At the start of the season I went along to a couple of STAR's fans' forums where guests included Brian McDermott and Nicky Shorey. On both occasions those men were asked if lessons had been learned from our last stint in the Premier League and on both occasions our manager and left-back said yes. However, fast forward 10 games and Reading are four points worse off than a team that ended up relegated. What's more worrying is that the same problems that seemed to blight the 2007/08 team seem to be happening all over again. So have lessons been learned or are we doomed to suffer the same fate?
The 2007/08 team went into that season on the back of the two most successful seasons in Reading's history. After storming to the Championship with 106 points, they followed it up with an eighth place finish in the Premier League and missed out on a UEFA cup place by just one goal at Blackburn.
The current side have had to battle back from the disappointment of a Wembley defeat before going on a stunning run of form to pip Southampton and West Ham to the Championship title.
While the 2012/13 side came into the year in good form, it was the 2007/08 side had a much better recent pedigree and a set of results behind them to prove that they could compete at the highest level. While second season syndrome had been mentioned, there was still little reason to expect such a dramatic drop-off in form from a side that had demonstrated such quality and style in the two previous seasons. They went into the season with relegation odds of 5/1.. the same odds as Manchester City.
Meanwhile Brian McDermott's side were widely tipped for relegation, being named either the favourites or second favourites for the drop. Most of the media had praised their run to the title but most mainstream pundits had questioned the quality in the Reading team and our lack of serious spending.
Summer Transfer Spending
|Summer 2007||Summer 2012|
|K Cisse||£1m||G McCleary||FREE|
|E Fae||£2.5m||D Guthrie||FREE|
|L Rosenior||£1m||P Pogrebnyak||FREE|
Both Steve Coppell and Brian McDermott chose to invest roughly £4.5 million in transfer fees on improving their squads over the summer window.
Coppell decided that with the loss of Steve Sidwell it was the midfield that needed the greatest tweaking and committed the bulk of his spending to add Khalifa Cisse and Emerse Fae to a midfield anchored by James Harper and Brynjar Gunnarsson. Coppell also picked up right-back Liam Rosenior as part of a swap-deal with Fulham that saw Seol Ki-Hyeon go the other way.
Of the three signings made, only Rosenior had Premier League experience, with the defender playing every game for Fulham the previous year.
Meanwhile Brian went for a much more scattergun approach, signing seven players for the first team squad, three defenders, a winger, a central midfielder a forward and a third choice goalkeeper. While six of the seven did have Premier League experience, only three had been playing the season before and none of the three were automatic choices at their clubs. Shorey and Guthrie had been been in and out of the team at Newcastle and West Brom, while Pavel Pogrebnyak had only played a handful of games during a successful loan spell at Fulham. Chris Gunter, Adrian Mariappa and Stuart Taylor had all played in the top flight but none of them had earned a start in the top league for a number of years.
This summer Reading did invest a lot in wages with Pogrebnyak reportedly becoming a record high earner and Guthrie not too far behind. So while the team had spent relatively little in transfer fees, it had almost certainly committed the same amount if not more in wages and signing on fees for the free agents.
However the 2007/08 team also had issued new contracts to several established players, meaning that their wage bill increased by a total of over £3 million between the 2006/07 season and the 07/08 campaign.
Reading fans have mourned the loss on one player more than any other over the last ten seasons and he happened to walk away during that summer of 2007, Steve Sidwell.
Sidwell was the heartbeat of the Reading team for five years and alongside James Harper had formed a terrific partnership that had seen the side finish no lower than 9th in the Championship. However the ginger maestro opted to walk away on a free that summer, leaving a big hole in the Reading midfield, one that as we've mentioned, Steve Coppell tried to fill with Fae and Cisse.
McDermott meanwhile lost nobody, being able to simply build rather than having to fill in gaps.
So What Went Wrong & Is It Happening Again?
To be honest things didn't look very wrong for Coppell's team during the opening weeks of the season. A hard fought draw at Manchester United was followed by a narrow defeat to Chelsea before the team earned it's first three points with a 1-0 win over Everton. On the basis of those results you could understand why a manager wouldn't spend big before the end of the window, but those results masked worrying signs.
Likewise, Brian McDermott opted to stick with his pre-August squad after some encouraging early results. The team had competed against Stoke and had only conceded thanks to a Federici howler, while another Feds howler coupled with a terrible offside call had denied them a result at Chelsea.
However, in 2007 five defeats in the next seven games started to set off the alarm bells but we kept our heads above the water by beating a dire Derby team and a last minute win over Wigan. By Christmas it was obvious to most fans that we were in bad shape. Our wins were scrappy and few and far between. Of our three other wins before the new year, two came with goals in the final six minutes while the third was a cup-tie style win over Liverpool that papered over the ever growing cracks.
Likewise this team has had Alex McCarthy to thank for earning points against Swansea and QPR while they were slightly unlucky with decisions against Newcastle and Chelsea, they couldn't finish off a side on the ropes.
