Reading left it late to secure victory last time out against Bolton, with a long distance strike from Ola John enough to partly save Reading’s blushes. The Royals now find themselves in a mediocre thirteenth place in the Championship- eleven points off the relegation places and sixteen points off the play-off spots. With both relegation and promotion now seemingly off the table, perhaps now is the time to consider some squad rotation as the end of the season approaches.
The quality of players produced at Reading’s academy has already been demonstrated on a number of occasions- Michael Hector, Jordan Obita, Aaron Tshibola and Jake Cooper being prime examples in recent years. Hector, of course, has already been sold to Chelsea for £4.5 million while Cooper is also set to be a target for a number of Premiership clubs over the summer. The key to their progression, however, is allowing them to gain experience in the first team and seeing whether they flourish at a higher level.
As Tariqe Fosu showed in last year’s 3-0 victory against Derby on the final day of the season, the academy players are willing and ready to make a push for a position in the senior squad if given a chance. When it comes to the final games of this season, however, a number of the youngsters at the club cannot be utilised- The likes of Fosu, Dominic Samuel, Rowan Liburd and Jack Stacey, to name only a few, are currently out on loan. As a result, fans will have to wait until next season to see if they can make a breakthrough.
Reading brought in a number of players on loan this season- Matej Vydra, Lucas Piazon, Ola John, Alex Fernandez, Michael Hector and Andrew Taylor. It is unlikely that Vydra, Piazon, Fernandez and Hector will be around for next season and subsequently it may be worth readying other options. In the case of John, however, as he is usually Reading’s only creative spark these days I would continue to play him just to further demonstrate why Reading need to do all they can to sign him permanently.
Bearing in mind the status of the squad going into the final weeks of the season, here are the players that I would be interested in seeing in some of the starting line-ups.
After signing for the Royals in January, Evans has somewhat faded into the background. Aged 21, the promising young midfielder has only featured twice for the first team thus far- in Reading’s 1-1 draw against Sheffield Wednesday and the 3-1 defeat to Huddersfield. As a signing of Brian McDermott’s own choosing, it will be interesting to see if he is given more of an opportunity in the first team in the final games of the season.
Up until now Oliver Norwood, Danny Williams, Lucas Piazon, Stephen Quinn and Michael Hector have made it difficult for Evans to get in the team. With at least two of them heading out of the door in the summer, however, it would be good to give Evans a run in the team to find out where he can contribute next season.
Ali Al-Habsi has certainly improved as the season has gone on, coming to Reading’s rescue too many times to recount. The best display of recent times came against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup Quarter Final when Al-Habsi kept the Royals in the game almost single handedly. As a result, Jonathan Bond has not had a look in despite being the Reading #1.
After signing for Reading last summer, the 22 year old goalkeeper had a consistent streak of performances as the season got under way. The problem is that due to the calibre of Al-Habsi’s displays in the tail end of the season, Bond has not been selected since December. That means that he has also only been selected on three occasions by the current Reading manager. Bond is definitely one for the future, but one that should be given a chance to make an impact and improve.
As one of the few youngsters not to be sent out on loan this season, Josh Barrett has been making his mark in the academy fixtures. The midfielder was also handed his first team debut in March, when he came on for the last ten minutes of the 3-1 defeat to Huddersfield.
After signing his first professional contract with the club in October, the 17 year old has clearly got a long term future at Reading and is regarded highly by those at the club. Since seeing so many of his fellow academy players making a lasting impression as part of the first team squad, Barrett will surely be looking to reach similar heights himself. At such a young age it will probably be too early in his career for him to become a consistent performer in the first team, but it may be good to see what he may be capable of in upcoming years.
Niall Keown is another youngster who is a promising Reading academy graduate. While he was at the club, Steve Clarke made it known that he believed that Keown could go on to become a first team regular. Now 20 years of age, the centre-back made his first team debut last season but has not made any appearances this year. Having been included in the first team squad for the game against Huddersfield in March, it is clear that Keown features in McDermott’s plans to some extent.
Up until now the problem for the youngster has been the strength of Reading’s centre-back pairings. Unless injured, Paul McShane, Anton Ferdinand, Jake Cooper and Michael Hector all appear in the pecking order above him. After recently making his debut for the Ireland U21s, however, Keown will be hoping to be given an opportunity in the first team especially with the uncertain future of Ferdinand and the upcoming departure of Hector.
Based on the fact that he is a loan player that has not made a huge impact this season, Andrew Taylor is someone that I did not see having a future at the club. Following his recent statement to the press about wanting to stay on at Reading if provided the opportunity, however, I have somewhat changed my opinion.
Taylor has struggled to stake a claim for a place in the starting eleven, at least when Jordan Obita has been fit. Taylor is, however, arguably better than Obita defensively but offers less going forward. Having now publicly stated that he wants to stay at Reading, the left-back will be fighting for a new contract over the next few weeks. It is only fair, therefore, that he is given an opportunity to prove if he is deserving of one.
The signing of Deniss Rakels in January came as a surprise to everyone, but his late winning goal against Charlton gave the fans a moment to remember this season. It has been the only goal that the striker has scored in nine appearances, but when seven of those have been as a substitute it is arguable that he has not been given ample opportunity so far.
Having already been given the “super-sub” label by McDermott it is likely that he will follow in the same vein for the rest of the season. After Vydra’s poor finishing against Bolton last time out, and with his loan coming to an end at the end of the season, perhaps it is now time to see if Rakels and Kermorgant can strike up a partnership-Especially with Simon Cox no doubt departing in the summer.