Ahead of tonight’s trip to Reading, Matthew Howman has been chatting to the excellent Tilehurst End’s Simeon Pickup…
Thanks for joining us Simeon. First of all tell me about your history as a fan, what made you start supporting Reading FC and what have been the highlights?
To my shame, for the first 10 years or so of my life I was a Man United supporter and asked my mum to take me to a game (my dad doesn’t like football). Her response?
‘If you want to see real football, come to Reading.’
My love of the Royals grew from there, until I eventually picked my university (Royal Holloway) partially because I could get to home games from there pretty easily. While I was at RoHo, I saw an ad online to work on a website called “The Tilehurst End” so gave it a go. The irony isn’t lost on me that Reading’s fortunes took a sharp downturn around the time I became editor in October 2017.
As for highlights, the 2011/12 season was a real stand-out. Back then, we went from second bottom of the table to winning the league, completely against odds. A dramatic 4-2 win at Upton Park (the best away game I’ve experienced) and a 3-1 victory at Southampton to decide the title (which I celebrated by jumping up and down like a madman in Heathrow Airport) are memories I won’t forget. Otherwise, taking Arsenal to extra-time at Wembley in a FA Cup semi-final won’t be matched for quite some time.
The season before last you looked like a good side under Jaap Stam and finished 3rd but following that last season was a disaster and this campaign has also seen a poor start, what caused the change in fortune?
To be honest, you’ll probably get a different answer from each Reading fan you ask. As for me, the decline post-playoff final can be explained through numerous factors: losing key players without replacing them (Danny Williams and Ali Al-Habsi), not recruiting wisely, severe injury worries, the inexperience/naivety of Jaap Stam and more.
Due to all that, confidence eventually drained so low that we just forgot how to win games – in fact, Saturday’s 3-2 triumph at Preston North End was just our sixth in all competitions (including friendlies!) of 2018. Turning that trend around – with largely the same squad as last season – has been a tall order for Paul Clement and a quick fix was perhaps always unlikely.
Looking across your squad for this season you’ve got a few players with a lot of experience and also Tyler Blackett that was once a promising player for Man Utd, is the balance wrong or are you in need of a star man?
We’re generally short on obvious quality (with the exception of star man Liam Moore) but, where we do have talent (not only Tyler Blackett but also former Chelsea man John Swift as another example), they’ve tended to be short on confidence. The squad was hugely unbalanced last season, and we had to go through big stretches of the season without a left back, striker or attacking midfielder. This summer’s recruitment has helped things but, at an outlay of just £4million, we’ve not seen the free-spending that fans were hoping for.
I’m always interested to know, what’s your take on Norwich City this season?
I had Norwich down as dark horses ahead of this season – managers like Daniel Farke tend to do better when they’ve had some time to settle into English football before then kicking on. With that in mind, I’m surprised to see you down in 16th (at time of writing), but it’s early days and you’ve certainly got the quality to kick on and push up the table. Give Farke time and you’ll be fine.
If you could have any one of our players who would you take?
As tempted as I am to say Nelson Oliveira – perhaps just for closure after our recent drawn-out courting of him – I’ll go with Moritz Leitner. We lack quality in midfield and he’d give us that. Otherwise, an experienced goal-getter like Jordan Rhodes never goes amiss.
And finally – preview tonight’s game for us, do you think you’ll win? What do you see as both teams weak points?
Despite a poor start to the season in terms of accumulating points, we’ve not been that far away from getting a win, it’s just been that we’ve not had the confidence to push ourselves over the line. Now that the first victory is under our belts, we really need to build on it and start racking up the points at a quicker rate than we have been. Norwich, another team who’ve started slowly, will still be tricky opposition.
We’ll be under pressure to get forward and create chances on our own turf, something we’ve struggled to do this season. That said, if the win at Preston has had the desired effect on morale, we’ll put up a fight and will be more than capable of getting the three points.
If we can start the game strongly, I fancy us to match you despite your edge in quality. Reading to take the lead, but the game will finish 2-2.
Cheers to Simeon for his time… here’s to a good one.
Saturday’s win gave us a massive lift at a time when we really needed it. Few saw it coming and the trick now is to follow it up with another good result and not do the “After the Lord Mayor’s show” thing that we’re so good at.
Here’s what the anti-experts think…
Penney predicts: Both these under-achieving sides come into this one on the back of fine wins and I can look no further than a 1-1 draw.
Andy assumes: Both teams come into the game on the back of rare wins, both will be desperate to maintain forward progress. Cancel each other out 0-0.
Gaz (G) guesses: There’s a natural urge to predict a win after Saturday’s triumph over Boro, but given that Reading also snaffled a win, I can see this being at attritional 1-1.
Cookie concludes: Buoyed by last Saturday’s win that gave me bragging rights over the Northern Cooks, I’m going for a 2-0 City win.
Stew suspects: Some grounds for caution here: Reading also had a good win at the weekend, and losing Hernandez is a blow. Nonetheless, we have options and a bit of momentum. 2-1 to City.
The oppo’s opinion: Reading to take the lead, but the game will finish 2-2.
Siri says: Let me think…0-1 City
And, the updated table: