It’s been a tough five weeks for Brian McDermott’s Reading side, who have undergone a rigorous pre-season schedule.
However the waiting is over as the club prepare to do battle in the forthcoming npower Championship league season. And with fans and players alike, there is a quiet optimism that the club can challenge for promotion this season.
If the league table was determined by form in the second half of the season, then Reading will have finished just outside the automatic promotion places last term, as they went on a remarkable run of form following a dismal beginning, which saw Brendan Rodgers pay the price ultimately by getting sacked as manager.
The Royals won 12 of their 23 league games, which included a remarkable turnaround of form at the Madejski Stadium after they had previously endured a miserable time at their home ground, winning just twice there in 2009.
Fans are united in the view that Brian McDermott is the right man to lead the club back to the Premiership. The former Arsenal midfielder has a calming way of managing, similar to that of Steve Coppell.
McDermott has a remarkable eye for a player, which led to Coppell calling him the best scout he had worked with. He is respected by his peers and his team, and is the right man to take the club forward, hopefully resulting in promotion at the end of this season.
The squad he has assembled has taken a nice shape to it ahead of Saturday's opener with Scunthorpe United.
Adam Federici will certainly start tomorrow’s match between the posts, but the club has real strength in-depth in that area with four very talented keepers fighting out for one starting place.
Ben Hamer is likely to feature on the bench for the Royals, while Mikkel Andersen is back on-loan to Bristol Rovers where he made an impact last season and Alex McCarthy has been rewarded with the form he showed at Yeovil last season by getting called up to the England Under-21 squad for their friendly with Uzbekistan.
In defence, the players virtually pick themselves currently with new signing Marcus Williams coming in for his debut tomorrow afternoon and Andy Griffin returning after a successful loan spell last season.
Griffin made an impressive contribution last season with a cool, experienced manner making him a favourite of many supporters. Williams was a free transfer capture from tomorrow’s opponents Scunthorpe, and the left back is vastly experienced with over 200 appearances under his belt for the Iron.
At centre-half, one absentee confirmed for tomorrow is club captain Ivar Ingimarsson who is recovering from a hamstring injury. That leaves Matt Mills and Alex Pearce as the two starting central defenders.
Mills finished last season on a real high with the club after a troubled start which saw him fall out of contention with Brendan Rodgers. Pearce is the younger of the two, and a typical British no nonsense defender.
Should either of those two get injured or suspended, then it could become a problem for a squad not filled with huge numbers.
Injuries permitting, the same midfield should continue to start that finished last season.
The partnership of Brian Howard and Jay Tabb may not have the biggest of physical presences on the field, but what they lack in height was made up for in heart and determination.
Challenging Tabb and Howard is Icelandic midfielder Bryn Gunnarsson and Jem Karacan as they continue to push the pair hard for their starting spot. McDermott is fortunate to have two wingers who on their day are unplayable in Jimmy Kebe and Jobi McAnuff, the latter who was the subject of a couple of bids from QPR over the summer.
If both players can find the consistency they showed in the second half of the season, the Championship full-backs are in for a hard time.
The star of the team and my tip for the Championship top goal scorer award this season is Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Despite being only 20 years old, the Icelandic midfielder has shown a level of consistency of a player who has been around for years. His ability to convert a penalty or free kick in key periods of important games last season was a major factor in him becoming a fans favourite, and if he starts the season well then Reading will be in a fine position to challenge for promotion.
Spearheading the attack will be one from Shane Long, Simon Church, Noel Hunt or Grzegorz Rasiak.
Both Long and Church are young and still learning their trade, while Hunt is a welcome addition back into the squad after missing the majority of last season through injury.
Rasiak is always a useful foil should McDermott decide to alter his tactics with his height and presence a valuable weapon, and he’ll chip in with his fair share of goals.
*Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.
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