Today it’s time for part four of our player review, handing out school-style grades to everyone in the squad. Having done previous editions on the goalkeepers, wing-backs and centre-backs, now it’s the midfielders coming under the microscope. These grades aren’t just based on performances - rather, they take into consideration playing time, pre-season expectations, and more.
For the most part, the second half of the season played out just as the first did for Jeff Hendrick. He was, again, a consistently and dependably dull player. In some ways that’s absolutely a good thing - Hendrick was far more error-resistant than many of his teammates - but games all too often passed him by.
Sometimes they didn’t though. He netted a shock brace against Queens Park Rangers one week, including a goal-of-the-season entry to open the scoring, before volleying home a lovely equaliser the next week against Watford.
The ability is clearly there, so it’s a real shame we didn’t see more of it. We shouldn’t overlooked Hendrick’s dependability and seemingly very good character (after all, both managers had no hesitation in giving him almost every minute on the pitch possible), but to me it seems as if he needs to come out of his shell a tad and affect games more heavily.
Partly because of his goals, partly because I may have been a tad harsh in the previous ratings, I’m bumping his grade up a tad.
Mid-season grade: D+
End-of-season grade: C-
What a frustration Mamadou Loum was. Reading had been crying out for a convincing all-round holding midfielder for years, finally seemed to get one... and then he flopped. Loum looked like a great find in his first few games - albeit somewhat erratic - but has regressed since.
While Paul Ince seemed to start losing faith with Loum just before the first international break when he used Sam Hutchinson in the holding role instead, Loum was ultimately a regular in the side until February, after which point he barely featured. Although the obvious low point was a reckless red card at Blackburn Rovers, let’s be honest, Loum had been pretty naff in general for a while before that point.
Although Ince restored Loum to the team for his last hurrah at Deepdale, it’s telling that Noel Hunt didn’t use the loanee once. The interim manager preferred both a lighter-weight two-man midfield (in a 4-4-2) and using Tom McIntyre as a holding player to playing Loum.
Mid-season grade: C
End-of-season grade: D
Although we saw plenty of Tyrese Fornah, I don’t feel we ever really saw the best of him. It was clear coming into this season that he was best deployed as a deeper central midfielder, progressing the ball upfield with the play in front of him. However, he was never used there, instead being put into a box-to-box role or even on the left wing in a 4-4-2.
He did an OK job in both roles (more so the former), but he always felt constrained. He had a great work rate and energy in abundance, but that didn’t translate to truly influential performances in midfield - just adequate ones. For me that’s summed up by the fact that his performances only went out of the 5/10-6/10 range twice in the second half of the season: 4/10 off the bench at Middlesbrough, 7/10 off the bench at home to Rotherham United.
Then again, this probably counts as a good season of development for Fornah in the longer run. Having previously picked up experience in the third tier, he’s now proven himself to be a dependable option in the Championship. The next stage is for him to find a side that’ll use him properly.
Mid-season grade: C+
End-of-season grade: C-
The only player in this end-of-season review series that wasn’t on Reading’s books at the time of the last edition, Cesare Casadei had an encouraging few months in Berkshire. The context for him is a little different to everyone else: given he’d previously only played academy football, Chelsea sent him here on loan to get him up to speed with the senior game. That’s a transition which a lot of youngsters - however talented - can struggle to make.
Casadei passed that test comfortably but not with flying colours. He, his loan club and his parent club will all be pleased with how much he looked at home at Championship level, not physically bullied or mentally intimidated by the step-up in standard from under-23s football. Casadei even took two of our player of the month awards: March and April/May.
Having initially struggled to get into the side, Casadei played in every one of Reading’s final 14 matches, starting all but two of them. A fair amount was asked of him tactically too, given he often partnered Jeff Hendrick in a 4-4-2 - a role requiring plenty of maturity, defensive solidity and discipline.
As for output, you can tell there’s a lot more to come. While Casadei’s technical ability is clear and he scored an excellent equaliser at Ewood Park - Reading’s first away goal from open play in approximately 17 years - he didn’t consistently, eye-catchingly express himself. He’ll likely get a loan spell with a better team next season and kick on. Casadei will go far.
Mid-season grade: N/A
End-of-season grade: B+
Some players just get horrendous luck with injury, and one of those is Dejan Tetek. The youngster looked like he’d eventually be a breakout star for Reading... one day... when those injuries finally dried up... but they never did.
Tetek ultimately never stepped foot on the pitch in 2022/23 - the final year of his contract - and was released in May. Hopefully he can kick on elsewhere, because there’s a talent in there.
Mid-season grade: E
End-of-season grade: E
A few more youngsters picked up some game time off the bench or in the cup for Reading in 2022/23. Kian Leavy’s sole first-team appearance came in the League Cup against Stevenage, although he managed just under a dozen games on loan at Shelbourne in the second half of the season (including one really nice goal against Bohemians).
• Kian Leavy, Matthew Healy & Johnny Kenny's goals last Friday to Wexfords 17 year old left back James Crawford who continues to impress every week— Mark Broomy (@MarkBroomy) March 6, 2023
• Gbemi Arubi last minute goal for Shelbourne's u19s to Tiarnan Mckinney's hat-trick for Derry City's u19spic.twitter.com/jeLQUly0yI
Otherwise, Michael Craig added two more substitute appearances in the second half of the campaign, coming off the bench in the FA Cup against both Watford and Manchester United. Although he didn’t play under Noel Hunt, getting five appearances under Paul Ince - who seemed allergic to the idea of giving young players first-team exposure - is noteworthy.
Finally, Jay Senga made his long-awaited first-team debut on the final day of the season, away to Huddersfield Town. As a side note, Mark Bowen talked up Senga as a bright talent for the future at the STAR Q&A, suggesting Senga will be involved with the first team in pre-season.