After the successful televised auditions against Liverpool recently, the cameras are back to focus on Reading when it really matters. Saturday sees the Royals face a tricky trip to South Yorkshire where they will be live on television against Doncaster.
The year 2010 has so far seen Reading do themselves no end of favours when live on the box with two stunning performances against the Merseyside giants and Royals fans will be hoping that the TV jinx of old has gone. For the large part, Reading have been camera shy over the last few years and wins have been rare. Of course, it will not have helped in the Premier League years that the increased number of televised fixtures were against the biggest and best teams, as is to be expected as the companies look to broadcast the games which will draw high audiences. Even so, the Royals have all too often failed to show their true colours when on screen and that is not something they can afford to do at the Keepmoat Stadium.
The clash with Doncaster sees two teams with ambitions of playing attractive football meet. Both sides can be accused of lacking a bit of backbone at times and are certainly not natural scrappers. The desire to keep the ball on the floor and pass your way to goal is admirable but not always the most successful tactic in the Championship. The second tier of English football is full of players with a decent level of ability combined with a more physical approach than is found up a level in the Premier League. Whilst there is evidence at the top end of the table of attractive sides enjoying success like West Brom and Nottingham Forest, this can be put down to the ability of the players in each squad as much as it can to the style of play. League leaders Newcastle are a more functional outfit who have picked up plenty of results this season doing what they have to in order to win rather than worrying about the aesthetic quality of their offerings. If Reading and Doncaster want to make the best of their current resources then they might be advised to add a bit more of a ruthless edge to their play all over the field. When attacking, clever football can win out against brawn but it is in regaining possession that both sides need to harden up.
Gylfi Sigurdsson will be a key player for the Royals. The young Icelander is hardly blessed with sauntering pace but he has the intelligence and guile to slip his way through the heart of the Donny defence. His knack for popping up in good positions shows similar traits to Frank Lampard or a young Paul Scholes and his goal tally has been very impressive for a relative rookie in a struggling team. Playing from the left of midfield, he offers something complimentary to the contrasting style of Jobi McAnuff on the right flank. For a spell earlier in the season, Reading were lining up with two tricky wingers, albeit one consistent in McAnuff and one unpredictable in Jimmy Kebe. Against certain teams, flying wingers will enjoy great success but the worry is that when that approach is not working, there is not enough variation in the side to come up with a workable Plan B. Offsetting the traditional wing play of McAnuff with the thoughtful movement of Sigurdsson has started to reap the rewards for the Royals in recent weeks, in a similar vein to the success enjoyed by Spurs with Aaron Lennon on one wing and either Niko Kranjcar or Luka Modric on the other.
It is in attack that a successful formula still needs a lot of consideration. It is hard to argue that any combination of Reading’s strikers has yet proved itself to be the best pairing. Shane Long warrants a run in the side to see if he can finally prove himself now he has a couple of recent goals to boost his confidence. Alongside him, Simon Church probably has the best claim at present as his pace and movement will open up holes for Long and Sigurdsson to exploit though his wayward finishing is still a worry. What was interesting to see was Nicholas Bignall used ahead of Grzegorz Rasiak and Gunnar Thorvaldsson as a substitute against Barnsley. He immediately showed willingness to get involved as well as good movement and speed. Having seen him score twice in the League Cup against Burton, he certainly possesses more of an eye for goal than his tally when on loan shows. It will be interesting to see if Bignall gets the chance to show what he is capable in the Championship as the relegation fight progresses.