First Quarter ReportBy: Rob | October 17th, 2007
Okay, I realize we’re actually only 23% of the way through the Premier League season, but the international fortnight is as good a place as any to take stock of the Season So Far. Overall, it’s been a rude awakening for Reading, who glided through last year as everyone’s favorite little club (well, maybe not Peter Cech’s) on their way to a near-miss of a UEFA Cup slot. But as tough as things go, consider this: Last season at this point: 13 points. This year: 10 points.
But getting a read on why this season has been such a difficult struggle, shattering Capo Coppell’s cool demeanor, turning up the volume on the Second-Season Syndrome cries of lazy journalists, and causing great nervousness at the Madejski, requires us to go behind those numbers. To…more numbers!!!
That being the number of teams beneath us in the standings, a critical figure to keep an eye on as the season goals shift from improving last year’s magical position to just staying in the top flight. Of those 8 teams, there’s one that’s almost certain to eat up a relegation slot (Derby) and one that’s almost certain to get on a run one of these days (Tottenham), amidst a whole lot of teams I’d consider to be roughly at Reading’s level: Birmingham, Boro, Wigan, Sunderland, Fulham, and Bolton. Of those six, we’ve played three, losing to Bolton and Sunderland on the road and beating Wigan at home. Obviously, it will be critical to get all the points we can from this group of teams going forward. First up is a big match at Fulham, November 3rd. As much as I hate to cheer against my national team’s surrogate club, there must be NO MERCY.
The number of teams ahead of us we’ve already played, including two of the Big Four. Anything we get from the 11 teams above us are frosting…that Everton win and United draw are both looking mighty helpful these days, as without them, we’re in the drop zone. The next two Saturdays feature tough games at Blackburn and home v. Newcastle, so here’s hoping the fatigue and injuries of the international break take their toll on these sides more than on the Royals (who weren’t exactly resting the fortnight away, update on that soon).
The number of saves Marcus Hahnemann already has on the season, which ESPN Soccernet insists upon reminding me of every time I visit. Soccer is a funny game as far as statistics go, and saves are probably the most bittersweet…it’s great that Marcus has been stopping so many shots, but it’d probably be better if he was a lot less busy, on the whole. Chalk it up to a defense that has been pretty banged up all year, with second-choice center backs Michael Duberry and Andre Bikey seeing more of the pitch than Steve Coppell would like. 18 goals allowed through 9 games is pretty bad, putting us behind only woeful Derby (and alongside Spurs, of all teams) as the second-worst defense in the Prem thus far. The bright side? The impending return of the man they call SONKO.
The number of players who have scored goals for Reading this season. Sounds good, right? Except we’ve only scored 10 in the Prem this season, and our strikers have only accounted for half of those. A multi-faceted attack was one of Reading’s strengths last season, especially as injuries tripped up the likes of Dave Kitson and Kevin Doyle for long spells. But the lack of striker goals (and that figure would’ve been a lot uglier were it not for Kitson and Doyle waking up over the last couple games) is worrisome, as it’s an indication that a lot of our goals have come from set pieces and, well, lucky breaks. Kitson, Doyle, or Leroy Lita (who remains scoreless) will need to take charge in the next segment of the season, giving us a real threat up front.
That’s approximately how much (in pounds) Reading spent this offseason on new players, bringing in midfielders Emerse Fae and Kalifa Cisse. In Premier League terms, that’s not much…in fact, I suspect it’s about as much as most big squads spend on their catering budget each year. But Coppell opted for chemistry and caution over a shopping spree, a move that seemed wise after the successes of the last two seasons, but which now appears a mite naive. But never fear, Coppell insists that he will be throwing sacks labeled with pound signs all around the world this January, hopefully in an attempt to patch up what has been a battered and uninspiring midfield.
That’s pretty much the story of this season’s first quarter, here’s hoping that the next three go a bit more smoothly. As mentioned above, the first test is a very, very difficult road trip to Blackburn, which I’ll cover in depth on Friday after an international duty roundup tomorrow.