Five Stars: Reading's best players in the 21st century
The Five Stars series continues and who better to cover Reading than fellow Football League tub-thumper Rob Langham from the rather magnificent site The Two Unfortunates. Steve Coppell’s promotion-winning side is understandably heavily represented in Rob’s selection, while Gylfi Sigurdsson’s exit to Hoffenheim last summer means no place among his choices for the Icelandic international.
All lower league clubs have their heroes, but how many have been nominated for this country’s Young PFA Player of the Season award? So it was for Doyle after the annus mirabilis of 2006/07. Even on his debut against Plymouth Argyle at the start of the preceding promotion season, he already looked like a quality footballer and it’s true that the Irishman’s running style gives him the appearance of purring across the turf.
Also adept with his head, he’s one of the few members of that great side not to struggle on departing and let’s not forget that Steve Coppell picked him up for a cool £117,000 through a Guinness-fuelled haze. Highlights of Doyle’s time at Reading included a whirlwind hat-trick against Sheffield Wednesday and a driven finish from the edge of the box as Southampton tumbled in February 2006 – perhaps the moment when Reading fans knew the Promised Land was certain.
Brought to Reading by the late Tommy Burns, Forster was Premier League standard but suffered too often from injuries to prove this. Alan Pardew quickly realised that using him as the apex in the newly fashionable 4-5-1 formation would pay off and so it proved. With the pace of a gazelle, the sight of the ex-Gillingham man’s pitch-length runs – most memorably recorded at the JJB Stadium against Wigan and in a home game versus Sunderland – was thrilling.
Another stunner came against Brighton on the first day of the 2004/05 season amid 30 degree heat and if the Surrey-born star could occasionally hog the ball, with that talent, Reading supporters rarely blamed him for it. His injury after he had put Reading 1-0 up in a play-off semi final at Molineux in 2003 cost the squad an earlier promotion.
Another Burns signing; on ascension to the Premier League, Murts was the first name considered among those that would not make the step up – with the benefit of hindsight, there should not have been any fear. He had a spanking first year up top, bombing forward from right back as Nicky Shorey did enough to attract an England cap from the left.
Murty was in the twilight of his career at that point and clearly enjoying every minute – after early injuries, his form as the club launched themselves up through the divisions was reliably consistent and he was a born leader. Scoring only his second goal for the club from the penalty spot as Reading set a new divisional points record against Queen’s Park Rangers, Murty has provided a memory set in stone for all Royals fans. A club hero.
Although he has often looked distracted since leaving the Madejski, Kitson remains a part of recent Reading folklore. His unhurried style and contrasting ability to spring devastatingly into life in front of goal always made him look a class apart – and his superb Autumn and Winter in 2006/07 briefly attracted the notice of Fabio Capello (Chris Riggott’s crude challenge had denied him many months of the previous campaign).
Kitson had previously performed at the Abbey Stadium, turning in a whirling dervish of a performance as Reading struggled to a 2-2 draw against Cambridge United prior to his move to Reading. When Steve Coppell then had the foresight to sign him (the Berkshire club have always been good at snapping up previous tormenters; Jamie Cureton is another example) and he came on as a substitute for his first appearance against Gillingham at the Priestfield, he already oozed confidence. His 54 goals for the cause constitutes a rich return.
The aesthete’s favourite player, who apparently can talk the hind legs of a wildebeest and rejoices in the nickname Blakey after the character from ‘On the Buses’, there is guilt attached to his inclusion here as Burnley fans like to claim him as their own. The phrase wing wizard was invented for the ex-Glentoran man – pure skill making up for a decided lack of pace and in possession of excellent crossing ability.
Little tormented Manchester United for half an hour in a televised Cup tie in 2007 – after the Red Devils had raced to a 3-0 lead, they were on the rack for the rest of the game and escaped with a 3-2 win. Another highlight of Little’s time in the Royal County was a sublime chip against Plymouth at Home Park and he is perhaps to football what the Slovak Miloslav Mečíř was to tennis – an example of how subtlety can flourish if deployed correctly.