When Danny Guthrie plays, Reading pick up points. Issues behind the scenes are the main reason he isn't playing, but is this just a selfish, short-term attitude of the coaching staff?
Brian McDermott has endured a fair amount of criticism this season over the signings he has made, and maybe this is justified given the frightening statistic that our 11 signings have started 101 games out of a possible 224, just 45% between them. One of these signings is Danny Guthrie, who very much divides opinion amongst Reading fans.
After joining on a free transfer from Newcastle in the summer many believed Reading’s long plight to find the right creative, ball playing midfielder had ended. Guthrie seemed a player with a good level of Premier League experience already under his belt, who would relish the opportunity of regular first team football at Reading, having fallen down pecking order at Newcastle with Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote firmly established as their first choice central midfielders.
Following an impressive pre-season and a handful of competitive matches early on, which included his first goal in Reading colours away to Chelsea, Guthrie was deemed yet another piece of astute business by the club. However, his Twitter outburst about tactics, quickly trailed by a bust-up with Brian McDermott and a subsequent order to stay away from the training ground, and then a refusal to travel to Sunderland for a match in December, dashed Guthrie’s hopes of establishing himself and many fans said they never wished to see him in a Reading shirt again.
Sympathy with this opinion can be acknowledged when you consider the wider, disruptive effect Guthrie’s behaviour could have on other players and team morale, no matter how strong Reading’s supposed ‘team spirit’ is. Like it or not though, the raw fact of the matter is that when Guthrie has been involved, the team have performed.
Guthrie has played 12 times in the league this season, against Stoke (home), Chelsea (away), Tottenham (home), West Brom (away), Liverpool (away), Manchester City as a substitute (away), Swansea (home), West Ham (home), Tottenham (away), West Brom (home), Newcastle (away), and Chelsea (home). 12 of our 23 points, 52% of them, have come from matches where he has featured. This means we have won more than half of our points with Guthrie playing. Furthermore, in the 12 games Guthrie has played, we have won 12 points out of a possible 36, working out as winning 33% of the points available.
Guthrie’s off-the-field antics caused him to miss 13 out of the 14 games from the home fixture with Newcastle to his re-emergence at Manchester City. In stark contrast to the above figures, in these 13 games the team won just 8 points from a possible 39, only 21%. This crucial period of the season in the lead-up to Christmas saw us cut adrift at the bottom of the table and our Premier League adventure seemed to be coming to a premature end. Guthrie’s statistics might just show he would have made a difference in this period. 12 points were won from the games where he has played, which is effectively a point a game gained with Guthrie on the pitch. So, if we run with this trend, had Guthrie played every game this season, the team would now have 28 points, putting us in 16th place and 4 points above the drop-zone, hauling us away from Villa, Wigan and QPR. That little bit of extra breathing space would have been invaluable at this stage of the season.
Given the clear points to game ratio achieved when Guthrie has played, one which no other Reading midfielder can match, it seems staggering that he has again been banished to oblivion in the most recent four matches, where we have won just 3 points against Sunderland. This means we have only won 25% of possible points during Guthrie latest exclusion, a lower percentage of points gained than that we hold when Guthrie plays (33%). Maybe this figure and Guthrie’s points to games ratio stems from prior experience of the Premier League which the majority of our team lack, giving us some extra nous in midfield where games are so frequently won and lost. Or maybe it comes from his passing ability and calmness on the ball, which allows the team to capably connect the defence with midfield and provides a platform to move forward. Whatever the reason, the figures do not lie, and Guthrie needs to be in the team. When he returned against Manchester City, results picked up, so he must bring at least some quality to the side that allows us to keep in games and pose a greater threat to the opposition. Yes, Adam Le Fondre’s goal scoring magnificence has helped us come back from the death, but so too has Guthrie’s contribution to the team, whatever it may be. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that something has again gone on behind the scenes to make McDermott drop Guthrie once more. Nothing else can explain it.
Reading have notoriously made it clear that they will do things the “Reading way” and play “the right players”, meaning egos have no place. Guthrie clearly comes with added baggage so fails this test, but surely choosing to play his ego is a very, very small price to pay if it gives a little extra push to achieve survival and all of the money that comes with retaining Premier League status. The club needs to start being more realistic. Our mentality needs to change if we’re ever to truly compete in this league; pride needs to stop being put ahead of the club. The big league means you have to have big players and big characters to do what is best for the long term, and we could do far worse than Danny Guthrie.