve recently got an unwanted chance to see our back four operate with just one of those two available. We’ve seemed a little better when the extremely vocal Morrison is playing, but it’s been shaky at best. I’d certainly feel a lot more confident with extra experience in the squad.
Step forward Ivar Ingimarsson! In this fantasy situation, the legendary Icelandic Royal would slot in nicely next to Moore or Morrison to provide some commitment, and a cool head to Reading’s back line.
Ivar’s commitment was never questionable either. Ingimarsson could even be relied upon to put his body on the line for the club, as his goal against Manchester City in the Premier League showed. While we don’t want players hurting themselves (no more injuries!), Reading have to show that they really want it if they’re going to make the play-offs this year. Ivar never had a problem on that front.
Adam Le Fondre
Are you getting tired of watching a toothless Reading labour to take three shots on goal while chasing the game? Feeling like every player wants to show us their silky footwork before smashing the ball into the legs of the defender? Frankly, for a team that’s scored a glut of goals this year, we’ve developed a nasty habit recently of losing our heads in front of goal. Considering that in all likelihood we’ll be chasing more games in the final eight, we could do with a more sure thing in the final 15 minutes!
We need a super sub. The man you call when you absolutely have to have an equaliser with 10 minutes to go. All Reading fans should know that man as Stockport’s finest: Adam Le Fondre!
With Alfie in the lineup, Preston North End and Nottingham Forest away are three points rather than one, and Wycombe Wanderers is at least a point if not more! Le Fondre was absolutely dynamite for Reading at times. It’s difficult to know how he did it, almost as if his luck was the only thing greater than his knack for finding the right spots on the field.
Think of Alfie as a more effective (or perhaps just effective!) version of Sam Baldock in this scenario: a smaller striker willing to put in a shift and run the channels. His extra three inches of height on Baldock might make him a slightly better target for our long-ball happy defenders, but realistically alongside Reading’s current attacking options, Le Fondre wouldn’t be the target man! Imagining a prime Alfie chasing down Lucas Joao and Yakou Meite’s knockdowns though? It’s enough to have you dreaming...
Realistically, Reading have one player you could call a winger on their books right now: Sone Aluko. He seems to the eye test a solid option off the bench for shaking up tired defences. However, the fact that Pauno doesn’t seem to fancy him, and his statistical end product, perhaps suggest he’s not making the necessary impact for a team in the promotion hunt. Often, when we’re chasing a game our formation looks so narrow however, making it easier to defend for compact Championship defences. A winger of proven quality would really help, so step right up Jimmy Kebe!
Looking back, Kebe’s breakneck speed and willingness to make a head-height cross first-time harkens back to a previous era of footballing strategy and playing style. That said, so does the Championship at times! Kebe had no issue getting out to the touchline either, something that could help us to stretch the field when we’re having all of the possession against weaker opponents. A right-wing combo of Yiadom and Kebe is another exciting prospect as well, giving us a lightning-fast way to get up the pitch despite who would be bringing the ball forward.
The real reason for bringing Kebe in is obvious though. As the old saying goes, Reading are really going to need to pull their socks up to win promotion this year. Who better than Jimmy Kebe to show them how?!