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Friday, August 22, 2008

Reading Preview

Blackheath Addick it was that, a few weeks ago, and for some reason I've forgotten, referred to Napoleons preference for lucky generals. All you can say is that at the moment Pardew seems to be pushing his luck as things are not going so well. First of all he's seen his best players ( well, open to debate) sold with probably more on the way, two goalless defeats behind him and thirdly you could argue that Pards has been handed a pretty tough start to the season.
First of all last seasons Champions of Division One Swansea, with only one away defeat in 7 months came to the Valley, then Watford away, where we've had only 1 win in 12 visits, and that's now followed by three games against teams currently in the top 5, all unbeaten, namely Reading (h), Preston (a) and Wolves (h). A tough mini-test for Pards then and it begins on Saturday when his old club, Reading, arrive at the Valley.
Bit of history, then...
Pardew, if you remember, first went to Tier Two Reading in 1997 as Reserve Team manager, took over as caretaker manager for a week the following year but left before they were relegated in May 1998 to Tier Three. Obviously not forgotten, he returned to become full-time Manager in October 1999 and after a midtable finish in his first season, he made the Play-Off Final losing to Walsall the following year in 2000/2001 and then won automatic promotion the following year in 2002, finishing second behind Brighton.
Into the Fizzy Play-offs in their first season (losing to Wolves in the Semi's ) but then in September 2003 it all became a little sour when he was approached on the quiet by West Ham. In somewhat acrimonious circumstances he resigned that September after being refused permission to speak to the Hamsters and then a period of "gardening leave" followed before he finally became West Ham Manager in late October.
More to the point, since that unfortunate departure he's faced Reading 5 times, 4 as Manager of West Ham and once in charge of the Addicks and only won once. With one 1-0 win of the three home games ( the others were a 0-1 defeat at Upton Park and a 0-0 draw at the Valley), he's suffered defeats both times he has gone back to the Madejski stadium. One wonders what the fans think of him as he succeeded in winning 102 of his 212 games in charge. Coppell, meanwhile, has just surpassed that with 103 wins from 233 games in charge and strangely enough made the comment that he felt hampered by his predessors spending on players that didn't make eventually make the grade!

The Opposition
Reading, under Coppell, have gone from strength to strength and were unlucky to be relegated from the Premier on the last day of the season and all you have to do to gauge their promotion chances is to appreciate that the key to a quick return from the Fizzies is to keep as many of your premiership players as possible. Only two have left Reading, Striker Dave Kitson to Stoke for 5.5M and left-back Nick Storey to Aston Villa.
As for the rest they have similar problems to the Addicks with the left-back slot being an issue after Storey's departure and in midfield where they are missing Matejovsky but apart from that they have a settled side with ten players starting both games and only an ankle ligament injury to Matejovsky at Forest spoiling a settled eleven. Mali-born Kalifa Cisse fills in. Also missing will be right-back and club captain Graeme Murty.
In pre-season they have had away games at Forest Green and MK Dons, with 2-0 and 2-1 wins. A three game Swedish tour, all victories and lastly a credible 1-1 home draw ( after missing a penalty) with Aston Villa. Goalscorer against Villa was youngster Jem Karacan, previously on loan at Millwall.

Key Players
Sometime captain number 15 James Harper is another regular having played 275 games for the Royals and is being chased, apparently, by Middlesbro' who at the moment don't reach Coppell £5m valuation. Up front we can expect to be re-aquainted with Zaire international Leroy Lita. He managed just 3 goals for us in 8 on-loan games last season which was an improvement on his recent form with Reading where he recently went 15 games without scoring. He finally got one in their last game of the season against Derby when it was all a bit too late. One goal in last 18 games for Reading.
Alongside him if we're lucky could be Kevin Doyle and perhaps one of the reasons for Readings demise last season was the dip in form from Doyle, he got 18 in their promotion year and 13 in the first year in the Premier but only 6 last year and another player enjoying a barren spell. He recently went 20 Premiership games without scoring and was another one ending that run by scoring at the death against Derby. One goal then in last competitive 23 games for Reading.
We also have the Hunt brothers to contend with, Stephen and his newly arrived brother ex of Dundee, Noel. You'll be sad to learn that Noel is a striker that knows where the net is and scored on his debut during the Swedish tour. And he did it again last week getting the winner at Dagenham in a 2-1 League Cup win.

