While Reading’s recent FA Cup run has excited everyone involved with the club, it must be putting a strain on the squad with the number of fixtures over the next few weeks piling up. The sheer work rate of players like Simon Cox and Danny Williams means that it is surely impossible for them to continue to be effective playing game after game. After the performance against Wigan, some players must also be fighting for their automatic starting position in the squad. The Royals will have to play nine matches from now until the end of March, with one every Tuesday and Saturday. With so many games to play already, Reading will be hoping to avoid a replay against Bradford in the FA Cup at all costs.
The fixtures are as follows:
Ipswich v Reading- Saturday 21 February
Huddersfield v Reading- Tuesday 24 February
Reading v Nottingham Forest- Saturday 28 February
Bolton v Reading- Tuesday 3 March
Bradford v Reading- Saturday 7 March
Reading v Brighton- Tuesday 10 March
Watford v Reading- Saturday 14 March
Reading v Birmingham- Tuesday 17 March
Charlton v Reading- Saturday 21 March
Reading will have only two/three days recovery time between matches and some big teams to play over this period, so Steve Clarke will be thinking about how to get the most out of a squad which are currently under pressure and underachieving in the league (finding themselves in 17th).
“They will start to get opportunities to play in the team and they have to be ready to take their chances.”- Steve Clarke
Upon his arrival at the Madejski, Steve Clarke made his intentions clear by sending a number of the Reading youngsters out on loan to gain experience including strikers Dominic Samuel and Craig Tanner. During his time at the club, Nigel Adkins was often forced to make use of the younger members of the Reading squad due to a substantial number of injuries earlier this season. Since Adkins’ departure, however, Clarke has seemingly stuck with experience with Jordan Obita, Michael Hector and recent addition Nathaniel Chalobah currently being the exceptions. With so many upcoming fixtures, and players such as Hector and McCleary recently suffering injuries, Clarke is apparently looking to shuffle things round and give some of the younger members of the squad an opportunity to make an impact. Here are just a few he may choose to call upon.
At just 20 years of age, Cooper is one of the most promising members of the U-21 squad who has worked his way into contention for the first team. Under Clarke, Cooper is a consistent bench warmer and has come on to feature for the last few minutes in three matches. It was under Adkins that Cooper got his real chance in the first team, particularly impressing in the away match at Norwich in November when he scored the two goals that led to a Reading victory. With Alex Pearce being given the armband by Clarke, it is likely that an injury would be the only reason he’d lose his place in the starting line-up. Michael Hector has impressed during the absence of Anton Ferdinand, but he too missed out through injury in the last game against Wigan. With Hector set to retake his place in the squad against Ipswich, Cooper is likely to take up his place on the bench once again for the next few matches, but with a game against league rivals Bolton just four days before the big cup game, maybe this could be his chance to stake a claim in the starting line-up.
Jake Taylor, 23, has yet to really feature in the Clarke era, with his only appearance being in the 2-2 draw away to Brighton back on Boxing Day. Taylor featured fairly often under Adkins and provided the team with pace on the wings, something that is missing when Hal Robson-Kanu plays there. Taylor is also the joint 4th Reading top scorer (with Hal Robson-Kanu), behind Simon Cox, Nick Blackman and Pavel Pogrebnyak. What Reading have in the form of Garath McCleary and Jordan Obita in particular are players who aren’t afraid to run at an opposition. Taylor is of a similar ilk and putting him in the side would benefit Reading’s wide play. With Mackie also available, Clarke does have other options in the same position but it would be good to see Taylor get another run in the side.
Kuhl in particular has impressed while captaining the U-21 side and when called upon to represent the first team. At just 19 years of age, Kuhl is somewhat inexperienced at a higher level but has impressed with his work rate when given the opportunity to play for the first team. Playing in the central-midfield position, he has the difficult task of competing for a place with the likes of Danny Williams, Nathaniel Chalobah, Oliver Norwood, Hope Akpan and Jem Karacan who are all above him in the pecking order when fit and well. With players like Akpan and Karacan still making their return from injury, however, perhaps Kuhl can earn at least a place on the bench in one of the upcoming matches.