Leading the Reading line
4-5-1 is hot now. Having moved beyond the straight damage limitation of its early days in the mid part of the Noughties, the style can be deployed in a variety of ways, with players mutating from midfielders to attackers depending on circumstance.
So, last season, one saw Crystal Palace line up thus on many an occasion, but a seemingly isolated central striker was oft joined by the quick raiding Darren Ambrose and Victor Moses. That Palace lacked a truly convincing central striker mattered little with such wingside firepower at their disposal, only a 10 point deduction and Moses’ scurrying to Wigan denying the Eagles a far higher and less nervous league placing.
Reading under Brian McDermott have been no exception to this pear shaped trend. But a side effect of this most potent of tactical ploys is that only a lone striking place is up for grabs.
Last year, none of the Reading strikers can be said to have truly stepped up to the mark in the wake of Kevin Doyle’s departure and, with the Royals’ attacking midfield trio of Jimmy Kébé, Gylfi Sigurðsson and Jobi McAnuff well nigh immutable, who fills that solo role ahead of them is the one question mark in an increasingly settled formation.
Here I assess the pretenders and their prospects:
In the recent season preview on The Two Unfortunates, Noel Hunt was posited as a possible starter and it’s the Irishman’s reliable goals tally, experience and poaching instincts that place him ahead of the others in many minds. Highly effective alongside Doyle in Reading’s first season back in the Championship, injury set in at the start of the next and two August goals in a 3-1 win at Barnsley were pretty much his last contribution.
Hunt leaps superbly for a not especially tall man and, like Doyle, has a great scoring record with his head. He also combines well with another striker, but the suspicion is that his style won’t quite suit the lone role.
Another Emerald Isler, Shane Long, is another in the picture and indeed, he started in Reading’s disappointing 2-1 defeat against Scunthorpe last weekend. A kid during Royals’ glory spell of a few years’ back, he scored twice in a title confirming 5-0 win over Derby in 2006 and then went on to bag a few in the Premier League, mainly from the bench.
Frustration at being unable to dislodge the more storied likes of Doyle, Hunt, Kitson and Lita may have contributed to a lessening of impetus, evidenced by a tendency to weight gain and targeting by the boo boys. McDermott’s arrival, however, seemed to rejuvenate Long and he provided Royals’ most memorable moments of last season: a never to be forgotten header to seal a win at Anfield and two first half strikes against Aston Villa that fleetingly allowed Reading to dream of Wembley. Long resembles Hunt in that he poses an airborne threat – but again, his style may be too static for him to make that striking spot his own.
Polish beanpole Grzegorz Rasiak was denounced by my fellow blogger Lloyd as a has-been on signing for Reading in August 2009 and although he handily tends to score goals in flurries (Coventry and Sheffield Wednesday will testify), his style is again too restricted to fit with the expansive, quick raiding game McDermott likes to encourage. Rasiak will be useful man to come off the bench if goals are needed in a five minute injury time air raid, but it’s well night impossible to see him starting in these climes.
Which leads us finally to Simon Church (if we disregard the likes of Michail Antonio and Hal Robson-Kanu as winger-cum-strikers and Nicholas Bignall as yet to establish himself).
I once described Reading striker Lee Nogan as possessing “no discernible attributes” until it became clear that he knew how to finish – the same friend to whom I disbursed this opinion remarked to me last year that Church was the opposite of this – tireless running, reasonable pace, high levels of fitness and a cool touch were alas accompanied by an inability to remember the banjo with which the cow’s ass needs to be hit.
Church almost redefined the word profligate last season, but his extraordinary performance in that win at Liverpool did make you root for the guy and, slowly, the goals till started chiming as the spring wore on. Now Church does fit with this formation and if his encouraging progress in front of goal continues, then Reading, and Wales, will have a real gem on their hands. I’d put him in the team for Fratton Park next Saturday for sure.
Written by: Rob Langham (The Two Unfortunates)