Rounding off our mid-season positional reviews, it’s time to look at how the centre forwards have got on thus far. You can see what we made of the other positions by looking through the links here: goalkeepers, wing-backs, centre backs and midfielders.
While none of the Royals’ strikers have really excelled just yet due to a variety of factors, there are still some positives to take on the whole. That’s with the exception of one player who’s suffered badly from injury (quite the theme this season).
A quick reminder on how we did the grades: A is very good, B is good, C is OK, D is bad and E is very bad (we’ve used this one for everyone whose season has been a write-off due to injury). The grades aren’t just done on the basis of performance - they also factor in playing time, expectations and more.
Adam did the write-ups for messrs Joao, Meite, Long and Carroll while Sim covered the rest.
It’s difficult to rate Lucas Joao fairly because he hasn’t had a huge amount of time time to prove himself. It’s easy to label him “lazy” - but I’m not totally sure that’s a fair description.
The Angola international probably doesn’t suit Paul Ince’s style but he’s certainly not giving up, with the forward pressing at times and keeping the opposition under pressure when given the opportunity to shine.
Scoring five times in 18 league appearances this season, that’s a pretty insane record considering he’s come on as a substitute quite often and this is why he needs to be retained beyond January.
His goals during the second half of the season could be priceless and with the club still under an embargo, you aren’t going to find an adequate replacement for him during the upcoming window.
Yakou Meite’s bright performances have to be commended this season because he wasn’t in the best form during the latter stages of last term and that’s understandable following his recovery from an ACL injury.
He has shown great mental strength not just to overcome his sticky patch of form, but also that long-term setback, because that could have affected him in a big way.
Scoring three times and recording two assists this term, he is continuing to show why he should be starting every week with his contributions playing a part in keeping the club afloat in the Championship.
Only recording one goal this season, Shane Long will be disappointed not to have scored more, especially after missing a golden opportunity against Stoke City earlier this season.
But considering his age, he’s actually done a reasonably decent job for the Royals. Performing extremely well against Blackburn Rovers and Coventry City, he has proven his worth on several occasions with his assist against Bristol City also showing that he can still be a threat in the final third.
He didn’t enjoy the best night at Birmingham City last week, but you would back him to bounce back and continue to be an asset in the coming months. Keeping him fit will be key though - and that may not be a simple task.
It’s difficult to grade the former England international because he’s endured a mixed time since his return to the Select Car Leasing Stadium. Showing his Premier League class in some games, he has failed to make an impact in others and that’s a real shame because we know how he can perform when on top form.
Scoring two goals in 13 league appearances isn’t the most impressive record but he’s contributed in other departments with his ability in the air shining through at points. His header at the end against Hull City proved to be crucial in winning three points - and that shouldn’t be forgotten.
In terms of his future, he’s certainly one player we should be looking to keep. With five loanees at the club already and the free-agent market unlikely to be full of decent options, keeping hold of him for the remainder of the campaign would be a good idea.
After an injury-hit 2021/22, this season was set up to be a breakout one for Femi Azeez. Reading’s switch to a back three in pre-season looked like it would give the youngster opportunities as a wing-back, attacking midfielder (in a 3-4-3) or centre forward in a pairing (in a 3-5-2).
Unfortunately he’s had rotten luck with injuries in 2022/23 too and is yet to get on the pitch for the first team. He has however managed to get back into action for the under-21s and made it onto the bench for the trip to Birmingham City, so hopefully he’ll have much more involvement in the back half of the campaign.
Three academy strikers have made it onto the pitch for Reading thus far, all featuring in the League Cup defeat to Stevenage. Opportunities have otherwise been limited though, with Paul Ince generally able to call on Joao, Meite, Carroll, Long and Tom Ince.
The best of the young bunch has been Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan, who’s managed a quartet of first-team outings. Three of those were bench appearances in the Championship (including a solid showing against Stoke City), while the other was a goalscoring display in defeat to Stevenage. He took his goal really nicely that night.
Ehibhatiomhan had two strike partners against Stevenage. The first, Basil Tuma, got his only first-team appearance that night but didn’t make much of an impact. To be fair, it was probably too much too soon for a player who’s still only 17. Kudos though to Tuma for playing and scoring for Malta’s under-19s this season.
The second, Jahmari Clarke, fared better that night off the bench, but like Tuma is yet to get another taste of first-team action for Reading this season. He did manage that briefly in a loan spell with Woking, even scoring on his debut, but seemingly got injured against Yeovil Town in his second outing.