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TTE Roundtable: Previewing Reading’s 2023/24 League One Campaign

Seven of our writers put their heads together to make some sense of what the next nine months might have in store for Reading Football Club.

Reading v Southampton: Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Getty Images

In an attempt to make sense of how the last few months have gone at Reading, and what the next nine could hold in store, seven of our writers got together to answer some of the most burning questions surrounding the club. They are: Olly Allen (OA), Harry Chafer (HC), Adam Jones (AJ), Marc Mayo (MM), Ben Thomas (BT), Ross Webber (RW) and Daniel Wimbush (DW).

It wasn’t an easy task, given how quickly the situation has evolved at the SCL. These answers were actually written before news broke on Thursday that Reading were no longer under a transfer embargo.

How will Reading’s season play out, and where will we finish?

OA: It seems like we say this every summer, but this is almost an impossible question given that we don’t know how the final few weeks of the transfer window will play out. The squad as it stands now could easily be involved in another relegation battle – particularly if the off-field issues persist – but a flurry of signings could form a squad capable of getting in the top six. I would take a season of consolidation at this level. 14th.

HC: It says a lot that we’re so close to the start of the season and I haven’t even properly thought about where we are going to finish. May seems so, so far away – we need to prioritise getting our house in order before even thinking about it.

I think it’s going to be a really difficult start to the campaign, but the optimist in me says we’ll find our feet mid-season. I’d take mid-table and I think that’s where we’ll end up.

AJ: Where we will finish will depend on what happens between now and the end of the summer window. I reckon we’ll have a season similar to Wigan Athletic’s 2020/21 campaign and finish in 20th.

Would I take that right now? Probably, but this summer was such a good opportunity to rebuild and we’re throwing it away. Such a shame.

MM: The start is going to be tough and a points deduction swinging by our notifications in the early months wouldn’t be a surprise. However, with a few more bodies through the door I can see us getting into gear and being around 6-8 points off the play-offs in January, at which point we could make a big push and, then, anything can happen.

Reading v Southampton: Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Getty Images

BT: That honestly depends on how many signings we can make before the transfer deadline. If we can get some experienced bodies in, we could and should be looking higher, if we can’t make those signings, we could be struggling to stay up in all honesty. The perfect outcome to all this of course is that we can just focus on what we see on the pitch and the background issues fade into the memory like a bad Christmas...

RW: A slow start will probably hamper our promotion push, but if Selles stays the whole season, I can see us kicking on in the New Year. The playoffs would appear to be beyond us under this ownership in a competitive league this year though. I’ll say 10th.

DW: At this point I could make a case for just about any position from 1 to 24, or even not finishing the season full stop. While I think the latter of those scenarios is remote, I do have to lean towards the pessimistic view right now. I think at best you might see a campaign similar to 1999/2000 or 2009/10 when a horrible start then led to a slow turnaround and momentum being built for the following campaign.

I expect a lot of early thumpings but if we can recruit again before the end of the window, I’d still expect a top-half finish.

Who will be the Royals’ top performer this season?

OA: It’s slim pickings at this stage but I really like the signing of Harvey Knibbs. He has the potential to be the attacking heartbeat of this team and the early signs in pre-season are good. He should stay fit, develop throughout the campaign and he seems a good character too.

HC: If we can eventually get him registered, I think Lewis Wing will be a really key player for us this year. I always liked him whenever I watched him at Middlesbrough and I think he’s a really astute pick up for this league.

AJ: If he’s registered, Charlie Savage will probably establish himself as a real star in Berkshire. I’ve always wanted us to sign unappreciated players from Premier League giants. George Evans turned out to be a good signing and I hope Savage will be an asset too.

MM: I’ll split my answer between Andy Yiadom and Nesta Guinness-Walker, both of whom are comfortably Championship-quality players, and if Selles makes the full-backs key to his attacking set-up they will shine.

Reading v Swansea City - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images

BT: Realistically, we are looking to one of the new lads to step up. I’m hoping that’s Harvey Knibbs – he’s been at the club the “longest” in terms of those summer signings, had a fairly solid pre-season when others didn’t and has previous at this level.

