End Of Season Review 2002/2003

The word 'critical' cant really be applied to Reading's season. When sitting in the impressive Pride Park at the beginning of the season I watched a gritty Reading side get to nil-nil at half time and I felt pretty positive about our chances of survival (!). In the 2nd half we seemed to be a bit overpowered but were unlucky to lose 3-0. Leicester came and went, beating us in the first five minutes, but I thought we could have easily got a 2-2 from that game. We got a taste of the Sky treatment against Sheff Wed with Jamie Cureton scoring almost identical goals to give us a non-impressive 2-1 victory.

The games that followed bought mixed results and was our least consistent phase of the season. Pardew's approach to give his current playing staff the chance to make the step up to Division 1 obviously bore fruit for the rest of the season but at this stage manager and fans all had different ideas about our best formation/best 11 players. Pardew was stepping into the unknown with this side and after a few defeats early on the personnel seemed to change about a few times. Harper was dropped early on, but later roared back to be one of our best players this season, and Forster wasn't played up-front really until the 10th game of the season - so in many ways you can dream of what could have been....

The system which we employed for the majority of the season kept working beautifully bearing several 1-0 victories. Matthew Upson's arrival meant we were able to hang on to 1-0 advantages for long periods (something Reading fans havent experienced for a few years).

The royals kept picking up victories with the odd defeat thrown in and the 4-5-1 system we were using was very effective - especially away from home. Andy Hughes was always a very effective player away from home. He scored some vital goals and had a good understanding of where to put the balls for the tireless Forster. The 4-5-1 system at home seemed to rob Hughes of any space as the away teams generally sat a bit deeper. This meant Hughes floated in and out of games at home and rather ridiculously came under fire from some home fans.

Steve Brown's arrival shored up the centre back partnership and in my opinion he improved throughout the remainder of the season to give two very good performances against Wolves. Sidwell came in with a good reputation, played well for a few games and then went off the boil a bit and was forced to join the unfortunate Jamie Cureton and Kevin Watson on the bench. Cureton's early season form did dip a bit, but he was not given long to turn it around really, however you couldn't argue with the reintroduction of Forster as our main frontman. Kevin Watson was a big part of that Upson inspired run of wins, and at times looks like one of the most technically gifted players in the squad. Pardew was blessed with several centre midfield options with Newman also playing well, but his offer of a new contract extension for Kevin Watson does show how high he regards him.

Rougier, always unfairly treated by some fans, always tried but never really consistently impressed this season. However, he did sent the unsighted fans into blue heaven with a late winner against Gillingham. I have always rated Rougier's skill level but at this level he didn't really have the pace to capitalise on the half chances his wizardry often produced.

Nathan Tyson was a big plus point this season although I think fans were hoping he could deliver more performances like his England under 20 debut. He received in my opinion, two very harsh red cards but is definitely a hot prospect for next season.

Murty and Shorey were immense in defence all season and there first touches (particularly Shorey's) smacked of class and turned many potentially tricky defensive situations into attack. Hahnemann quickly became an important player not just for his keeping but his distribution helped our fast attacking style. He had patches of indifferent form but all in all you cant argue with many pundits labelling him the best keeper in our division.

So the end of the season neared and the Royals only really gave fans a couple of concerned expressions when reading the sunday papers and the play offs always looked within reach. Strong performances like the one against Notts Forest made sure we didnt have a last day of the season nailbiter...

My Season's Top Performers

1 - Nicky Forster - I agree with Alan Pardew's assessment of Fozzy being our best player ths season. He covers a huge amount of ground, has terrorised defences all season long. I feel that he still sdoesnt recieve the adulation he deserves and that if he was at a different club he would be worshipped. What a player, what a season.

2 - Nicky Shorey - Thank God he didnt get injured. The best left foot at the club, a fantastic first touch and apart from the pace orientated Fozzy he has been our best player for actually going past defenders. Has put some lovely crosses into the box and has always given 100%. Was it £25,000 from Leyton Orient?? A Wenger style piece of business....

3 - James Harper - Always shown promise, I remember him giving Anderton and Freund the run around in the pre season friendly a while back. Last season he made a few too many simple errors but he seems to have cut most of these out of his game and let his obviously gifted feet do the talking. His direct running, great passing and quick feet has been an inspiration this season. He looked destined for a bit part role after being dropped early on but has made classy midfielders look bad at times. I'm looking forward to seeing him next season.

