Reading wrap up their home league action for the year with a tricky game against Wigan Athletic on Saturday. The Latics are in a fairly similar situation to the Royals, having been relegated alongside us last season, gone through more than their fair share of behind-the-scenes drama in recent years, and been deducted points this season.
How would you sum up your season so far?
In one word: inconsistent.
Generally, we’re doing OK. We have quite a young, inexperienced squad, and at times it shows. Every time we look at the league table, we try to remember the fact that we started on -8, and then add those points back on in our heads, as we see that as more of a true reflection of how this team is doing on the pitch.
(Add those points back on and we’d be hovering just underneath the play-off places – we seemed to start really well, beat the two bookies’ favourites early on with a team full of kids, went hell for leather to overhaul the deficit and then it was like we took our foot off the gas a bit.)
We’ve had a few injuries to key players, and then suffered some shocking referees. We’re not necessarily ‘fans’ of VAR but at times it appears to be the lesser of two evils.
Wigan have been through plenty of off-field drama in recent years – how are things looking at the club now?
After the struggles we’ve had (and some of it appears to be repeating itself in RG2 at the minute) we’re very wary of getting too settled with any of them. Whelan had his faults, but he always paid the bills.
The latest new owner already had the majority stake in the rugby club and there’s no love lost there between the two sets of supporters. Whether he bought Wigan Athletic because he wanted the club or whether it was to secure the stadium for the eggs is another debate for another day.
They’ve stated their long-term aim is to be “sustainable”, which is increasingly hard in the modern footballing landscape. We have a decent academy – the sale of a few graduates was ultimately what kept us afloat a few years back, but they went for a snip of their actual value, and with the EPPP pretty much meaning that the days of selling them for £20m+ and then reinvesting it over a couple of seasons is a distant memory, so how they plan to achieve this sustainability we can’t quite work out.
How’s Shaun Maloney getting on as manager?
You mean former FA Cup winning hero and protégé of club legend Roberto ‘Bob’ Martinez? That Shaun Maloney?
He’s an inexperienced manager with a young team and they’re all learning on the job. We play some decent stuff at times, in the mould of some of what Bob used to, but the aforementioned injuries, the few iffy results and the perilous league position meant he went a bit more pragmatic than the free-flowing tiki taka I think he’s aiming for.
Wiganers are a strange bunch, and some of them won’t take to him at all as manager, regardless of how he and the team are doing. Anyone with half a brain can see the restrictions he’s working under and how really, anything above the bottom four this season is an acceptable finish.
What are the main strengths and weaknesses of this Wigan side?
When we’re on it, we look like we could tear teams to shreds and score at will. That we don’t and should be out of sight after 25 minutes, but can’t seem to get a bit of daylight and finish the game off, keeps coming back to bite us on the arse.
How do you see the rest of the season playing out for you at this stage?
We’ve got more than enough to not have to be worrying about looking over our shoulders into the latter stages of the season, but not quite enough I don’t think to scrape into the playoffs. A top-half finish would be amazing.
How will the game go and what will the score be?
No disrespect but with your league position and troubles, we should be looking for three points and a win and to pull up the table. But then before last Saturday Port Vale had lost five at home on the trot, then we only turned up at half-time when we were already 3-0 down. Which leads me back to the beginning: inconsistent, so I’ll go for a 1-1 draw.