Having looked at how Joe Lumley and Dean Bouzanis have got on so far this season, today we’re turning our attention to the wing-backs. It’s a new area of focus, seeing as this is the first campaign in recent years in which Reading have really committed to playing a back three with wing-backs.
Fortunately, with the one exception, Reading’s wing-backs have fared well. We’ll also cover a couple more players who’ve appeared at wing-back but generally played elsewhere in a later installment on the centre-backs.
As before, the rules on grading the players are as follows: everyone gets a grade from A to E based on how the season’s gone for them overall: very good (A), good (B), OK (C), bad (D), very bad (E). Instead of judging them solely on their performances on the pitch, we’ll also factor in how well these players have lived up to expectations, how often they’ve been able to actually play, and more.
Be honest, you didn’t have ‘Junior Hoilett: wing-back extraordinaire’ down as something that would happen this season, did you? Hoilett’s transition from left-winger in his first campaign at Reading to right-wing-back (with the occasional appearance on the other flank) in his second has been hugely impressive.
He’s made that adjustment smoothly. Although he’s too old to have the energy to constantly bomb up and down the wing, he’s still a mature, experienced and well-rounded player who’s an asset in all thirds of the pitch.
Hoilett was better earlier on in the campaign, particularly in that home win over Blackburn Rovers when he scored an excellent goal. Although he’s faded somewhat since, perhaps with one eye on the World Cup (where he played three times for Canada), he still comes out with one of our highest average ratings and only Tom Ince beats his three MOTM awards.
Strictly speaking Yiadom should probably be in with the centre halves as he’s so often played on the right side of a back three, but for the sake of balancing out the articles a bit I’ve shunted him into the wing-backs section. He has played here though so I’m not cheating that much.
Last term’s player of the season hasn’t dropped off massively, but I don’t think he’s quite at the same level he was in 2021/22. I’m quibbling though - Yiadom’s been solid and consistent at the back for Reading: dependable defensively and an asset in possession too.
This season feels like a massive damp squib for someone whose arrival had been so keenly anticipated. For ages we knew that Reading needed a quality left-wing-back and thought we’d got it in the shape of returning loanee Baba Rahman, but he’s not lived up to expectations.
It’s less that Rahman’s been outright bad, more that he’s been frustratingly underwhelming. He’s yet to put in a standout performance, not getting more than 6/10 in our Ratings on any occasion. Whether it’s been down to a lack of fitness, the distraction of the Qatar World Cup (where he played for Ghana) or anything else, Reading aren’t getting value of Rahman.
Reading’s best-performing left-wing-back this season has been the guy generally sitting on the bench in recent months. Spare a thought for Nesta Guinness-Walker who, despite showing promise in his earlier appearances and currently being behind a below-par Baba Rahman in the pecking order, is struggling to get a look in.
Let’s not get too carried away here: we naturally tend to subconsciously think that bit more highly of the guy who isn’t playing when the one on the pitch is under-performing. And Guinness-Walker certainly isn’t perfect; he’s got room for improvement defensively in particular, as shown by some poor showings at Blackpool and Rotherham United.
But on the basis of this season he’s a bigger attacking threat than Rahman, looking that bit more aggressive and positive going forwards. He’s also got one of the best average ratings in the squad and has a higher performance ceiling - Guinness-Walker at his best is better than Rahman at his best. He performed admirably in excellent team displays against Blackburn and Norwich City, but really stood out in the 3-1 win over Huddersfield Town.
That said, I’ve got to factor in how the season’s gone for him overall, not just his performances. For whatever reason, Ince hasn’t been trusting Guinness-Walker recently, handing the former AFC Wimbledon man just one sub appearance in the nine matches before Christmas.
I’d hoped this season would be a breakout one for Kelvin Abrefa, who made his debut last season and showed some quality in the first team. Instead he’s had to make do generally with under-21 football, plus two appearances off the bench in the Championship and one start in the League Cup.
John Clarke, a summer arrival from Port Vale into Reading’s academy, is one above Abrefa on the appearances front: a solitary start at left-wing-back in the same League Cup match plus three introductions from the bench in the Championship. One of those (admittedly as a centre half in a back three) included an excellent block that helped secure a clean sheet against Middlesbrough.