Hal Robson-Kanu aside, Nick Blackman has probably been the most divisive player in the Reading squad over the past two-and-a-half years. Signed for a reported seven figure fee when the club was fighting relegation, the former Sheffield United forward was initially welcomed by the majority of fans and few turned on him even as the club slid back down to the Championship.
Presented with a chance to really stake his claim under Nigel Adkins, the then 22-year-old began our first season back in the Championship looking to make a big impact but managed just a single penalty despite starting five of the first six games. It didn't take long for some fans to turn on him, which resulted in this celebration after he scored his first goal from open play goal at Derby. (see 1:40)
The rest of the 2013/14 season was pretty miserable for Blackman, whose only other goals would be the seventh in a 7-1 rout of Bolton and the third in a 4-2 win at Leeds. Overall he'd manage just four goals in 30 Championship games and would start just four games after September.
The following campaign started much more promisingly. With no Adam Le Fondre, Blackman was given a bigger chance to stake a claim and three goals in his first eight games showed that the talent was certainly there. Yet once again he would go off the boil and struggle as the winter set in. Blackman failed to score a league goal after netting against lowly Blackpool in October, although his lone strike in the FA Cup set us off on the road to Wembley as we beat Huddersfield 1-0. In all he'd manage three goals in 37 games despite being named in the starting lineup on 16 occasions and featuring off the bench in another 21.
The debate over this summer was well covered not just in the body but in the comments section in our piece here, so I won't go over it again. Suffice to say, a large portion of the fanbase had little confidence that Blackman would turn it around and many more were dumbfounded by the forward's claims that he had 'nothing to prove'. Coming into the season his league record stood at 78 games, seven goals. Hardly a record that pointed to an explosion in form as he headed into the final year of his contract. Simply put, there was plenty of evidence to write a nearly 26-year-old Blackman off as a major prospect.
When the former Blackburn striker netted a screamer in pre-season against Swansea, it was met with 'meh he always does it in pre-season.' His goal at Birmingham was likewise dismissed by some as a goal when the pressure was well off at 2-0 down. A goal against Pompey? 'Pfffft, League Two opposition, he won't keep this up.'
Then came Brentford and the birth of Nick Blackman v2.0.
There comes a game or a moment when players can suddenly turn from divisive figures to cult heroes with Reading fans. Think Kitson v West Ham in 2004, Kebe v West Brom in 2010 or Paul Brayson in... OK so not everyone makes it. But for Nick Blackman that moment came against Brentford at the end of August. Two goals combined with the perfect breeding ground for a new song in a terrace = a new anthem for the forward and finally the backing of the majority of Reading fans.
You can't underestimate the importance of getting a fanbase behind you. Sure you can ignore the jaunts and the jeers from a minority but being able to feed of positive vibes is, to channel Nigel Adkins, so positive. Suddenly Reading fans were getting behind him when he missed a chance, talking about him positively and prepared to give him time and patience to get into a game. Blackman has since lived up to his side of this newly loving relationship with seven goals in as many games and now has more goals in just 12 games this season than he managed in nearly 80 over close to three years before this campaign.
So back to the question at hand, should those 56% of fans be eating humble pie?
Yes, but save some room in the fridge.
While Blackman's eight goals this season have been brilliant, there's a hell of a lot of work to do. Simon Cox managed seven goals in a sixteen game run last season and then scored just one after that stage. Hal Robson-Kanu produced a barnstorming end to our Premier League season before slumping ever since, while Royston Drenthe and Danny Guthrie were dominating our Player of the Month polls during the opening two months of the 2013/14 season when Reading had an even better start to the season.
Nick Blackman's challenge from here on in is to produce on a regular basis. He's not always going to score seven in seven, it's how he responds to going three or four without a goal that will show how far he's come. He's gone on great runs before (10 in 18 for Sheff Utd in 2012, six in four for Motherwell in 2011) now he's got to show form over an entire campaign.
Yet crucially we've now seen first hand that the quality is there and fans are prepared to give him time and patience. Few fans can now honestly deny that Blackman has talent and bags of potential. Even Jason Roberts told us on The Tilehurst End Podcast that Blackman was one of the most gifted youngsters he'd seen at Blackburn.
So Nick, I'm tucking in to a slice of humble pie for doubting you but I'm going to keep a few pieces in the fridge for the time being, I'm sure it'll keep till May.....