We’re a few stages into our end-of-season squad review. Having already looked at the goalkeepers and wing-backs, now we’re turning our attention to the centre-backs. You can see how we graded this section of the squad in December right here.
A quick review of the criteria: everyone gets a grade from A to E based on how the season’s gone for them overall: very good (A), good (B), OK (C), bad (D), very bad (E). Rather than judging them solely on their performances, we’ll also factor in how well these players have lived up to expectations, how often they’ve been able to actually play, and more.
Reading’s vice-captain had a pretty good season, establishing himself as one of the first names on the team sheet, generally looking solid but without really standing out. For me that’s summed up by the fact that (going by Twitter at least) Holmes seemed to make the shortlist for a number of fans’ Player of the Season, but without finishing top. For what it’s worth, Holmes came fourth in our voting.
I don’t really have a lot to say about him, in truth, which isn’t really a bad thing to say about a defender. He did however register one of the highest average ratings of any first-team regular (joint-third with Junior Hoilett, behind Tom Ince - first - and Joe Lumley), while only Lumley, Andy Yiadom and Jeff Hendrick played more minutes than him in 2022/23.
Mid-season grade: A
End-of-season grade: B+
This season feels like a missed opportunity for Tom McIntyre, although not really primarily due to things in his control. Reading’s shift to a back three should have given McIntyre the chance to nail down one spot in the team (left-sided centre-back) and properly develop. Instead, we’ve seen him shunted around too often - including to left-wing-back and midfield.
Overall he was fine in 2022/23 (his average rating matches the average rating of the squad exactly), but I wanted to see more from him. He also had an unfortunate injury blow in the closing stages of the season before returning under Noel Hunt, when he picked up his only MOTM award on the final day of the season. Another high point was his only assist, which came via a clever ball over the top for Shane Long to score against Watford in the FA Cup.
Going forward, I really don’t want to see McIntyre picking up a reputation as a dependable but limited utility man. He’s got the potential to be a quality progressive centre-back, and he needs a manager who’ll trust him in that role.
Mid-season grade: B+
End-of-season grade: C+
Every season at Reading, one veteran centre-back looks really good, gets injured and isn’t the same player again. The goal is to not be that centre-back. However, following in the footsteps of Michael Morrison (2020/21) and Scott Dann (2021/22), Sam Hutchinson’s luck was cursed in 2022/23.
At least those two managed to get back out on the pitch for a decent amount of game time after returning from injury. Hutchinson on the other hand had to settle for just two appearances in the second half of the season, playing in the January home matches against Watford and Queens Park Rangers before his season was ultimately ended by more naff luck with injury.
It’s so frustrating that someone who’d given Reading’s defence such composure and leadership in the opening weeks of the season hasn’t been able to stay fit. You have to wonder if things would have turned out better for us, at least a bit, had Hutchinson remained in the side for a lot longer.
Mid-season grade: B-
End-of-season grade: D+
It’s been pretty much the opposite story for Naby Sarr who, after struggling with injury in the first half of the season, got much better luck in the second half. In fact, 21 of his 25 appearances have come since the midpoint of the campaign (two of the remaining four were in the lead-up to the midpoint).
It certainly wasn’t all plain sailing. Sarr was well off the pace over the festive period before missing a handful of games due to injury in January. However, after establishing himself as a first-team regular in February, Sarr gradually improved and looked like one of Reading’s better players in the closing stages of the season, making the shortlist for our April/May player of the month award.
Given that I felt pretty sure Sarr would only be up to much in a back three, I was pleasantly surprised by how well he took to the back four under Paul Ince and Noel Hunt. He also finishes 2022/23 with the joint-second-highest number of MOTM awards - four, with three of those coming after the midpoint of the campaign. He’s level with Cesare Casadei and Nesta Guinness-Walker in this regard for this period of the season.
Although it took Sarr too long to get going, overall I’m left feeling pretty optimistic about the coming years. He should be a big asset for Reading in League One; he better be, given that he’s got another three years left to run on his surprisingly long contract.
Mid-season grade: D-
End-of-season grade: C+
Scott Dann was similar to Sarr in respect of getting back to fitness in the second half of the season, but dissimilar in that he didn’t perform well on the pitch. With the exception of one pretty good game against Watford in the FA Cup, Dann’s looked past it, having not really recovered from the injury that ruined his 2021/22 campaign. His average rating is the joint-second-worst in the squad (alongside Ovie Ejaria and Baba Rahman).
Still, I’m pleased for his sake that he managed to get some fitness back. Dann should now at least be able to get a decent move in the summer - probably the last of his career.
Mid-season grade: E
End-of-season grade: D
And then some centre-backs don’t get any real luck with injuries in either half of the season. Liam Moore managed just three games in the entirety of 2022/23 (all of them in March), the last ending with the grim sight of Moore visibly devastated by being forced off due to yet another injury setback.
There was at least time for him to win one MOTM award (when he was subbed on against Millwall), but that said as much about how bad everyone else was that day. I feel really sorry for him, given how badly the last 12 months have gone for him, and hopefully he can properly recover ahead of a decent move elsewhere in the summer.
Mid-season grade: E
End-of-season grade: E+
Jeriel Dorsett’s season isn’t quite over yet - his Kilmarnock loan side have a few more games to go. It’s not been the break-out campaign he’d have wanted though; he’s played just nine times in the league at the time of writing, with five of those in one spell in the second half of the season.
On a similar-ish note, Louie Holzman ultimately managed just one game for the first team in 2022/23: the League Cup outing against Stevenage early on in the campaign.