At the time of writing, Reading are sitting five points behind second place Brighton, having played one game more. However, the Royals are currently on a six-match unbeaten run and the squad is looking stronger than it has at any time this season. New additions have provided more competition for places and Jaap Stam has tinkered with his tactics and is still seeing success. The question is though, with the club entering the final third of the season, do Reading have the longevity to compete for the automatic promotion places come the end of the season?
At the start of the season, Reading were undergoing something of a small Dutch revolution with the arrival of novice manager Jaap Stam and the likes of Joey Van Den Berg and Roy Beerens. It would have been brave to predict that the club would have built on the previous two seasons, where they had languished in the lower regions of the table. However, Stam has implemented his own philosophy and has shown himself to have a great eye for signings. On a limited budget, the former Manchester United man has built a team capable of fighting for promotion and with more money seemingly being made available to him, you can’t help but think that the team will only get stronger.
January turned out to be a very good month for Jaap Stam and his men. They went from a humbling 4-0 defeat at Old Trafford and a slight dip in form, to starting a new unbeaten run, which saw the Dutch manager claim the Championship Manager of the Month award. It was a good period both on and off the pitch for the Royals as they also added five new faces in support of their promotion bid. With Reading fans having the opportunity to watch their new signings since the end of the transfer window, opinions are starting to form and questions are subsequently being asked: are these new players are deserving of a spot in the starting line-up? And, do Reading now have the firepower to force their way into the automatic promotion picture?
Lewis Grabban, Jordon Mutch and Romanian international Adrian Popa add some impetus to a Royal’s attack that on occasion would struggle to find the net. With Premier League and international experience, this trio will certainly give Jaap Stam the best kind of selection headache. The other two signings are Reece Oxford and Tiago Ilori, who add much needed depth in defence, as injuries have made a dent in the Royal’s back line – especially in January. With both Paul McShane and Joey Van Den Berg sidelined, it was important that Stam added some cover at the back – particularly given Reading’s tendency to play three at the heart of defence.
It was a real statement of intent from Stam to go after big name players. Grabban, Mutch and Oxford have all arrived from Premier League clubs and all have something to prove to their parent sides, having all fallen out of favour. Perhaps the biggest statement was bringing in Liverpool man Tiago Ilori for a club record fee of £3.75 million. The previous transfer record was set a decade ago when Reading were in the Premier League. Monetary troubles have plagued the club for years and the fact that the board were willing to invest big money in order to attract players, like Ilori, shows the faith that the owners have in Stam and his team. The other signing that may have gone under the radar for some football fans was the pick-up of Adrian Popa from Steaua Bucuresti in Romania.
The new signings that Stam has made will no doubt add a great deal of depth and talent to the squad. However, they won’t be walking into a relaxed atmosphere. The pressure is just starting to build as the club enters the final part of the season and the expectation will be high on these big name signings to deliver the goods when called upon. The match fitness isn’t quite there for a couple of the players but that excuse will wear thin soon and it will be up to them to prove their worth when the time comes. That said, the Reading faithful will be providing their full backing to their players, with early signs suggesting they could make a real impact.
It remains to be seen as to whether these additions will be enough for Reading to push themselves towards the automatic promotion places. However, with players returning from injury and the new signings already showing signs of gelling, you have to feel that the squad is only going to improve as a result of these big name acquisitions. It will be a tough task for any club to pull Brighton or Newcastle United out of the top two but Reading will certainly feel they are capable of it. The style of play that Royals have adopted with this season has been impressive and you have to feel that if they continue the way they are going then they will certainly be in-amongst the play-off positions come the season’s end.