So, the day has finally arrived. The day that Reading fans have been dreaming of for the last few months. Similar phrasing was used earlier on in the season in the days leading up to the FA Cup Semi-Final; a rightfully celebratory occasion. In this case, it is being used to describe a far more underwhelming event- the last day of the 2014/15 season.
It has certainly been a memorable season. On a positive note, the club made it to their first FA Cup Semi-Final since 1927. They also came very close to making it to the Final, but no more on that. There have been more negatives than positives, however, with Reading sitting dangerously close to the relegation zone and all after hiring their second manager of the year.
The cull has already begun, with Ryan Edwards the first to be informed of his release, and it is set to continue over the summer. Many fans are blaming Clarke for Reading’s poor performances towards the end of the season, but the manager will be given the opportunity to turn things around. Before he is able to start thinking of next season, however, the Royals face their final test of this season against Derby, as many strive to retain their place in the squad.
Reading have now failed to win in their last nine Championship games, with their last victory being their 2-1 defeat of Brighton back in March. When you consider the fact they have only managed to find the net six times, and failed to score entirely in four of those games, it is easy to see where the problem lies. Last time out, the Royals were able to find the net, but it was simply a consolation goal as they lost 2-1 to Rotherham.
Their opponents on Saturday will be looking to extend Reading’s run to ten games without a win. Derby currently find themselves in 7th, and still not guaranteed of a play-off position. Despite an impressive start to the season, the automatic promotion candidates struggled to find their form after their defeat to Reading in the FA Cup. Now if Brentford or Wolves win their final game of the season and Derby lose, one of them will take the final play-off place. With the arrival of “April Player of the Month” Tom Ince on loan in February clearly giving the Rams a much needed boost, they will be confident of getting at least a draw against a poor Reading side.
Derby clearly do not have the same problem as Reading, especially when you look at their recent goal tally. Despite only managing a draw to Millwall last time out, they netted three times in the process. Before that, their game against Huddersfield ended 4-4. If these games show anything, it is that while they are clearly a prolific outfit up-front, their defensive capabilities are sometimes lacking. The opposition do need to have an attacking force that is capable of exploiting their weaknesses, however, which is something that many have doubts about when it comes to Reading. Derby’s last home game against Blackpool may be somewhat representative of what Reading can expect, as the Rams cruised to victory 4-0.
The result from the last time the Royals and the Rams clashed, may give Reading some hope. Derby faced Reading back in February in the FA Cup Fifth Round, where the Royals won 2-1 late on. It is important to remember, however, that Derby had Stephen Warnock sent off in the first-half. When the two sides met earlier on in the Championship, it was not so positive for the Royals as Derby cruised to a 3-0 victory at the Madejski. Derby have the greater incentive to replicate their performance in the reverse fixture, and it is difficult to see the game ending any other way.
“It’d [a victory] be a little ray of sunshine for the players and the supporters. The supporters are suffering, as are the players but even a win won’t mask a disappointing season.”– Reading FC Manager Steve Clarke
If form and incentive not being on Reading’s side was not enough, a quick perusal of the injury list for the away side does not make for positive reading either. The Royals will have to take on a strong Derby team with their best players potentially out of the mix. Jamie Mackie, Nathaniel Chalobah and Pavel Pogrebnyak all picked up injuries last time out against Rotherham and their fitness will be a concern for Clarke. Danny Williams and Hal Robson-Kanu may be back in contention, however, after sitting out the last fixture.
Derby, meanwhile, have injury concerns over Jake Buxton, George Thorne and Zak Whitbread. Top scorers Chris Martin (21), Darren Bent (12) and Tom Ince (11) are all available.
While Reading will be going into this game with the hopes of salvaging something from an awful run, Derby will make life tough for the Championship strugglers. If there was any time to prove what they are capable of, however, this would be it.