After finally sorting out their home form, Reading have turned their attention to an important run of away fixtures. With three successive road trips for the Royals in a week, the run got off to the best possible start with a win at Crystal Palace.
Following on from their FA Cup goals against West Brom at the weekend, it was good to see Simon Church and Jimmy Kebe on the scoresheet again. If there has been one thing hampering Church from nailing down a regular first team berth this season it has been his lack of goals. Much like Shane Long and his goalscoring exploits in recent weeks, Church suddenly looks like he might be hitting some form at a vital time for his team. It was commented in this column recently that Long would not have scored his brilliant opener against Plymouth without the confidence he had gained from scoring in his prior games. In a similar vein, it comes as no surprise to see Church hitting the back of the net having got a long-awaited goal under his belt against the Baggies in the last match. On that occasion, Church took two attempts to finish off a one-on-one with Scott Carson, with the Welsh striker looking nervous as he nearly blew a golden opportunity. With that little seed planted, he has followed up one goal with two more just days later and now Church will look to make the most of Long’s enforced absence from the first team. With Reading enjoying success recently playing a lone striker, Church and Long could be contending a single spot when the Irishman returns and Church is going the right way about setting out his case for selection.
Brian McDermott was quick to sing the praises of Kebe following the Selhurst Park victory and hinted that Royals fans might have finally seen what the Reading scouts saw in the player they watched at Boulogne. Kebe has shown glimpses of brilliance but has all too regularly flattered to deceive in a Reading shirt. He has been the Championship’s version of Manchester United winger Nani, a frustrating player who so often makes the wrong choices and appears to be wasting a great talent. The Portuguese attacker has started to find his feet at Old Trafford in recent games and McDermott will hope that his Malian flyer is turning a corner too. The Royals boss was quick to talk to his player after the game, telling him that this was how he wanted him to perform to get the best out of him in the English league. Quality wingers are a rarity outside of top-flight football and if Kebe can repeat this performance regularly, then Reading will possess two of the best wingers in the Championship as Jobi McAnuff has been flying all season.
A trip to West Brom for the FA Cup Fifth Round replay awaits but next on the agenda is a visit to the seaside town of Blackpool. The Lancashire town is famed for its pleasure beach but fun will be the last thing on the Reading squad’s minds on Saturday. The trip to Bloomfield Road offers up a tough but excellent chance to extend on the Royals’ excellent form and right now the whole team look in the mood to get the job done. The home of the Tangerines was something of a fortress early in the season, with it taking until December for Barnsley to become the first visiting team to come away with three points. Since then, Ian Holloway’s side have stumbled and are not quite the prospect they were when the Royals surprisingly beat them at Madejski Stadium in November. Since the home loss to the Tykes, Blackpool have just two home wins and have won just four games in total in the 14 games played home or away. In contrast, Reading are a much improved side on the up and could conceivably complete their second home and away double of the season.
In pre-season, there is no way anyone involved with Reading would have taken an offer to be 18th in the table in late January. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then and suddenly it is a situation worthy of great optimism to see the Royals in their highest league position for months. With Church back among the goals, Long in form before his suspension and a hint of what might be to come from Kebe fired at Selhurst Park, things are starting to look rosy in Royal Berkshire. With a win in London under their belts ahead of a two more games away from the Madejski, things might look very good by the time Sheffield Wednesday come to Reading on February 27.
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