Reading Football Club News: January 2017

QPR Defeat - Post Match Talking Points

13 January 2017
By Alex Bower

Reading's impressive home run in the Championship came to an end on Thursday evening courtesy of a 1-0 defeat to QPR. Rangers were seventeenth in the league prior to kick-off but ex-Royal Jamie Mackie scored the only goal of the game to seal their third league win in a row.

Here are some of the talking points from the game:

Ilori Transfer An Increasing Necessity

Among the many concerns that arose from the defeat, the defence was probably the worst of the lot. The usually reliable combination of Ali Al-Habsi, Paul McShane and Liam Moore has been split up in recent games due to the injury sustained by McShane.

While he recovers, Stam has resorted to playing Joey van den Berg in the centre of defence. This is where a lot of the problems have surfaced, with the Dutchman's temperament and brash style of play getting him and the team in a fair amount of trouble (to say the least).

The recent return of Rob Dickie and the continuous inclusion of Jake Cooper on the bench shows that Reading do have natural options when it comes to the centre-back position. Dickie, however, has not had any real experience at Championship level and Cooper has fallen out of favour since Stam's arrival.

McShane's absence has demonstrated how important it is to have experience in the centre of defence and it is for this reason that the Tiago Ilori transfer needs to go through. Ilori is still young at 23, but he attracted the attention of Liverpool and has represented Portugal from U18 to U23 level.

While he has less experience at Premier League level than McShane and Moore, Ilori should offer a welcome option in defence. His arrival would also provide the option of returning to a seemingly successful formation of having three centre-backs and two full-backs. Most importantly, it would also prevent the likes of van den Berg from playing there.

Troubling Takeover Talk

The QPR defeat will have been a worry following the FA Cup exit against Manchester United, but one of the major concerns will be the talk surrounding the takeover. You need only cast your mind back a few years to remind yourself of the saga surrounding Anton Zingarevich but it is a period that many would like to forget. In September 2014, a Thai consortium purchased 100% of Reading FC from Sir John Madejski. Since then they have helped to finance a number of signings including the likes of John Swift and Liam Moore (to name only a couple) who have already become fan favourites.

With their speeches to the fans from the pitch, the Reading FC themed song that we sadly cannot forget, pitch-side pyros and trips to sit with fans during matches, the Thais at one time seemed to be fully immersed in Reading FC and its fan-base. Now it appears to have all been a facade with the Thais only concern being the redevelopment of land around the stadium.

Ahead of the January transfer window, the Thais are aiming to sell the stadium, the club and the training ground to Chinese brother and sister Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li. The duo famously tried to buy Hull earlier this year but failed the FA's fit and proper person test. Subsequently, with the plausibility of Reading achieving promotion at the end of this season, there is some concern surrounding this potential purchase.

In a season where Jaap Stam is performing above expectation, the last thing he or the team needs is unwarranted uncertainty and distraction regarding the ownership. Stam felt he had the full backing of the Thais when they came on board but it turns out that was not the case. The January transfer window is upon us and in an ideal world I am sure Stam will want to build upon his pre-existing squad in order to continue pushing for promotion.

The drama surrounding the ownership is not only potentially derailing any transfer plans but it is also risking Stam's future at the club. Stam has shown that he has the ability to succeed in a managerial capacity and is working wonders with a club that has under-performed in recent years. While I do not believe it is enough to force Stam out the door at the current time, it is an unwelcome distraction that needs to be quashed as soon as possible.

Toothless In Attack

Much has been said about Reading's possession based style of play and subsequently teams come to the Madejski Stadium with a willingness to sit back and defend deep. It is a tactic that fans will see time and time again this season, with the occasional opponent willing to press Reading slightly higher up the pitch.

The concern is that in some games, such as against QPR, Reading are unable to break down stubborn defences that sit deep. When opponents regain possession and push players forward, the Royals don't counter with speed either. Yann Kermorgant has managed to get a fair few goals this season which is impressive bearing in mind his sole striker status. Against QPR he had two particularly good headed opportunities but failed to get them on target.

With Reading struggling to get a goal, many will have looked to young Dominic Samuel to try something different up front. The issue is that with such limited space available to the Royals, the striker who relies on getting in behind defences would have struggled.

Stam also clearly has a number of different tactics up his sleeve and several formations in his canon. Against QPR he adopted a plan that saw Danny Williams take up the strange positioning at times as a right full-back. For whatever reason, players looked confused as to where they were supposed to be and did not know who they were meant to be marking.

The QPR game showed that if Reading go behind at home, they struggle to break down an increasingly defensive and compact style of play. Stam still does not really have a plan B and in games like this such a plan is important to perfect.

Crisis Of Confidence Following FA Cup Exit?

An FA Cup tie at Old Trafford is not something you experience every day as a professional footballer. There would have undoubtedly been nerves prior to the tie both amongst the players and Stam upon his return to his old club. Unfortunately the nerves showed and Reading gave their opponents too much respect.

