Having lost the opening game of the Championship season away to Birmingham City and requiring extra-time to defeat Colchester United in the opening round of Capital One Cup, Reading’s start to the new season has been sluggish. Everyone is aware what the current issues are regarding the S word and it is an area that Steve Clarke and the Reading staff are continuously working to set right before the end of the Transfer Window.
While a large amount of focus has been placed on this area of the pitch (and rightfully so) there are plenty of positives to be had based only on the two opening fixtures of the season.
The Rise of Nick Blackman
Nick Blackman has cut a frustrated figure in recent seasons, but early signs are suggesting that this could be his best season at Reading to date. The striker managed just five goals last season, and only one of those was with Steve Clarke as manager. Blackman is already off the mark this season with a nicely taken headed goal in Reading’s 2-1 defeat to Birmingham. It will be interesting to see as more players join the Championship side whether he will be able to retain his place in the starting squad, but with injuries and current form considered it would be unwise to leave him out.
Oliver Norwood 2.0
Oh how we could have done with the Oliver Norwood of this season in the last. Towards the end of last season, Norwood was increasingly berated by fans for his lacklustre performances. If the opening fixtures are anything to go by, however, he has re-discovered his form and is looking mightily impressive. The piece of play that particularly stands out is his through ball assist to pick out Chris Gunter on the wing during extra-time in the Colchester game. It was a pass of the highest order and one that was executed to perfection. If he can replicate his early form for a large part of the season, he has the potential to be an important member of the squad.
The Emergence of Anton Ferdinand
After an extended period out through injury, many would be forgiven for forgetting the presence of Anton Ferdinand at the club. The defender has returned with a bang, however, and his re-established presence has been as important as any new signing at the club. Ferdinand was unlucky to miss out on a place in the starting line-up against Birmingham but was given a place from the off beside Paul McShane against Colchester. As McShane has been named captain it is highly likely that Clarke will be aiming to start him for the majority of matches this season. Ferdinand’s current form, meanwhile, is certainly making it difficult for a slow-starting Michael Hector to start in central defence.
Welcome Back Aaron Tshibola
Last season Aaron Tshibola was on loan at Hartlepool United and played a major part in their relegation escape. His loan spell has clearly done him the world of good and he looks ready to make his mark on the Championship this year. Clarke handed him his Reading debut in the opening game of the season against Birmingham and he should have been rewarded with a goal for his efforts. Depending on the signings that Clarke brings into the club, Tshibola could find himself on the bench more often than not as the season progresses but it is a major positive to have someone with his enthusiasm and ability available.
A Statistical Improvement
A major issue for Reading has been scoring goals. The lack of goalscoring opportunities has been an even bigger problem. If the Reading game against Birmingham is anything to go by, the Royals have taken a step in the right direction. Bearing in mind the side lost the equivalent fixture last season 6-1, there was a marked improvement and Reading will be aggrieved that they did not take any points from the game. The most promising statistic was the twenty shots that the Royals had during the game. Ultimately only seven were on target but the fact that this Reading side are creating a multitude of shooting opportunities is a plus point. Now all they need to do is start getting them in the net.
The Appeals of African Violet
With both fixtures thus far being away, we have all had plenty of opportunity to cast an eye on the new “African Violet” offering in action. Having had plenty of time to get over the initial shock, I must somewhat controversially admit it is growing on me. I have yet to see it in person, however, and this may yet revert back to my primary thoughts, but it isn’t as bad as I thought it was following the live reveal. The V-neck is a plus point for me, especially with the strange wide scoop neckline on the home shirt, and if I was to own either I’m edging towards the away shirt. For the fans who feel that they cannot comfortably wear the purple shade, at least it has given supporters an extra chant to add to the catalogue.