Reading's Premier League season ended with a whimper as they lost 4-2 to West Ham at the Boleyn Ground on Sunday. Despite the fact that over recent years Reading have seemed to nearly always beat West Ham, they couldn't even meet the obligations as West Ham's bogey team, although a brief recovery in the second half did keep hope alive. The pre-match talking point was the recall of Kaspars Gorkss in the centre of the defence at the expense of Adrian Mariappa -- a surprising move as Gorkss has received less than rave reviews for his on-loan performance a tier lower, at relegated Wolves.
One of the few bright sparks of a pretty dismal season for Loyal Royals was given official confirmation today with the announcement that England manager Roy Hodgson has called young Reading goalkeeper Alex McCarthy into his squad for the end of season friendlies at home to the Republic of Ireland and away in Brazil. Regular followers of my blogs will already know just how highly I rate the 23-year-old McCarthy, so I have never had any doubts that McCarthy would make the full England squad one day -- my only surprise is the timing, and that this has happened quite so soon.
With Reading already relegated and Manchester City now managerless, licking their wounds from the FA Cup final defeat to Wigan, and no doubt waiting for season's end and a new hand on the tiller, there wasn't much enthusiasm for Tuesday's match. Even more so as this game was played on a horrible evening -- grey and cold with a swirling wind and torrential rain. So it's a great credit to the supporters who did turn up, even though there were appreciable gaps in the stands. Those who were there saw Manchester City beat Reading 2-0 in a nondescript match -- but one which did show glimpses of the improvements manager Nigel Adkins has made.
A fellow supporter likened Saturday's match to a round of golf - in the same way that it's a nice walk spoiled by all the golf, Saturday was likely to be a nice day out in the sun spoiled by a game of football. But in the end it was anything but that. A hugely entertaining match, which you couldn't take your eyes off for a second, saw Reading triumph over Fulham 4-2 on a day much enjoyed by all those Loyal Royals present. Now that relegation is confirmed, the pressure seemed to be lifted from both players and supporters, and the latter were loud and proud on a great day out - suddenly, so close to the end of this long, dismal season, the fun is back and it's enjoyable being a Reading supporter again.
Previously, I looked at whether Reading's relegation was inevitable - now I'll discuss what it means to the club in the short-term. There are two key areas where this relegation impacts the club. The first area is player retention. Almost invariably, when a team is relegated from the Premier League the remaining top flight teams, and sometimes those going up to the higher division, pick over the carcass to asset-strip the players who they think can do a job for them. Unless a relegated team is prepared to match Premier League wages, it's almost impossible for them to hang onto key performers.
Two days after Reading's relegation back to the Championship was finally confirmed, there are three main subjects on the lips of Loyal Royals. The first is one that's been under discussion for most of the season, as this slow-motion car-crash relegation has played itself out, is it has happened, and what - if anything - could have been done to avoid it. - Impact of relegation - fatal or recoverable? - Reading set sights on promotion Many had been predicting this relegation from the point that Reading were promoted just over a year ago.
So the day that was long expected has come at last. The lack of quality on show from Reading and QPR put them both out of their misery and saw the duo relegated from the Premier League as they played out a tame, goal-less draw. No one should really be surprised because the writing has been on the wall for most of the season, and perhaps the campaign is best summed up by the familiar phrase "Reading NIL." And so this result is perhaps a fitting one for a game that was the football equivalent of two bald men fighting over a comb.
Reading's relegation moved one step closer to reality today as they lost 2-1 to Norwich at Carrow Road, a defeat made so much more painful as they had been playing with a greater confidence than for many matches, looking a much better team than Norwich and had the lion's share of first half possession. But football is a cruel game, and all their promise was swept away by two sloppy goals in two minutes at the start of the second-half, a setback from which Reading never recovered. - Match report: Norwich 2-1 Reading It's clear that manager Nigel Adkins is starting to get a handle on who his preferred team is.
Amid all the controversy about minutes of silence, the return of former manager Brendan Rodgers, sacked by Reading in December 2009, went largely unmentioned. But Royals took their first point from a Rodgers team since then, thanks to a spirited second half performance and some miraculous late saves by goalkeeper Alex McCarthy. And although it's too little, too late to salvage Premier League survival, and Reading are bottom of the table, Loyal Royals will be relieved to wave goodbye at last to the 23 points figure which they reached on 2nd February with a win over Sunderland -- that's all of seventy days ago!
One of the sure signs that the end of the league campaign is getting closer and closer is the player of the season vote, and Loyal Royals will be voting for their choice at the home match with Liverpool. But in such a disappointing season for Reading there's no clear candidate for this award, no outstanding performer, and so the voting is likely to be very close. Below, I discuss of leading players' chances of picking up this award, and I predict a surprise when the results are announced. Adam Federici & Alex McCarthy: An on-going debate rages amongst supporters on who is the better of Reading's two first-choice goalkeepers and who should be first on the team-sheet.
Reading chairman and ex-owner Sir John Madejski has caused controversy by muddying the waters over the minute's silence to be held before the match against Liverpool on Saturday – and done nobody any favours in the process. Because Reading host Liverpool two days before the 24th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, where 96 Liverpool supporters were killed and another 766 inured as a result of police mistakes and poor ground maintenance which led to fatal overcrowding at the Leppings Lane end of the ground.
Anyone wanting to see everything that's gone wrong with Reading's season, all bundled up into a single 90-minute package, would just have to watch this one match. For the 2-0 home defeat to Southampton contained all the elements which have made Reading's season such dire watching for Loyal Royals. - Rann: Saints dethrone Royals - Delaney: Upwardly mobile Saints sink Adkins - Royals boss Adkins remains realistic These will all be familiar to watchers of Reading: the changes of personnel that make little difference to the outcome; the combination of an ineffectual, outnumbered strike-force and an over-run midfield; missed chances at crucial times; silly mistakes gifting possession to the opposition where it hurts most; desperate defending plus lots of effort and hard-work for very little result.