Ultimately the score could have been greater than 4-0 but with a quality squad like Manchester United's at his disposal, Jose Mourinho was always the favourite to get the win. The concern for Reading fans will have been whether the team could immediately get that out of their system and re-focus on what had been a good spell in the Championship. The immediate instinct was yes, especially with QPR at home first up. In reality no one seemed up to their usual standards and they struggled to make an impact on Thursday evening. No professional likes to lose and could be suggested that their minds may still be on what happened at Old Trafford rather than back on the job at hand. That or there was simply fatigue amongst players who had been outplayed only a few days prior.

With over a week now to go until the next game, it is even more important to put in a good performance against Derby.

Reading Frustrated As Fans Stay Away

12 January 2017
By Hob Nob Anyone?

In a game in which Reading dominated possession without ever testing the Rangers 'keeper, John Mackie seized his opportunity midway through the first half to inflict a second home defeat of the season on his former club. It was a workmanlike performance from the visitors, content to sit back and frustrate Reading, and take advantage of mistakes to break out of their own half; and there were plenty of mistakes. It was not a good night for Reading or their fans. Having seen their team significantly underperform they heard Jaap Stam expressing frustration doubts about the uncertainty of ownership and future direction of the club on their journey home.

Lower Turnout Expected As QPR Visit In TV Game

12 January 2017
By Hob Nob Anyone?

It looks set to be a lower crowd than might be expected at the Madejski Stadium tonight after Reading's home game with QPR was moved to Thursday night at the request of Sky TV. The inconvenience of a Thursday evening combines with the forecast of a cold and damp evening as rain, sleet and possible snow clear just before the 8pm kick-off. Although there should be no issues with the game going ahead, many fans may well still be tempted to watch the game on live TV in warm surroundings instead of turning up at the Madejski.

Paul McShane and Callum Harriott are both out for what could be many weeks after picking up recent injuries. Harriott has a hamstring injury sustained in the last minutes of the first half in the fogged off Fulham game, while Paul McShane is sidelined with a fractured wrist. Tiago Ilori will not feature for Reading. His signing from Liverpool was widely reported last week but has taken much longer to officially complete than expected. Future signings in this transfer window also could be doubt with the collapse of the Chinese takeover deal. Reading's Thai owners are expected to only offer very limited funds to manager Jaap Stam to strengthen a club they had been hoping to sell.

Jaap Stam will be aiming to avoid worries of events off the pitch and focus on returning to winning ways after last weekend's thrashing at Old Trafford. The Royals lost 0-4, but the score was generous to Reading if anything as the Royals offered little resistance against a strong Manchester United side. Al Habsi had an excellent game but will be looking to put his one very well reported mistake in that game behind him tonight - hopefully with another cleansheet.

QPR have Kazenga LuaLua available for selection after the winger arrived at QPR from Brighton on loan.

A win for Reading would see them close the gap on Newcastle United in second place to just three points. QPR are down in 17th place after a disappointing campaign so far. Although Reading had no chance in their FA Cup third round fixture, Rangers might have hoped to progress last weekend but instead lost 1-2 at home to Championship strugglers Blackburn. Before that QPR had put a run of six straight Championship defeats behind them. That shocking run was finished with a 2-1 away win at Wolves and another 2-1 victory at home over Ipswich Town as they stopped their slide down the table.

Reading's form is much better with three consecutive league victories in recent weeks. Reading have won 9 games out of their last 11 in the League - an amazing run that has got everyone talking about very much unexpected possibility of promotion. For a change, Reading are firm favourites with the bookies for a win. As everyone says, anyone can beat anyone else in the Championship, and QPR remain difficult opposition according to Stam: "It would be arrogant and misplaced to think that in any game in the Championship we are going to get three points very easily. We have to work very hard and show some quality on the ball, otherwise a well-organised team like QPR can be very hard to score goals against."

Reading Hope For Upset At Old Trafford

06 January 2017
By Hob Nob Anyone?

The Royals are on the road this weekend as they make the journey to Old Trafford to face Manchester United in the third round of the FA Cup. The game has been much hyped up with the return of Reading manager and former United defender Jaap Stam to Manchester. Stam played a big part in Manchester United's success between 1998 and 2001 - including being part of their famous treble winning side. He insists his return to Old Trafford shouldn't be about him but about his new club attempting to pull off what would be a huge, and massively unlikely, cup upset: "It's nice to go back. I love the club, I love the fans and I had a great time there. But this game is not about me, it's about Reading facing Manchester United at Old Trafford."

The game has attracted a lot of interest from the media with the Jaap Stam angle, and Reading's recent success in the Championship may make it an interesting clash. As with any cup competition game featuring Manchester United, the tie was immediately selected for live TV coverage and will be shown on BT Sport. The game kicks off at 12:30pm which means an early start for nearly 5,500 Reading fans supporting their side at Old Trafford as they attempt to avoid an early exit from the cup. Reading fans will be heading north looking forward to a day out rather than a realistic hope of pulling off a shock, but we can always hope the magic of the cup makes an outing too. Reading's ticket allocation has been sold out for some time, but did go down to general sale, meaning most fans that wanted to go will be there.