4 - Graeme Murty - Yet another fantastic season from Mr 100%. Good feet, aggressive style and classy. He has come along way since his days in Tommy Burns' side and now he's finally getting recognition from 1st division pundits. Who's our Scot-tish Int-er-nat-ion-al???

5 - Adie Williams - Ok, Ok, so you can highlight the importance of Matthew Upson here and some of Steve Brown's performances have been top notch as well... but throughout the season Adie has performed magnificently and turned in a quality season which many fans thought may have been beyond him - fantastic.

The Fans

The away fans this year have been magnificent. The support shown at Derby early on in the season by everyone apart from about 70 thugs, was almost enough to bring a tear to the eye. We still have a huge chunk of fairweather fans that are a bit of a problem but at least they are bums on seats I suppose... - The atmosphere against Wolves and perhaps Forest at the Madejski was fairly impressive though. More of the same!!

Play-Offs Summary

Its been a painful time being a Reading fan as well as a good time. More heartache was piled on when we lost to Wolves over two legs, after being the better side for 70% of the tie. I can still feel my legs going weak when Naylor drove the ball home at Molineux. Those last 25 minutes at Molineux was where the tie was won and lost, and it will be painful seeing a team who in my opinion aren't as good as us run out at Cardiff.

If you are looking for reasons we didnt quite make it then I would suggest the following:

1 - No other team in the play offs would have missed one single player as much as we missed Nicky Forster. He is not only our most effective player but crucial to the system we played. If he had not gone off at Molineux I dont think we would have lost 2-1, and he could have provided that cutting edge in the 2nd leg.

2 - We haven't really managed to play 4-4-2 really well all season. When we knew teams were going to sit back at the Madejski we sometimes reverted to it but iother than in flashes, we havent really been succesful employing that formation. Hence at the crucial time we didn't really create that many clear cut chances.

3 - All in all, I suppose you would have to say that the loan signings of Chadwick and Little haven't really delivered as much as we had hoped for.

4 - Joleon Lescott was very good that night....

Close season

The release of Igoe, Rougier, Smith, Warren, Whitbread and Whitehead should hopefully save enough money in wages for purchases/free transfers to be made in the close season. There are several good players becoming available from the prem clubs and you would hope that after the good season Reading had have, and the fact that we are slightly more financially stable than some other clubs around us, means that we should be a fairly attractive prospect for some.

If we could offload our highest earner - Martin Butler - who is reported to be on a huge £6.5k a week - then our situation would improve. I think there will be a few additions over the coming months. Hopefully Cureton will stay but he looks set to leave if anyone can offer good money/two year contract. However, Pardew's managerial decisions and purchases have been top drawer in my opinion so hopefully a few good additions can be made. A top quality winger would still be the top of my list, with quality cover for centre back and left back next, and then perhaps a striker if Butler or Curo move on....

Next Season

Always difficult to predict how next season will shape up. Myself and many others had Derby down as potential champions this season (!) and I thought I was being clever by tipping Pompey for the play-offs.

WBA, West Ham and Sunderland should be strong unless they have to offload a huge amount of players but they will be replacing three strong teams in Portsmouth, Leicester and Sheff Utd/Wolves.

Expect Wigan to put a few noses out of joint - I can see them sniffing around the playoffs, and I also fancy Preston to have a better season - especially if the impressive Ricardo Fuller is fit. So the same standard of competition will be there and it depends on how we can perform..

Many have said to me that people will learn how to play against our system and that peole will start to 'find us out', but I disagree. By the end of the season manager's knew exactly how we played but you couldn't really say that teams like Forest and Wolves were coping with us. I think the pace and ability in the team will cause teams a problem next season, and with either the addition of a quality winger or a fantastic season from Tyson, Salako or Campbell (!), I think we can ensure finish between 2nd and 9th place.

This time last year I said that Forster and Harper had to have big seasons if we were to do well, and i think more of the same from them will be enough to ensure another. The one danger we face like many teams is that lengthy injuries to a couple of players like Forster, Harper, Williams or Brown could seriously affect our season. But with Pardew at the helm (hopefully!) you can only have hope for this young and gifted Royals team.

Article by Daniel Ward-Murphy

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