By Chris Harris
A few weeks ago Reading looked safe and sound. But if their last few results are anything to go by, they will soon be dead and buried.
Steve Coppell's side were never expected to scale the heights of their debut season in the Premier League. Survival was the watchword last summer and that seemed assured when Reading reeled off three wins in four March matches.
Since then a goalless draw with Blackburn, a heavy defeat at
Newcastle and - worst of all - a home defeat against Fulham has
left the Royals just three points off the drop and looking over
their shoulders anxiously.
We asked Nick Ive of the Reading Evening Post for an insight into Reading's campaign ahead of their weekend trip to Emirates Stadium. Read on for Nick's views on Coppell, the Royals' likely player of the season, their chances of beating the drop and the team changes we could see on Saturday.
THE STORY SO FAR
"The table doesn't lie, Reading have found it a lot, lot tougher this season. But having said that it's not too much of a disgrace because if Reading had been in this position last year no one would have batted an eyelid. They did so well last season that expectations have possibly a little bit too high for them. I still think they have enough to stay up although last week's display against Fulham was one of the worst I've seen.
"Steve Coppell is still popular among the fans. He's had a lot more money than he has actually spent but I think what he has found hard is attracting good players to come to Reading. He won't spend money just for the sake of it if the players he brings in aren't any better than what he already has. In that sense I think Reading are finding it hard because they need to establish themselves as a Premier League team before they can really start to build."
PLAYER OF THE SEASON?
"Stephen Hunt. He's been really good, really consistent this season. Technically he's not the best of players but what he gives you is 100 per cent every week. His performances in recent weeks haven't been so good but then neither have the team's. I'm pretty certain the fans would vote for Hunt, I'd be very surprised if anyone else won Reading's player of the season award."
"Reading have missed Steven Sidwell badly. He was so good for them last season and obviously he's not getting the games at Chelsea. He's fiercely ambitious, that's why he went there. I wouldn't be surprised if he moved on in the summer just to get games of football but I would be surprised to see him back at Reading unfortunately."
"Before last weekend I was very confident Reading would stay up but losing to Fulham - and the manner of the defeat - was very disappointing. However Reading do have winnable games. Arsenal away is the toughest one and I can't really see them getting anything there, so if Bolton and Birmingham do well they could be in the relegation zone. But the three games after that - Spurs at home, Wigan away and Derby away - are all winnable games. I think four or five points from those three games will be enough to keep Reading up.
"They have struggled away from home this season but the home form has been pretty good up until the Fulham game. Where that performance came from I just don't know and I'm not sure the manager does. It might have been a mixture of nerves, the pressure starting to tell, and they just didn't perform on the day. Fulham played with freedom and it shows."
"Coppell said that one of any 10 outfield players could be axed but he won't make 10 changes, purely because he doesn't have the players to come in. I think there will be three, possibly four, changes. Dave Kitson could come back in up front, possibly in place of Shane Long. There could be a change on the wing with John Oster. Whether Little is ready to start I'm not sure but Kevin Doyle might drop out to the right. Skipper Graeme Murty could come in and Bobby Convey could get a chance."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"Reading were unlucky not to win last season's game at the Emirates but I think that's because Arsenal didn't finish them off earlier in the game. Every time Reading have played Arsenal there is an obvious gulf in class. They seem to find it hard to play against Arsenal. They have drawn against Manchester United and Chelsea but they haven't really come close against Arsenal. Perhaps it's the style of football they play. I can't see anything other than a home win on Saturday, even though Arsenal don't have much to play for now."