When the draw was made BT Sport might have had hopes of screening some kind of upset with Reading up to third in the Championship and Manchester United struggling in the Premier League. However, since then Jose Mourinho has truly turned his club's fortunes around, guiding them to six consecutive Premier League victories. Since the draw the Red Devils have conceded just 3 Premier League goals while picking up maximum points to close the gap on the top four.

The only positive news for Reading fans is that Mourinho is likely to rest some of his star players to give some fringe players a run out. The United boss has confirmed however that Wayne Rooney will start and captain his side. Sergio Romero is confirmed to start in goal. However, even an under-strength United team is likely to be world class and will be expected to dish out a firm defeat to Reading. Mourinho is likely to go with some youth so that will probably include massive future, and current, prospect Marcus Rashford. United are also likely to go Dutch themselves to give some game time to the talented 19 year old Timothy Fosu-Mensah. He made 8 Premier League appearances last season but has clocked up just one so far this term. Luke Shaw is also likely to be included for the home side.

Jaap Stam has fielded reasonably strong sides in the League Cup, and is likely to go with a strong line-up again in the FA Cup. He has also vowed not to change his style of play stating "Our belief is possession. We still want to play." With Stam determined to continue his tactics that have been so successful in the league this season, a dramatic changes of personel seems unlikely. Ali Al Habsi signed a new contract this week to keep him at the Madejski Stadium until the summer of 2019. With Jaakola recently struggling with injury, Al Habsi seems near certain to continue in goal. Callum Harriott will miss out after picking up an injury just before the game against Fulham was abandoned at half time. Blackett will probably be given a chance to play against his old club, although Jordan Obita will be hoping to take his place in the starting eleven. The in-form Liam Kelly will be hoping to be given another starting chance.

Ali Al Habsi Extends Contract

05 January 2017
By Hob Nob Anyone?

Ali Al Habsi has been rewarded with his continually consistent performances with a contract extension to keep him at Reading until the summer of 2019. Al Habsi was due to be out of contract in the summer after two years with the club, but the new deal secures the services of Reading's first choice goalkeeper. There were plenty of question marks over, and critical nicknames for, Al Habsi when he arrived as seemingly second choice goalkeeper to Bond who signed at the same time. However Al Habsi more than silenced his critics by becoming Reading's main goalkeeper and deservedly winning the fans vote for player of the season last term.

Al Habsi is currently very much in the running to claim the player of the season award for a second consecutive season. He is currently second, behind Liam Moore, in the Hob Nob Anyone? man of the match voting for the season so far. Al Habsi has been named as man of the match six times so far this season on this website - more than any other player. His best performances came in the early part of the season where there was no doubt his performances earned vital points as the Royals steadied the ship and started their climb up the table.

Talking about Al Habsi committing to a new contract with Reading, Jaap Stam was full of praise for the 35 year old: "As we all know, Ali is a great goalkeeper - a fine shot stopper with good reactions who even at this stage in his career is still improving his game and becoming better and better as a player"

Wigan paid Bolton a four million pound transfer fee in 2011 for the services of Al Habsi and he went on to make well over 100 appearances before signing for Reading after four seasons at Wigan. Al Habsi has made 65 appearances for the Royals since signing - and now looks set for plenty more.

Tiago Ilori Set To Sign From Liverpool

05 January 2017
By Hob Nob Anyone?

Rumours are gathering pace that Reading are set to complete the signing of Liverpool defender Tiago Ilori. Initial rumours suggested Ilori would be signing on a loan basis, but the Liverpool Echo are now reporting that the transfer deal has been done with Reading set to pay 3.75 milllion pounds for the player. Ilori joined Liverpool in a deal worth seven million pounds in September 2013 from Sporting Lisbon. Half of that fee was initially payable but other payments have failed to trigger with Ilori failing to break into the Reds first team and not making a single Premier League appearance during his time in Liverpool.

The player has been restricted to just three FA Cup appearances - which all came last season. He featured in a 2-2 draw with Exeter, a 3-0 replay win at Anfield, before Liverpool were dumped out of the cup at the hands of West Ham United. Before that he had loan spells at Granada, Bordeux and Aston Villa - but failed to make a competitive appearance with the Villians.

Ilori, initially from Portugal, is 23 years old and is reported to a tall, fast, left footed central defender. He played 33 times for Sporting while also playing for the Portugal youth teams, which attracted Liverpool to pay such a large transfer fee at the start of the 2013/2014 season. Despite his lack of Premier League action he continued to work through the Portugal national set-up and has ten under 21 caps and 3 for Portual's under 23s.