By January 2008 Fae and Cisse had shown that they couldn't replace Sidwell, while in-house replacements Bryn and John Oster also flopped in the role. There was also a big, big problem on the right wing as with a homesick Seol sold and Glen Little out for almost the season, it left John Oster as the only recognised winger alongside out of position options such as Fae, Doyle and Rosenior.
This season and once again new signings have failed to pay off. Danny Guthrie was inconsistent on the pitch before a falling out with management and now injury is keeping him out. Pogrebnyak has now been dropped after scoring just two Premier League goals in 8 starts, while Gunter, Mariappa and McCleary have all been in and out of the side. Taylor is simply a bench warmer but at least Nicky Shorey has looked a decent if not spectacular signing.
The defence was never settled in either season. Coppell used Shorey, Golbourne, Duberry, Ingimarsson, Sonko, Bikey, Cisse, De La Cruz, Murty and Rosenior in his defence, a far cry from the week in week out pattern of Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson and Shorey that had done so well the previous two seasons.
This year and Harte, Shorey, Pearce, Mariappa, Morrison, Gorkss, Gunter and Cummings have all been used and again it's a far cry from the Harte, Pearce, Gorkss, Cummings combo that had been almost automatic in the run to the title.
Behind The Scenes Unrest?
Both seasons have been soured by off-field problems that have been magnified under the Premier League spotlight.
In 2007 it was widely reported and now accepted that several players had their heads turned and wanted bigger contracts or moves to other clubs. Stalwarts such as Nicky Shorey, Stephen Hunt and Dave Kitson were all reportedly unsettled at the club and by the end of the season even the likes of Sonko and his big signing Fae had fallen out with Coppell over selection issues.
In 2012 we've now seen Danny Guthrie have a twitter row and a reported behind the scenes bust up. Adam Federici was involved in a row over his dropping in September and now Alex Pearce is apparently being frozen out after being so far unable to agree a new contract with the club.
Nether squad could afford such distractions, especially with such a small group of players to choose from. While this year's team may be able to cope without Pearce and Federici, the way both have been treated may not have gone down well with teammates who have been playing with them for years. While it's the Guthrie problem that have been the most damaging as he's the only central midfielder capable of changing our style.
The Path To The Drop
The tough start to the 2012/13 season has often been held up as a reason for a sluggish start but Reading faced teams that ended the season 1st, 2nd, 5th, 7th, 8th & 10th and still picked up 10 points, with wins over Everton, Wigan and Derby and a point at Manchester United.
By the time Reading had played 20 games, the team had earned another 12 points and sat 13th in the table, six clear of the reglation zone.
To match that position, Reading would need to take 16 points out of a possible 30, so five wins and a draw or four and three draws, something that's looking harder to come by.
When the window opened in January 2008, the Royals had 22 points from 21 games and looked on course to stay up. However by this point the cracks in the squad were obvious and Coppell responded by adding Marek Matejovsky and Jimmy Kebe to his squad.
Sadly neither could turn the tide, Marek scoring just once and Kebe featuring rarely as part of a slumping team that earned just 15 points over the final 17 games and wound up relegated.
However as we've mentioned before plenty of sides have secured survival with key January buys. Stoke with James Beattie and Matthew Etherington in 2009 and in 2008 both Bolton and Fulham made some key signings to help them finish above the stuttering Royals.
So Did We Learn Our Lessons Or Is It Too Late?
It's a No and No from me.
In both seasons there was a serious under commitment to adding proven Premier League players to the squad and more importantly, players that would fit in with our style of play.
In 2007 we signed Cisse and Fae, neither of whom could do the job that Sidwell had done and yet we still played the same type of football that was largely dependent on having a Sidwell type of player in the team. This season we signed Guthrie to help us retain the ball better but for whatever reason that experiment has failed miserably so far, while injuries have now left last year's third/fourth choice midfielder Jay Tabb as one of our only two fit central midfielders.
You cannot go into a Premier League season with such uncertainty in such a key, key position and we've now done it twice which to me is quite unforgivable.
Likewise there's been poor man management behind the scenes, that's distracting from on pitch concerns. In 2007 there should have been more willingness to move on unhappy players while this year it's been dire to see public fallings out with two of your opening day starters. Likewise why our reigning player of the season wasn't tied up to a deal before the season started is utterly beyond me and it's depriving us of another option.
It would be an option that would be quite handy right now as we've still yet to settle on a back four. To have used eight players in 10 games is worrying and shows that the manager either bought badly or still doesn't know his best eleven.
Thankfully there's still plenty of time to turn things round and no mistakes are as of yet unfixable. We have 84 points to play for yet and there's enough mediocre teams in the league to mean that we shouldn't need more than another 31/32 points to stay up.
We also have a good manager at the helm and one who's shown he's able to learn and change things quickly. Brian has achieved great thing with limited experience and I've got confidence that he'll find the right formula eventually.
While hindsight is a wonderful thing, it's demoralising to see so many comparisons already from that dreadful relegation and while you might be able to forgive a young manger for making mistakes, perhaps the board, the scouting team and Nicky Hammond need to be held more accountable for once again letting a club get itself into this position.
But what do you think? Let us know in the comments below.