But with our own scoring problems, it's surely their defence that will give us the most problems, not only because they've yet to concede in the fizzies but also they are the ones getting the goals with the Senegal 6' 3" centre-back Ibrahima Sonko getting the two that sunk Plymouth last weekend. Both were headers from Stephen Hunt crosses.

Have We Got Any Chance?

OK, they were unbeaten in their pre-season and after three competitive games they still are. A draw at Notts Forest, a win at Dagenham in the Cup and a win over Plymouth last weekend. But, in fact, if you've looking for any signs of a weakness, they have failed to score in 7 of their last nine competitive games, admittedly most of them in the Premiership, with only the 4-0 away win at Derby on the last day of the Premier season and that 2-0 home win over Plymouth as proof that they know where the net is.


History in the League is short with only 30 games played and we're losing so far with 9 wins, 12 defeats and 9 draws. At home its a bit better with 7 wins, 4 defeats and 4 draws. We have won 3 of the 4 most recent games at the Valley and you have to go back to the game before that in October 1994 for the last time that Reading have won at the Valley, the score 2-1. That season Reading finished 2nd but because of the reduction in the Premiership from 22 to 20 only the Champions of Tier Two were promoted. Tough luck on Reading as they lost in the Play-Off Final to Bolton.

As for the Addicks

After last seasons excesses when we had 4 left-backs, we now, if we believe the official site, have none available, with Youga suspended and hamstring (!) injury worries over Basey. Fortune was patched up last weekend and finished the 90 minutes so it remains to be seen if Basey is in the same boat. However, Semedo has filled in there before so we could see Moutaouakil making his first fizzy start of the season at right-back with Semedo on the left. No bad thing to have Moot2 back but he'll have to concentrate as Stephen Hunt is obviously the key to Reading's attacks. Lets hope that travelling to Norway for their friendly on Wednesday is leaving him and Kevin Doyle a bit knackered, as they both played the last 30 minutes(ish).

As for the midfield , they'll be a home debut for Nicky Bailey and then Pardew has to decide who's going to partner him in his habitual 4-4-2. And just as we appeared to have received a bonus with the form of Racon on his return from Brighton, another injury problem hit us after 58 minutes against Watford on Saturday with a broken fifth metatarsal ( ie, the bone on the outside of the foot) and he's out till November. All rather sad as, fresh from his inclusion in the Fizzy team of the week after the Swans game, the unfortunate injury comes as Racon was enjoying his best spell at the Valley.

There's still no real news on the return of ZiZi from China and Pards obviously won't broadcast the fact that he's back but clearly with two goalless games behind us and only two set-piece goals to show from 3 games played we do need to look at our attacking options. Playing ZiZi in the hole behind the front two could be an option but with deals pending and an unsettled player to boot, Pards has stated that he won't be considering him. So with Semedo and Racon unable to make the midfield, its possible that Pards will try Jonjo again and see how he makes out with Bailey beside him, but with our improved performance in the second half at Watford with Matty Holland next to Bailey we could see Pards starting with these two hard-working players. Problem being that we'll need a little more than hard work to get something out of a Reading team that look headed back to the top flight.

With another two of our attacking options, Ambrose and Todorov, completing an hour in the Reserves on Wednesday, it remains to be seen whether or not Pards will include them tomorrow. Its possible that Ambrose ( last seasons second highest scorer along with ZiZi, both with 9 goals ) will make the bench but expect Sam and Bouazza to be the wide men with Varney and Gray still learning how to dovetail together seamlessly.

At least, unlike Vita and Doyle, they haven't gone 41 games between them in the stripes of Reading with only 2 goals to show for it. In fact it's a bit close with Gray on 3 from 12 games ( plus 6 sub appearances) since joining and Varney on 5 in his 12 games since Christmas which is, I suppose, approaching 1 goal every other game. But as a partnership is still doesn't seem to work and of the 8 times they have started together, they've only managed 4 goals between them.

So a team of:

Weaver; Semedo, Hudson, Fortune, Basey; Sam, Bailey, Holland, Bouazza; Gray and Varney.

Subs: Elliot, Moutaouakil, Shelvey, Ambrose, Dickson.

Assistant Manager Phil Parkinson will also enjoy facing his old club after playing 361 times for the Royals.

Verdict: Back in July only 6 out of 37 CAFCPicks punters forecast the game as a win, with 12 seeing a defeat and 19 hoping for a draw. Since then I haven't changed my mind and with an unbeaten defence at Reading and Pards only having managed one goal at home in three attempts against his old club since leaving, its looks like being a low scoring game with the Addicks on the end of another 0-1 defeat.

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