With pre-season well underway, many Reading FC fans are beginning to find themselves in somewhat uncharted territory and are actually looking forward to the start of a football season. The 2014/15 Championship campaign was certainly one to forget, due to limited transfer activity and poor league positioning. The hiring of Steve Clarke was certainly a highlight, with the FA Cup run a major positive, and it can safely be said that he is moving the club in the right direction.
The departure of Adam Federici, Alex Pearce and Jem Karacan meant that the club has lost some of its longest serving players prior to the beginning of the new season. Clarke’s additions over the summer, however, have left fans with a sense of optimism. Add in the players who have stepped up from the U-21s or returned from loan and things are beginning to take shape. With Clarke still in the market for three more outfield players, it is a squad that could seriously go from one extreme to another in the upcoming season.
There are some individuals, however, that are beginning to particularly stand out and who have the potential to play a significant role in Clarke’s plans.
Fosu is amongst the most exciting prospects of this season due to his pace, creativity and willingness to run at defenders. The young midfielder made himself known to fans at the back-end of last season with his impressive display in the 3-0 victory against Derby. In pre-season he has continued to flourish, with an assist in Thailand and two more to his name against Bristol last time out. It is yet to be seen whether Fosu can become a consistent performer at a higher level, but so far he seems to be playing himself into the First Team starting XI. If he does manage to find a level of consistency, he will be a key player for the Royals this season.
Following his impressive loan spell last season with Coventry City, Samuel was one player that I was particularly looking forward to seeing back in a Reading shirt. With Clarke giving the youngster a chance to impress during pre-season, it is possible that he will feature in the manager’s plans. Considering his recent performances, Samuel has certainly given himself a chance of competing with the likes of Pogrebnyak, Sa and any other striker that Clarke may bring in. With an inch-perfect assist in Thailand and a goal against Bristol, Samuel is showing what he is capable of. Having only featured for the first-team as a substitute back in 2012, however, Samuel will have to show that he can replicate his goal-scoring form of last season at a higher level if he is to take the place of his more experienced counterparts.
As one of the most exciting signings of this summer, Quinn has the potential to become a fan favourite in no time. The ex-Hull midfielder has already demonstrated a work-rate that earned Jamie Mackie similar plaudits last season. With Hull fans upset about his choice to leave the club, their loss will definitely be Reading’s gain and alongside the likes of Danny Williams, Garath McCleary and Fosu, the Reading midfield is shaping up. The obvious experience that Quinn possesses will also be of great benefit to the squad, especially with a number hoping to move up from the U-21s.
With the departure of a consistent member of Reading’s defence in the form of Alex Pearce, a spot has opened up in the centre of the back four. A position that was once one laden with concern has now become one that has the most strength in depth. With Hector, McShane, Ferdinand, Keown and Cooper all having their individual strengths, Clarke has plenty of options to choose from.
McShane’s leadership qualities have already been praised by the manager and he will certainly be one of the contenders for the armband. Michael Hector was one of the stand-out performers of last year and he will definitely be able to learn a thing or two from the experienced Ireland international. Anton Ferdinand has more often than not been missing in action for the majority of his time with Reading so far, but having just completed his first 90 minutes he will certainly be in contention for a place in the starting line-up against Birmingham. It will be interesting to see who Clarke opts with when both players are up to full fitness, but it is nice to have two players with experience in abundance available for selection. Having conceded 69 goals last season, defence was an area that definitely needed some work and it is looking far more optimistic going into the new season.
Slightly controversial due to his lacklustre performances last season, but Blackman certainly has a thing or two to prove if he is to stake a claim for a starting position in Clarke’s squad. It must be said, however, that the Reading striker is definitely giving it a good go if pre-season is anything to go by. Having already scored three goals in three games so far, including a screamer against Swansea, he is showing what he is capable of. In the past, Blackman’s impact has often been limited due to the positions he has been asked to play in. If played in a position he feels comfortable in and which allows him to get in on goal, Blackman could yet make his mark.