Saturday, January 19, 2013

Royal rumble

Ahead of today's crunch relegation encounter with Reading, we caught up with Royals fan Lanterne Rouge of The Two Unfortunates for his thoughts.

How do you assess Reading’s season so far? What were your pre-season ambitions? 

It’s been a reality check to end all reality checks. I think that after performing well when the club was last promoted in 2006, people thought the club would hold their own but early on in the first game against Stoke the gap was apparent and an early hiding by Spurs really set me thinking. True, I think to finish seventeenth was always the aim and that is still achievable but the team has been giving 110% every match and yet that has still only been good enough to notch three wins. There has been an abject lack of quality in the side and the majority of opposing teams have fully capitalised.

Best and worst results of the season to date?

The 2-1 win over Everton came as a relief after the long winless start and it should be noted that Royals have done best against the sides that play less pleasing football – the Toffees and West Ham among them. As for the worst, the quality of the opposition was excellent but that 3-1 home defeat against Tottenham could well have seen the club concede three times that number of goals.

How has Brian McDermott adapted to life in the top flight? 

Overall, I think he’s done as well as he could have done even if there have been moments where the team has appeared naïve. Put simply, players of true Premier League quality don’t really want to come to the club for the wages on offer so he has had to make do with what he has. Tactically, he has struggled a little though – persisting with 4-4-2 for too long after it had become clear that it’s an outmoded system. In recent weeks, a reversion to 4-5-1 and a more defensive approach has seen improvement.

Of your summer signings, who’s shone? And who’s struggled? 

The main problem is that the summer signings have not been an improvement on the players already at the club. Nicky Shorey has perhaps performed best while Garath McCleary has done the business in cameos. Despite three goals of late Pavel Pogrebnyak has been disappointing although the service he has received has been very poor. As for ex-Magpie Danny Guthrie, some competent recent performances don’t hide a season plagued by attitude problems and a tendency to try and do too much on the pitch – his attempted Hollywood passes mark him out as a poor man’s Stevie Gerrard.

What do you make of the January recruits so far, and what do you still need? 

They have been very low key and Daniel Carriço suffered the ignominy of being hauled off at half-time on his debut after an Ali Dia-style performance. Hope Akpan might be expected to get some tackles in which is needed (even if Premier League referees don’t allow them) and Stephen Kelly should solidify a back four that has been abysmal. Latterly, Stoppila Sunzu, rumoured to be joining from TP Mazembe, looks a slightly more exciting signing.

How important was Madejski to the club? Do the new Russian owners fill you with optimism or dread? 

He was important because he saved the club back in the 90s when it looked like it would go out of business. No matter the poor displays this campaign, the team’s current position is miraculous. I’m cynical about the owners as one has to be considering the shadiness of their backgrounds – at least Zingarevich has spoken to the press but the whole history of big business in Russia since the fall of the Berlin Wall has been a dark one and it isn’t something I am comfortable being associated with.

How would you assess Newcastle so far this season? 

Cabaye has obviously been a big loss but I think there is a sense that the club punched well above its weight and early form in 2012-13 was more indicative of the true level of ability at the club. That, unfortunately, has led to poor attitudes here and there and the strike force of Ba and Cisse have provided well-documented problems for the management. 21 points is obviously unacceptable and is a total Reading had a full month before this date when they were last relegated.

Which players do you admire/fear the most in the Newcastle side?

I understand that Cabaye might return while Cisse remains a major threat.

What areas do you think are weak and ripe for exploitation? 

I think the plan will be to defend in depth and hope the Toon Army gets on the home team’s backs – a stolen 1-0 win will be the aim.

What’s your prediction for the game? 

I think a nervy 1-0 win for the Toon is the most likely outcome.

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