High: Charlie Savage caps off Reading’s early transfer business (July 22)
The opening months of the summer transfer window had been slow for Reading, to put it mildly, with no fresh faces arriving until mid-July. But then everything seemed to happen at once: in came Harvey Knibbs, Sam Smith, Amadou Mbengue (by renewing his contract) and Lewis Wing in the space of a week or so.
The cherry on top was the capture of Charlie Savage from Manchester United. It was a coup getting a talented young player in at all, but securing his arrival on a multi-year contract was extra special. This was the point when Reading’s summer business seemed to have really kicked off and pre-season optimism among the fans was at its highest - it couldn’t go downhill from here, surely?
Low: Back under embargo (July 28)
Well, it could. Reading had gotten out of embargo status earlier in the summer but went back into it in late July due to a failure to pay HMRC. Not only did it derail Reading’s recruitment, which had been going well until that point, but there were fears that new signings Wing and Savage wouldn’t be registered in time for the season opener against Peterborough United.
The Royals would get those players registered in time, with the HMRC payment resolved in early August, but this was one of countless times in 2023 when off-field chaos disrupted the team’s pre-season preparations.
High: Roaring to victory at The Den (August 9)
Reading’s 4-0 battering of Millwall away from home in the League Cup won’t go down as the most memorable victory on the road in 2023 (Wycombe Wanderers), nor even the most memorable one in the cup (Exeter City), but we shouldn’t forget how special this game was.
The Royals went to South London with the usual cup expectations: put a second-string side out, be outclassed by the opposition, lose. But Reading’s youngsters had other ideas. Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan scored a brace, Charlie Savage opened his account for the club and Mamadi Camara added a fourth in a marvellous night in South London.
It was a brilliant way to get a first win in any competition in 165 days, following on from the 3-1 victory over Blackpool in late February. A bumper travelling contingent loved every moment, particularly those chaps you can see in the photo at the top of the article.
The surprise success of young players has been one of the bigger positives from this season: Nelson Abbey, Tyler Bindon and Ehibhatiomhan being some good examples. All of them truly stepped into the limelight in this game. This match also kicked off Reading’s habit of being rather good in cup competitions this season...
Low: Another points deduction (August 16)
Speaking of habits, the second of three points deductions this year came just over a week after victory against Millwall. The Royals were docked a point for failing to pay players’ wages on three separate occasions in the previous season, with another three suspended, Dai Yongge personally fined and also told to pay 125% of Reading’s wage bill into an account.
This was the smallest of the three points deductions Reading suffered in 2023 (what a grim thing to write), but it still stung. It chalked off a third of the Royals’ points tally, coming the day after victory over Cheltenham Town, and distracted from a couple of new signings: Ben Elliott (August 15) and Paul Mukairu (announced half an hour after the points deduction).
High: On cloud nine (September 19)
I can confidently say that Reading’s Pizza Cup trip to Exeter City in mid-September was the most fun I’ve ever had at a football match. Sure, it wasn’t the most dramatic or difficult of games (the Royals were going up against a poor, weak home side), but you don’t win 9-0 every day of the week, do you?
Tom McIntyre opened the scoring early on before fellow academy graduate Zak Jules netted an own goal for 2-0. Mukairu, later dubbed ‘Pizza Cup Paul’, got in on the action with a second-half brace before being joined by a Dom Ballard double and singles from Ben Elliott, Caylan Vickers and debutant Taylan Harris.
Reading were utterly dominant and ran riot, saving the bulk of the goals (seven) for when they were attacking the away end after the break. That free-scoring trend had started at Millwall of course, but would continue later on in the cup against Swindon Town and Arsenal’s under-21s.
Low: ANOTHER points deduction (September 13)
When Reading were docked an initial point in August, it didn’t look at all likely that they’d suddenly become financially reliable enough to avoid the suspended three points, and so it proved. The 125% deposit wasn’t paid, and so the club’s league tally was reduced from five points (following wins over Cheltenham and Stevenage) to two.
Six points forward, four steps back. Reading had started the league season slowly enough, but constantly being pegged back by points deductions added insult to injury. This latter punishment also drew ire from some fans, who noted the irony of the EFL saying:
“The EFL continues to acknowledge the negative impact sporting sanctions are having on the Football Club and remain extremely disappointed and frustrated at the Club’s ownership to meet its ongoing obligations under EFL Regulations.”
Remember: if the EFL had got its way at the initial hearing to decide the punishment, it would have been four deducted and four suspended, not one plus three.
Thankfully, that was the end of the off-field drama Reading would suffer from in 2023...