High: Shane Long returns home (July 13)
It took more than a decade but Shane Long finally returned to Reading this year in one of the most highly anticipated transfers in recent times. Seeing the 2005/06 title-winner and deadly Championship marksman play for the Royals once more seemed like a distant hope, but with Long now well into his 30s and at the twilight of his career, the conditions were just about right for one last hurrah in Berkshire.
And the club announced the signing in the perfect way, paying homage to the frequent ‘I’ve spotted Shane Long in The Oracle’ jokes on Twitter. This was, very possibly, the purest and most joyful day of the entire calendar year.
Low: Reading’s academy loses Category One status (July 21)
While Long’s return was a great call-back to better days in the past, we soon had worse news when it came to the future of the club. In late July it was announced that the Royals’ academy would take Category Two status in the 2022/23 campaign, ending a decade of exclusively Category One status.
It was a stark reminder that, for all the short-term improvements which made been made in prior months behind the scenes, long-term damage was still there to be mended. Reading had seriously taken their eye off the ball when it came to academy upkeep and therefore paid the price.
There were some silver linings however. The Royals’ response to the news constituted the open and direct communication which fans had been requesting for ages, and it was a relief to see that Reading would be quickly trying to rectify the problem by immediately reapplying for Category One status. That application had already gone in by the next month.
Low: Humbled in South Yorkshire (for the first time) (August 13)
While a trip to South Yorkshire on Good Friday had yielded one of the Royals’ highest points of 2022, another brought humiliation. Reading were second best to recently promoted Rotherham United all over the pitch individually and tactically, especially so in the first half when the damage was inflicted. It took a mere 18 minutes for the hosts to cruise into a 3-0 lead before making it 4-0 just before half time.
The Royals simply couldn’t cope with the Millers’ aggression and direct style, with Tom McIntyre and Nesta Guinness-Walker particularly exposed on the left flank. The real horror show though came between the posts: Joe Lumley put in one of the worst Reading goalkeeping performances in recent years to drop a couple of embarrassing clangers - just as Middlesbrough fans had warned us he would.
Although Reading had managed a 2-1 win over Cardiff City the previous week, the club’s outlook appeared bleak after that rout at Rotherham. Three defeats in four matches (league and cup) didn’t make for good reading. The Royals couldn’t turn it around, could they?
High: Top of the league (August 27)
Show me a person who says they thought before the start of the campaign that Reading would finish any game this season as league leaders and I’ll show you a liar. The Royals’ response to that Rotherham game was excellent - three wins and three clean sheets - and the last of those victories sent Reading to the summit of the Championship.
The Den hadn’t been a happy hunting ground for Reading in recent years; all too often we’ve been bullied and intimidated at one of the more intense stadiums in the Football League. This time however the Royals stood tall, grinding out a 1-0 win thanks to Naby Sarr’s first-half header. It should have been a more comfortable margin but Shane Long and Jeff Hendrick fluffed chances after the break.
Reading would gradually fall away after that game - first lower down into the playoffs and then into mid-table - but we’ll always have that afternoon in Bermondsey.
High: Amadou Mbengue joins on a free (September 13)
Reading had a decent amount of good moments in September: the ugly but effective 1-0 win at Wigan Athletic, a 2-1 home victory over Stoke City and the return of Andy Carroll. What pips them though, for me at least, was the signing of a player who’s been Reading’s unexpected success story this season: Amadou Mbengue.
The 20-year-old arrived as a hopeful triallist - probably below Massimo Luongo on Reading’s shopping list - looking to earn a contract after being released from Metz. Expectations were modest, with the hope really being that Mbengue could simply add some depth in midfield and at the back.
In fact he’s slotted into the first team excellently and filled a number of positions: right- and left- centre-back in a three, right-centre-back in a four and right-wing-back. He’s done so with remarkable maturity and ease for a rookie who’s still adjusting to a new league. Mbengue’s success so far is a reminder of how much value there can be out there in the transfer market, and hopefully Reading can keep hold of him for the long haul.
Low: Fortress SCL breached in dreadful fashion (September 14)
The very next day brought one of the Royals’ worst performances and results under Paul Ince thus far: Reading 0-3 Sunderland. The Royals had been excellent at home in the early stages of 2022/23, winning the first four matches at the SCL and conceding just twice in the process, but that run ended when Sunderland took Reading apart on our own turf.
Reading were hopeless that night - the opposite of the tenacious, competitive team which had ground out results so effectively. It had seemed to be a foregone conclusion after two batterings in South Yorkshire that poor displays would come away from home - not on our own patch - so seeing a capitulation in Berkshire was as surprising as it was worrying.
Still, the Royals had followed up those thrashings by Rotherham United and Sheffield United by winning the next game and this pattern would be repeated after the Sunderland debacle. Reading went to Wigan Athletic and ground out a 1-0 win thanks to Tom Ince’s free kick, going into the first international break third in the Championship.