RW: Given his League One experience and great reviews, you’d like to think Lewis Wing will be the replacement for John Swift that Reading desperately needed last season.

DW: If we’re allowed to sign him, I’ve got high hopes for Charlie Savage. Otherwise, I’d likely say Tom Holmes.

Which young player will break through?

OA: Jeriel Dorsett. Given that he is at least one age group older than the other academy players in the squad, he would appear the readiest for a season in League One. With almost 50 appearances in League Two and the Scottish Premiership under his belt in the last two years, the platform is there for him to have a crack at this level.

HC: I really want to see Jeriel Dorsett stamp down a place in the first team. He’s had some good experiences out on loan for Kilmarnock and Rochdale in recent seasons and I think this could be a coming-of-age season for him. He certainly looks the part and seems to have all the attributes to be a top centre half at this level.

AJ: Jay Senga may be the man that establishes himself as a big player next term. He certainly looks promising, but I think it’s a close one between him and Michael Craig. Both could be important considering we haven’t got too much depth in the midfield department.

MM: Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan. He will score 10 goals this season. Not all of them will be in the Papa Paint Trophy.

BT: Kelvin Abrefa. I loved, loved, loved his cameos last season. With Yiadom’s struggles with fitness, he may well get his chance sooner rather than later and I hope he does.

Reading v Watford - Emirates FA Cup - Third Round - Select Car Leasing Stadium Photo by Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images

RW: Charlie Savage is a top talent and we’re lucky to have convinced him to join. Give him a player next to him to do his dirty work and he could be one of our best players, let alone best young players.

DW: At 24 he’s just about young but I hope that Tom McIntyre really figures things out this season. This for me is his last chance to show he’s got top-two-tier potential, because if he can’t figure it out at League One level after 100+ Championship games, then I do fear for him at the top level. However, I’ll choose to be optimistic here and say he’ll kick on.

What have you made of Ruben Selles, and is he the man for the job?

OA: I don’t think you can really take much from his spell at Southampton and pre-season has been a write-off, so I’m still keeping an open mind on him. He clearly has a vision and plans for how he wants a team to play, and this is pretty much as a blank a canvas as he is going to get. The floor is yours, Ruben.

HC: My overriding feeling for Selles is utter sympathy. I think it’s fair to say that if he knew the farce would continue once he finally got the job, he probably wouldn’t have taken it.

On the pitch, although results in pre-season have been far from impressive, it genuinely looks like he’s starting to install an identity and a way of playing – things we’ve desperately needed for far too long. Time will tell whether he’s the man for the job, but I really, really want him to do well.

AJ: Fair play to him for taking on the job. It’s refreshing to have an actual coach in charge of the Royals and he comes across well, but I’m convinced we won’t end the campaign with him at the helm. He’ll either be a disaster or a big enough success to be poached by another club.

MM: He has the knowledge and the pedigree, but does he have the discipline to keep calm in a League One scrap and the tactical flexibility to avoid the 4-2-2-2 being found out? I have my doubts. It’s a hell of a tough job, though I’d say I’m 60-40 in favour of him being able to pull it off right now.

Southampton FC v Liverpool FC - Premier League Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

BT: He’s been honest and pragmatic so far, which is all we can currently ask for. You can tell he’s as frustrated as the rest of us and would have had to do a spectacularly bad job for the fans to turn against him, same with the players. Most people have forgotten the Chris Wilder saga by now and seem to be fully behind Ruben and his dream.

RW: I despised Paul Ince even when we were winning under him, so honestly anybody would have been a step up. But the players speak well of Selles and I like his tactical philosophy so I hope it goes well. I’m still not 100% convinced Red Bull football works in England though…

DW: It’s hard to tell so far. The pre-season results certainly don’t suggest much but, then again, the resources he’s been given so far have been abysmal. Off the field he seems to be saying the right things, so I’d say a steady start so far. Is he the man for the job? Do we even really know what the job is right now?

What’s your biggest source of optimism about this season?

OA: That if restrictions are eased, we are capable of building a decent squad. Knibbs, Sam Smith, Wing and Savage are all encouraging signings at good ages and it has given a glimpse into what Mark Bowen can do behind the scenes. Bring in more players of that calibre and there is no doubt potential for a good year.

