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I’m sure I can speak for all Reading fans in saying that this has been a very tough summer for everybody associated with the club. The Premier League build up has acted as a constant reminder of that fateful day at Wembley, where fans and players realised that another season in the Championship was to become reality because of two missed penalties.
This was the club’s third loss at Wembley in six years, other defeats include another play-off final against Swansea in 2011 and an FA cup semi-final loss to Arsenal where goalkeeper Adam Federici let one through his legs in extra time…. I think it’s fair to say us Reading fans haven’t got the best memories at the home of Football.
The play-off defeat was a result which ultimately overshadowed a very good season for the club where they finished an unexpected 3rd. Japp Stam came in and turned around the fortunes of the club around after an unstable period which started when the club got relegated from the Premier League in 2013.
This period from 2013-2016 saw Reading finish 7th, 19th and 17th, which was cause for concern with fans fearing the club may just become another mid-table Championship side.
The big Dutchman was a catalyst for change last year and immediately incorporated a passing style of football that has never before been successful at the Madejski Stadium. After a few doubts early on the mentality of ‘if we have the ball you can’t score’ started to become popular as results began to drastically improve.
With Jaap’s philosophy now firmly established at the club this season is crucial for Reading because they can either go in two directions, one being repeating the success of last year and possibly going one step further by gaining promotion. The other direction would be not building on last season and finishing mid-table which could ultimately lead to Japp Stam leaving the club.
If this was to happen I fear that it would put the club right back to square one again and may well create another period of instability, therefore this season could define the club for the next 3-4 years. The team now has a responsibility to make sure that they put the play-off final out of their heads and keep the club heading in an upward direction.
Regarding summer transfers there has not been massive change at the club compared to other Championship sides. The biggest losses include goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi who won player of the year for the last two seasons and Danny Williams who was the real engine room of the midfield last season.
Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone has come in as Al Habsi’s replacement, with other additions including striker/winger Modou Barrow from Swansea, midfielder Pelle Clement from Ajax and Wolves striker Jon Dadi Bodvarsson. Although these signings do sound promising it seems the main priority of the club this summer has been to keep the established players from last season with John Swift, Liam Moore, Chris Gunter, Liam Kelly all signing new contracts.
The central midfielder Liam Kelly is the key here, he’s a real young talent who’s got great potential and after breaking through from the academy last season he’s showed signs of a brilliance with his gifted distribution skills. This year he can solidify his position and become a player that can make things happen for the team by finding that killer pass.
There are some concerns that Reading have not brought enough players in to compete with the likes of other clubs such as Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and Wolves who have all made big money signings this summer and this wasn’t helped with the team losing 2-0 to QPR on the first day of the season.
Jaap’s judgement on the players hasn’t failed yet however so fans may need to have faith in Jaap and believe that he’s brought these certain players in for a reason. In addition, let’s not forget there’s still time before the transfer window shuts for the club to bring in more players.
It’s going to be a very interesting season for the boys in blue and white this season and to predict where they will finish is a very hard task considering last season was such an overachievement. If Jaap can however once again work his magic and these new signings fit in well with the system who knows maybe Reading can again push for those top places.
One prediction I can make is that this season has the potential to be filled with great highs and lows once again for Reading. If the club does go to Wembley again though I’m asking you footballing Gods now, can you please shine on us? I can’t take another loss.