Sitting snugly in 7th? What kind of mixed up, muddled up, shook up world is this? You were supposed to go down this year. What's going on?
I think anyone that tipped us to go down didn't really understand what was going on at the club to begin with to be honest. Last year was hopefully the utter rock bottom of an era that was sparked by our previous Russian owner coming in without any serious cash behind him and saddling us full of awful contracts and making bizzare moves on and off the pitch. (Yeah...we've heard about that type of thing. Such scenarios don't happen around here though. No siree. No way Jose.) Our new Thai owners bailed us out of what could easily have been a catastrophic collapse in the summer of 2014 but FFP, as you well know, has its limitations (unless you're QPR...) and so there was only so much they could do to strengthen the squad in their first season - hence the flirtation with the bottom three. This summer we had much more room to reshape the squad and Clarke brought in some good steady heads in the likes of Paul McShane and Stephen Quinn plus flair from Matej Vydra and so far it's seen us shoot back up into play-off contention.
Casting a beady eye over your recent form though and it ain't as pretty as it seems - a bit of a rough patch, halted only by a win at Bolton...everyone wins at Bolton these days...we even came close to doing so.
Bolton could have been three up inside 20 minutes had it not been for Ali Al-Habsi rolling back the years and producing some great stops. The loss of the aforementioned Stephen Quinn plus Hal Robson-Kanu and Aaron Tshibola has really taken some bite out of the midfield and it's led to some much more shaky performances as of late. The quality in the side is still there but confidence is fragile from the ridiculous 10 minute spell at Fulham that saw us turn a 2-0 lead into a 3-2 deficit before losing 4-2. Have we now turned the corner? If we keep everyone else fit and cut out the stupid mistakes then our first XI is still a match for anyone but the confidence is still shallow at the moment.
Come on then - there's no escaping it - the twice annual check up on our cast offs. Let me guess: Gunter decent. Cox offside. McCleary frustrating (and infuriatingly difficult name to spell). Mackie works hard. That about cover it?
Well Cox is working his offside magic on loan at Bristol City having been discarded by Steve Clarke for the second time in his career, while Mackie is on the treatment table at QPR after Reading quite rightly stayed out of a bidding war for a player who was on stupid money at your place. Gunter is still that 7/10 right-back who works hard, does the occasional good thing but never stands out while McCleary has had a baffling campaign where he can't seem to nail down a place. Fortunately (or unfortunately for yourselves) he had probably his best game of the season against Bolton on Saturday so I'm hoping we've got the old GMac back.
Impeccable timing. Steve Clarke - over him Johnny flipflopping yet? Forgiven?
Forgiven? Yeah but do we fully trust him? No not really. The Reading fans are split about 60/40 between those who understand he's a professional doing the right thing for him and those who think he's a snake and should get the hell away from the football club. Personally I've always seen him as a good coach who's doing what he can here but always has one eye on the next step up the ladder. While I can totally understand that, I don't really like it either. It's modern football at its finest but I can't see him heading down the local boozer to celebrate with the Reading fans like Brian McDermott did after we won promotion in 2012. I think Clarke is going to see out the season and unless we're promoted he'll be off.
Slightly more seriously, you have relatively new ownership. Is the jury still out on this or are events on the pitch making everything seem quite nice, thanks for asking?
So far they've been pretty good, providing investment for new players, making good positive commercial strides in foreign markets plus having ambitious new plans for the land surrounding the stadium that would see the car park turned into a massive new development including houses, a conference centre and even an ice rink, I mean who doesn't want to go ice skating before a big game eh?! Ultimately they're going to be judged by how much money they put into the team and how we perform so on that basis there's little to complain about right now other than THAT song which went viral a few weeks ago.
Give us a reason you'll win:
You're a bit naff at the moment...is that reason enough? (Oh yes.) I think Reading are much more suited to go at a team who come and attack us and I can't see you sitting back with results so shaky recently. If Vydra recovers enough to start, McCleary continues his form and Nick Blackman also maintains his recent form then I think we'll have too much for you.
Give us a reason you'll lose:
Michael Hector. He signed for Chelsea for over £4 million on deadline day and right now it's looking like we've done some fantastic business. He's undoubtedly got talent but has a nasty habit of making a ridiculous error to gift the opposition a goal, long term I can see him ending up like another former Chelsea defender named Michael that your fans might be familiar with..... Also our record when falling behind is pretty awful under Steve Clarke and I do fear for us if we concede that first goal on Saturday.
The Tilehurst End are throughly good human beings and are on the Twitter.