HC: That if Dai ever does sell up and if we do put all this mess behind us, we have some really good people at the club – Bowen, Brian Carey, Selles etc – who have proven already that they can attract top players, have a clear plan for a rebuild and can move us toward the top end of the table. But that’s a hell of a big if.

AJ: If we don’t manage to bring too many more players in, some of the kids will probably get a real chance to shine. If the likes of Mamadi Camara, Senga and Craig can step up, they could be sold for a decent amount of money in the future.

Reading v Burnley - Sky Bet Championship Photo by David Horton - CameraSport via Getty Images

MM: I think we have, at current count, 11 players very capable of putting together a promotion push. I also think a few of the kids will surprise us if handled properly. If we get some momentum, add a bit more depth and start building some genuine belief around the club, we can be a real force.

BT: That we still have an operating club by the end of this season and that we have at least got some football on the horizon to distract us from the problems we currently. I still think Dai will move on when he wants to – no amount of protesting will change that – but having the fan groups work together and getting numbers to voice their concern/displeasure is vital and necessary. There are also some good people who are still working day in, day out to make the club a positive place, but I know it’s a slog for them.

RW: The toxic characters being gone from the dressing room and the chance to reset with a manager who could actually coach a modern style of football.

DW: That things can only get better?

The club badly needed a reset and, while the problems at the very top of the club remain, the small shining light is that Reading seem to have finally dispensed of the bloated contracts, bad characters and general negative malaise around the playing squad. Not to point the finger at anyone in particular but the club was in such a negative losing spiral that drastic changes were needed, even if we had to lose some players who could still offer something on their day.

How worried are you about everything behind the scenes?

OA: Immensely. Even after the club statement on Wednesday morning, which is of course an appreciated form of communication, there is still so much up in the air regarding the club’s future – because we’ve been here before. We’ve been given assurances that haven’t been followed through and we seem to find ourselves in a depressing cycle of off-field traumas. Dai selling must be the end game, but finding a buyer will be easier said than done.

HC: Very, very worried. But, honestly, it’s more sadness than worry. It’s just such a sorry state of affairs. I’ve lost count of the amount of times over the last two years when I’ve thought “well, it can’t get any worse than this”, and yet it does.

I just feel so deflated and am struggling to come to terms with it to be honest. I feel sorry for Bowen, Carey and Selles and my heart bleeds for the staff who have to wonder every month whether their wages will actually end up in their bank account. I feel a little bit helpless.

Reading v Swansea City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

AJ: The fact we have financial problems makes me extremely nervous. New investors and (ideally) a takeover are needed as quickly as possible. Otherwise, I can see us falling into administration and that would be a crushing blow.

MM: It’s not just the facts of the here and now, it’s the threats around the corner that we don’t (as fans) know about that are the worst thing. We could very very plausibly be tripped up mid-campaign just like last season. That fear will never, ever leave us with this ownership at the helm.

BT: It’s up and down on a daily basis. I swing between belief and desperation, almost hourly. Clearly things aren’t good. My mum always says “once you know, you can deal with it” – the main issue and frustration for me is that we, as fans, don’t know. If the club came out and said what the exact issues are currently, at least we’d have an understanding. The silence is deafening at the moment and then tends to panic me more.

RW: I will support Reading Football Club in any division so long as they exist, but it’s worn me down watching even that possibility come under question this summer. The current situation is less worrying and more intensely frustrating to me at this point. I hate that I love this club so much.

DW: It’s hard not to be very worried. I’ve given this regime a lot of leeway so far, as I did with Paul Ince as things turned sour. However, just as I have to admit I was wrong with Ince, the evidence is growing by the day against the ownership. I still like to think they’ve got good intentions, however intentions mean nothing if you keep getting it wrong.

Much as I’ve just said about the playing staff, things need to change. I think if Dai can either get significant investment to help him, or organise a sale, he still has the chance to just about scrape out of this whole mess with some credit intact. The academy and new training ground shouldn’t be forgotten but he’s just made too many mistakes, either accidentally or negligently.

I’m sick of waiting for things to go wrong and it’s getting exhausting having to take all of these shots as a fan of a football club I love so dearly.