By Matt Rowson
So it's the summer then? Bloody hell.
Yes, okay, so the season's been a bit crap one way or another. And yes, perhaps Tsega will appreciate seeing a bit more of me at weekends. Maybe. And, yes, there's the European Championship distraction in Portugal. And perhaps some decorating will get done, friends and family visited, holidays taken. And perhaps we just all need a break.
But bloody hell. Summer is just rubbish. I mean, cricket? I ask you. Nonsense. And much as next week I might appreciate not having to dream up a load of tosh and devote an evening or so to a match preview, there'll be that itchy, restless feeling come Saturday that the irrelevance of the final set of Premiership fixtures will do nothing to quell.
By the end of May I'll be waiting on the fixture list. Despite my best intentions, by the end of June I'll have reversed the decision not to bother with a season preview this time (and incidentally, any suggestions regarding suitable survey questions can be mailed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org). By mid-July, I'll be so grouchy and irritable that even Tsega will be expectantly looking forward to that pre-season friendly at Northwood Town.
As if to add insult to injury, the closing ninety minutes of the season sees us pitched against the most irritating, pointless side in the division. Who will probably do us, natch, having joined the swelling list of Teams In Division One That We Never Beat... although an improbable combination of results elsewhere would be required for the Royals to steal into the play-off positions.
Whilst the play-off contenders are united this year in having been utterly unconvincing for at least part of the season, Reading can plead the mitigating circumstances of a disruptive management change as Alan Pardew left for a promotion rival, and injury problems that have limited the potential of a smallish squad. Next season, you feel, Reading could do okay.
One of these injuries has beset first-choice keeper Marcus Hahnemann, only now back to fitness after nearly two months out. In his absence, however, Jamie Ashdown has impressed immensely prompting suggestions that the American will not be reinstated as first choice. Indeed, with young Australian Jamie Young also coming through and Trinidadian Kelvin Jack on trial at the club where his compatriot Shaka Hislop began his career in England, Hahnemann, it is speculated, could move on in the summer.
Least disputed place in the side on the right side of defence, where Graeme Murty has been elected Player of the Year for the second time in three seasons. Saturday's game against West Brom saw Reading move to a 3-5-2 formation for much of the game; however should the more frequently favoured 4-4-2 be retained, left-back will probably be the versatile Andy Hughes although Dean Gordon, on loan from Coventry, could also come into the reckoning after impressing as a sub at the weekend. Regular first-choice Nicky Shorey is out through injury.
In the centre, veteran Adrian Williams has been partnered by another odd-job man Ricky Newman, who has impressed as Reading continue to look tough to beat. Steve Brown is out following knee surgery and Ivar Ingimarsson also misses out through suspension having been sent off at Bradford. John Mackie, who played in the game at the Madejski Stadium earlier in the season, has since joined Orient.
In midfield, Steve Sidwell is the driving force and ran Murty close in the Player of the Year vote. Less consistent this season has been former Arsenal trainee James Harper. Since Scott Murray's surprise return to Bristol City, the cumbersome centre-forward Bas Savage has been playing wide on the right, although a deck-chair is reserved here for the half-arsed Glen Little next season. On the left, John Salako may make what is likely to be his final appearance for Reading should he recover from an achilles problem exacerbated against West Brom at the weekend. Paul Brooker is on-loan from Leicester; he previously played under Coppell at Brighton, and could also feature on the flank. Kevin Watson, linked with Watford at various stages of his career, is out with injury and another tipped to move on in the summer.
Up front, Saturday saw the experience of Shaun Goater partnered with rough diamond Dave Kitson, recruited from Cambridge United. With Nicky Forster unlikely to be fit following a stomach operation, Ghanaian international Lloyd Owusu should be on the bench alongside Dean Morgan, picked up from Colchester United.
So. That's it then. Another season over. Bollocks.
Enjoy the summer. As much as you can.