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06/07: Preview: Reading
Opposition Opinion
By Royals Fan Rob Evans

What happened last season?
Oh, the usual. Good start, poor middle spell and then trundle to the finish line happy with what we've achieved but perhaps capable of achieving much more.

Hold on.

That wasn't supposed to happen.

It wasn't supposed to be that easy.

There's not much that I can write, is there? We lost our first game of the season but played quite well. From that, we really didn't look back. We played some superb football, moving up the pitch quickly, stretching teams and then killing them off with Kitson, Doyle, Lita, Sidwell, someone getting an inevitable goal. I described Doyle and Long as a pair of kids last season and have been proved so wrong, it was actually enjoyable. In the pair of them, we have players who can score goals but couple it with tenacity and spirit. But the whole team has been immense. Every single one of them. Even John "Tart" Oster.

We went on an unbeaten run of over 30 games, overtaking early leaders Sheffield United and then stretching away from them and the pack.

Surely we would fail

Surely Reading couldn't be this professional and keep the run going.

Surely there is going to be a blip.

There's a Reading fan of a certain age who simply cannot believe. They've been through the poor years, nearly seen the club sold up the river, experienced being four minutes from the Premiership, seen the most bizarre own goal ever, experienced the heart break. And yet, one by one, they, we started to believe.

There was a blip. We lost to Luton. We played poorly, they cared more, Dean Morgan had a point to prove. And then we won again. 2-1 against Preston, 3-0 away to Burnley. I think that was roughly when I knew we'd done it. So many points clear, so late in the season.

At Leicester, we won promotion. That's something I don't think I'm ever going to experience again with the same impact. Watching players and fans and manager and chairman enjoying that one, first, big moment. We comprehensively thrashed Derby with five superb goals to win the title and then the team rode off into the sunset with the record number of points in a season tucked under their belt.

What will happen this season?
I'm torn between two camps.

First of all, we're not good enough, yet. Nowhere near. Just look at the side, it's just not good enough. I still have issues with a Harper-Sidwell midfield and felt that Brynjar was more complementary to both despite being not as good and looking like Boris Becker. Up front, we're dealing in raw talent - this will be the highest level that Kitson, Lita, Doyle and Long have played and I'm not sure that all of them will cope all that well. And in defence? Well, can you imagine what fun Ronaldo, Robben, Henry et al are going to have with Murty and Sonko? Only one of our players has ever started in a Premiership game - and even then, he's not a starter for us.

But then there's the other, equally rational, camp. The Premiership is over-hyped. It is. We have nothing to fear from about seven or eight sides and if we can get those wins at home against them, then we'll be well on our way to staying up. Middlesbrough, Aston Villa Charlton, Fulham are the four that stand out as having been in the Premiership for a few years and are beatable and we're playing two early on. Get those two wins in early and then we can build on it. We will not compete with the top six, so anything there is a bonus. But last season, we beat West Brom and gave Birmingham a game with our reserve/cup side. So there's no reason why sides in the relegation battle cannot be beaten and there's some sides wallowing in the self pity of mediocrity there.

We have a very small squad. But there are flashes of quality in there. There are players who can make the step up - certainly in attack and out wide. Injuries will do for us in a big way.

We won't be dire. But, equally, we won't finish too far away from trouble.

So we need more players. One or two here and there, perhaps a central defender with experience, a midfielder with a few years in the Premiership, perhaps a Sheringham-esque centre forward? I don't think we will go down this route, which will make this season very hard indeed. But it really is not impossible, its not as long a shot as it would have been in 1995 and we've grown to a position where we can do it. And we will give it our best shot.

How will Watford and Sheffield United do?
I can't see much beyond Sheffield United struggling.

Warnock is a character, with all the implications that euphemism brings, and his intent to buy as many strikers as possible who aren't quite good enough has to backfire. But they won't go down without a fight; some of us remember that game with West Brom a few years back. There's also a series of older signings that will add a bit of spine to defence and midfield. But there's something missing - it's an old squad, and I can see them really getting stretched by the pacier premiership players.

Watford, on the other hand, might spring a few surprises. Boothroyd has shown himself to be a clever manager. I like the use of the wings and they have some genuine pace. But the same issues arise with Reading - they don't have a big enough squad and their transfers so far (two kids, an ageing Chris Powell and the actually quite good Damien Francis) don't shout too much about their intentions.

In all probability, all three of us will go down. We're all in the same boat, really. Not quite good enough, not been in the Premiership before or for a long time (five years since Watford's last visit, twelve for Sheffield United), not an established club.

But then again, all three could stay up. My tentative prediction would be that Reading will finish somewhere about sixteenth, Watford seventeenth or eighteenth then Sheffield eighteenth or nineteenth.