Here's our Q&A with Reading fansite 'The Tilehurst End' ahead of Manchester United's Monday night FA Cup clash.
I totally forgot to set this Q&A up. Fortunately, our more punctual friends at The Tilehurst End -- SB Nation's Reading FC community -- were kind enough to reach out and get this exchange going. Here's our Q&A:
TBB: Talk a bit about how your season has gone. In the past few months, the run of results have been streaky -- 7 successive defeats from late November through late December and then in your past 9 fixtures, there have been 6 victories. Overall, how satisfied are Reading fans thus far? How confident are you that you can avoid the drop?
TTE: I think all Reading fans expected a struggle this season, though few expected us to be rock bottom with just nine points in eighteen games. At that point a significant chunk of the fanbase, myself included, had probably accepted relegation as inevitable but credit to Brian McDermott for changing the system and making some January signings that have helped us get right back into the survival hunt. As long as we're putting up a good fight I don't think many fans would be devastated with relegation, although it would still be a big blow considering how hard it is to go up. Personally I think we might just miss out and slip back into the Championship but whatever happens the club is in great shape for the long term. All that being said, I wouldn't rule out survival and nobody will be happier than me to see my prediction miss the mark!
TBB: On tactics now. Reading seem to be a side that enjoys attacking down the flanks -- particularly to the right through Jimmy Kebe -- and then pumping in crosses. This strategy obviously fits a 4-4-2 well. As of late, it seems that Brian McDermott has switched to a 4-5-1 in order to provide a bit more stability to the team's shape. However, Reading is still conceding goals and many of the comebacks have resulted from an in-game switch to the tried-and-true 4-4-2. Tell us about this.
TTE: Reading have built much of their decade long period of success on 4-4-2 and it's the same tactic that saw us twice win the Championship. Coming into the year Brian did play 4-5-1 a couple of times but bad results, injuries and off-field problems limited our midfield options and soon we were forced to go 4-4-2 to try and cobble together some points. Initially it worked but soon teams worked out how to get at us and despite a series of entertaining games (7-5 & 5-2 v Arsenal, 3-3 with Fulham, 4-3 against yourselves) we just didn't have the quality to play 4-4-2 for 90 minutes in the top flight.
With that in mind, Brian took advantage of new signings and returning players to go back to 4-5-1, to make us much harder to beat and at least keep us in games until the final third. The idea has been to try and blitz teams late on by bringing on Adam Le Fondre and injecting fresh wingers down the flanks and so far it's worked pretty well, even if we have left it late! Many neutral and more casual fans have since championed a return to 4-4-2 to accommodate our super sub Le Fondre but in doing so it would totally undermine our ability to stay in games and we have to accept our limitations.
That being said, Brian might well opt to try a 4-4-2 on Monday night to give our lone frontman Pavel Pogrebnyak a rest. With Jason Roberts injured, 'The Pog' is the only one that can really play the lone striker role and any injury to him would be a big, big blow to our survival hopes. If he does decide to be cautious and rest him, you could well see Le Fondre and Noel Hunt start up front togethr in a 4-4-2, or perhaps see Le Fondre try to lead the line, although it's not a role he's ever done brilliantly.
TBB: United are expected to rotate their squad on Monday night so Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney might only be available from the bench. Which players, though, them or others, worry you most? Are there any players on Sir Alex Ferguson's squad that are of particular worry due to any weaknesses in this Reading side? Sorry to inform you -- if you weren't aware that is -- but Bebe won't feature since he's on loan to Rio Ave in Portugal.
TTE: Who doesn't worry me in United's squad would be a better question? Ben Amos perhaps, he's not scored in a while....
Seriously though United have so much depth that any lineup Sir Alex puts out is likely to cause us problems. As mentioned above it'll be interesting to see how we set up and what changes we make to our side because that could play an important part. Pace has always been a problem for Reading but it's teams who keep the ball well that also cause us grief.
TBB: Some questions now on individuals. How's McDermott's approval rating? Which Reading players are the ones we should be most worried about? Adam Le Fondre has gotten quite of bit of attention lately due to his late-game heroics. Any chance of squad rotation for this FA Cup tie or should we expect a full-strength XI? And finally, was there much business done in the past January transfer window?
TTE: Brian's loved by the vast majority of the fanbase and is well on his way to becoming our most successful manager of all time. There were a few questions asked about his top flight credentials after that long losing stretch but he never lost the majority of the fans, especially in the stadium and I think he's respected even more for admitting his flaws and mistakes during that tricky time.
As mentioned it's possible we'll see some changes from our usual lineup with players like Ian Harte, Alex Pearce, Jimmy Kebe and Pogrebnyak rested and Nicky Shorey, Sean Morrison, Garath McCleary and Noel Hunt entering the fray. Le Fondre could also grab a starting spot against the team he supported as a boy and given he's already scored against United once, you wouldn't rule out another.
Adam Federici made his name in the game with a brilliant display on our last FA Cup visit to Old Trafford in 2007 and the Australian goalkeeper will need to be on top form again if we're to get a result.
Most of our new signings are cup tied, with midfielder Hope Akpan unable to play after playing against us in the Third Round while at Crawley while forward NIck Blackman is also cup-tied after featuring against us for Sheffield United in Round Four... I'm just hoping we continue this trend by signing Wayne Rooney after this round. One that might well feature is Portuguese midfielder Daniel Carrico who arrived in January but has only played 45 minutes due to a lack of fitness. The former Sporting Lisbon captain was apparently tracked by yourselves a few years ago before falling down the scouting lists, so we're hoping we've picked up a bargain at just £600k.
I'm hoping for a positive result on Monday but it's a big, big ask against a team as strong as United. As a fan I'd love a replay back at the Madejski but the head says maybe it's best just to go gung ho and hope for a shock win like Portsmouth and West Ham picked up in recent years, rather than bog us down with another fixture in the middle of a relegation scrap.