Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so let’s do some really thorough beholding. 2021/22 was not a vintage season for Reading, despite the talk of history and an important anniversary passing. Still, we’ve stayed up, and done so with a significant gap to the relegation spaces in the end, so there must have been some positives right? Right?
A reasonable round of transfers
Given our transfer record, it’s worth noting when overall recruitment was a net positive for our first-team squad. With EFL restrictions forced on them, Reading were thrown into a situation that required significant recruitment, and they delivered. Baba Rahman, Danny Drinkwater, Andy Carroll, Orjan Nyland, Tom Dele-Bashiru, Tom Ince and Junior Hoilett all helped the first team mightily at various times of the season.
Sure, there were odd pickups too: Tyrell Thomas and Brandon Barker were unnecessary additions but won’t affect our bottom line much. Karl Hein and Alen Halilovic were unlucky to find themselves out of the squad for apparent non-football-related reasons, and we are yet to fully understand whether Scott Dann has more to give in his career, but it would be hard to argue we had a true dud.
Still, seven out of 12, with the possibility of Dann working out in the future, is a great return by our standards. It’s almost as though being forced to think outside of the box with our transfers finally focused minds in the recruitment department enough to think further than the bounds of Kia Joorabchian’s rolodex. Many of those that worked out this year did not come from Sports Invest UK - something that is worth noting.
With another important summer of recruitment looming, one can only hope that lessons were learned about how to construct a team.
Laurent’s big fortnight
Josh Laurent’s Reading career so far (hopefully) has been nothing short of a tour de force. Throughout his two seasons, he’s fulfilled a number of roles and excelled in most of them. In two games either side of the March international break though, he truly outdid himself.
His winner against Blackburn Rovers, now the goal of the season, was an absolute peach. One of those dipping, curving bombs that you know gave the goalkeeper ample time to consider how little he was going to be able to do about it.
His goal against Barnsley could not have been more different: a two-yard tap-in that rocketed into the back of the net and drove all of the nails into Barnsley’s coffin at once.
Both felt great.
Facing facts, Barnsley were gone from the Championship the moment Michael Morrison laid the ball off for Laurent right in front of Collins’ gaping goalmouth. They never truly recovered their momentum from that moment, and while the Easter weekend results made our ride to safety less nerve-wracking, in the end we may stay up without those points. These two Laurent goals were truly the moment Reading survived.
Regardless of whether Laurent stays or goes in the summer, I’m sure he’ll be remembered fondly by most if not all Reading fans, and these goals will be an early stop on a trip down memory lane.
Joao proved his value is no fluke
In the first half of 2020/21, Lucas Joao put together a run of form that placed him as one of the best strikers playing outside of the top five leagues. His imperious form meant his value rose exponentially, and transfer rumours abounded last summer.
Despite that purple patch though, there was still some doubt that Joao could reproduce his goalscoring prowess every year. A confidence dip that led to a drop in form, and his injury problems reappearing at the start of this season paid heed to that doubt, and I wondered if he may be one of the expensive contracts on his way out in January.
What a joy then that his return has been a great success. After this year, I think we can say Joao’s class is permanent, and his value to this team obvious. His 10 goals is on par with his second-best return ever, and his key goals in the closing months of the season helped take Reading over the line. I have far more confidence now than I did 12 months ago that Joao can be a consistent goalscorer for years to come.
That could help us next year through him continuing, or through providing us with money to retool in multiple places in the squad. As I laid out a few weeks ago, Reading will have options, from both within and without if they do decide to replace Joao, as horrifying as that notion is to consider.
I hope Joao pulls on a Reading shirt in game 46 of 2022/23, but if he doesn’t, his proven value should help the team regardless.
The shirts weren’t sullied
This season’s kits were surely the most consistent thing to look good on the Reading’s pitch this year. Macron knocked it out of the park, with the home and away kits being both individually beautiful, and endearing throwbacks to our history.
Yes, I know, because nothing has been simply “positive” this year at the club, that there were huge mistakes made with the distribution and ordering of the replica shirts this year. It’s another fantastic example of how much incompetence exists in the club at every administrative level that they underestimated how many shirts would be needed for our 150th season.
That said, I’m just thankful that we didn’t sully the shirts, and our 150th season, with an embarrassing relegation. To have to remind ourselves of relegation every time we picked them out of the closet would have been too much.
There wasn’t a whole lot to scream and shout about in 2021/22… in a positive manner. Putting together this list of memorable moments wasn’t particularly easy. Perhaps that’s the ultimate blessing in disguise though: in 10 years’ time this season will blend into the memory of our other recent relegation scrapes, and just these happy memories will remain!