On the Turn?
For the second time in consecutive pre-seasons I made the short journey to Didcot Town’s Loop Meadow to witness Reading attempt to chalk up their annual cricket score over their First Great Western-serviced neighbours.
Last year was a complete whitewash as the Royals strolled to a 9-0 tonking, with Dave Kitson memorably scoring within seconds of strutting on as a second-half sub, but yesterday evening felt different. The car park pre-match was a good indication: with not a single Baby Bentley in sight, it was immediately clear that this was a team on the turn. Only man-mountain Andre Bikey, the wideboying James Harper and the ridiculously underrated Jimmy Kebe remained in the ‘really quite good’ department, and Kebe is the lone probable to start the season in Berkshire. For Messrs Doyle, Shorey and Kitson, the teamsheet now reads Long, Armstrong and Church; while Club Legend Steve Coppell has cleared his desk to pave the way for the unproven Ulsterman Brendan Rodgers, pretty much universally unknown before his recent cameo at Watford.
Having set his sights on European qualification, Rodgers’ game approach is a world away from Coppell’s reticence, and while the fans will struggle to believe their new man just yet, they will welcome Rodgers’ promise to adopt a passing game. The football was too often poor last term, and the Royals’ one-dimensional tactic became painful to watch once the goals dried up in the last third of the season. Culling a squad comprising too many players in need of a new beginning shouldn’t therefore dishearten as many fans as it might have in different circumstances, and if Rodgers can draft in the right replacements to complement a half-decent crop of youngsters already at the club then Reading may stand a chance at another shot in the top flight. Judging, though, on last night’s very low-key 5-1 win where the star performers are being heavily linked elsewhere, Rodgers will surely have to bide his time before planning away days on the continent.