I’m not really sure why ten games is the barometer by which we’re all supposed to gauge our team’s start to the season – what about those who start poorly and finish strongly? But as everyone seems to use it, I’ll go with it.
The ten points acquired by Chris Hughton’s men over that period haven’t been earned without their tribulations, but – importantly – have arrived at a point where the team appears to be on an upward trajectory.
Saturday’s opponents, Reading, have had less joy in their first ten and – along with their bottom three compatriots QPR – still await their first win. Reports suggest that, performance-wise, they have been producing but –as we all know – it’s at both extremities of the pitch where it matters.
For Hughton, the return of Grant Holt – following his opening, five-game sabbatical – and the emergence of one Sebastien Bassong have gone a long way to answer these particular questions. No room for complacency of course, but add Alex Tettey into the mix and there is now promising looking spine running through the side.
Brian McDermott’s Reading – on the other hand, have been unable to shift up through the gears in the way that Hughton’s team have. Instead they have trundled along in first and second and – while avoiding any Liverpool or Fulham type scenarios – have still not yet clicked.
Predictably – and understandably – the noises coming from the Mad Stad tells us that they view Saturday as the day when it all finally comes together. Midfielder Jay Tabb, amongst others, has confidentially predicted that City’s visit represents a perfect opportunity for them to kick start their season and indeed goes as far as stating they ‘expect’ to win.
And you can’t blame them; wouldn’t expect anything else in fact. In their position, we’d think and say the same.
While there is no suggestion from the Thames Valley that Brian McDermott’s P45 is being drafted, there is also no doubt that the club’s new Russian billionaire owner is monitoring the situation closely. Despite his investment not yet reaching the level of his compatriot, Roman Abramovich, financial commitment of that ilk doesn’t come without a price (Mick McCarthy be warned).
McDermott needs a win on Saturday – anything less on Saturday will crank the pressure up one more notch – and this is why for Reading, it is already a ‘six-pointer’. From my limited knowledge, Russian billionaires are not big on sentiment.
The flip side is that a win – or even a draw – for City not only leaves the hosts firmly in the mire, but takes us closer to the breathing space afforded by mid-table.
Away wins in the Premier league are notoriously hard to come by and, for City’s part, Saturday represents one of the few occasions when they themselves can ‘expect’ a win. Easier said than done – goes without saying – but it’s surely one of those away trips that are circled on Hughton’s office calendar.
Our visits to the Madjeski have not been without incident, and Reading supporters can still vividly recall referee Neale Barry’s infamous ‘assist’ when Phil Mulryne struck that late winner in the 2003/04 Division One Championship winning season. To say it still festers is something of an understatement.
Equally, I’m sure most of us can still picture a fresh-faced Michael Oliver brandishing that red card to Holt, with Ian Harte writhing on the pitch in the background – undecided as to which ankle he should hold. Luckily, we were able to exact our revenge when – late on in that same 2010/11 Championship winning season – the skipper stole the three points with a very late winner.
Retribution is an ugly word, but it didn’t half feel good that day – particularly with the aforementioned Mr Harte being left in Holty’s wake as he smashed in that late one in front of a baying Barclay.
With the 2010/11 footballing gods ensuring that City’s bad fortune met with an equivalent dose of the good kind, the Royals still feel they are ‘owed one’. If that extra dollop of luck arrives on Saturday, they’ll consider it no more than they deserve. As we all know, football fans have long memories.
As far as team selection goes, Hughton will be unlikely to go unchanged given the injuries picked up last weekend by Michael Turner and Javier Garrido. Whilst both still appear to have a chance, it would be no surprise if neither lines up at the Madjeski.
Luckily, with the squad looking stronger than it has done for long time, Ryan Bennett and Leon Barnett will both be chomping at the bit to line up alongside Bassong. Similarly, at left back, Marc Tierney would surely be given the nod to carry on marauding if Garrido doesn’t make it.
Let’s all keep everything crossed that if that ball is bobbling around the City penalty box, Chris Foy keeps all parts of his anatomy out of the vicinity. I’d hate for the footballing gods to choose Saturday to even things up.