Despite having led the table early on and been in the top six for the majority of the season, Reading head to Carrow Road this afternoon with their hopes of making the play-off places over.
We talked to Robert Warlow who cover the Royals for Berkshire Live about how Veljko Paunovic will approach today’s game and which players from the opposition to watch out for.
Canaries.co.uk: Reading’s 2-2 draw with Swansea City last time out ended their hopes of making the play-offs this season. How do you think that will change Veljko Paunovic’s approach to the game in terms of selection and tactics?
RW: The Reading manager has said himself that he intends to honour the competition, the club’s fans and the team itself by doing everything possible to win the last two games of the season. He was asked on Sunday whether he may consider giving opportunities to others, perhaps to some younger players, but insisted that he would not be ‘giving something for nothing’, adding that he and his team would look to be competitive.
Canaries.co.uk: How do Reading fans view this season in terms of progress, despite missing out on the play-offs?
RW: Undoubtedly, it has been a season of progression for Reading, after finding themselves in the bottom half or in a relegation battle in recent campaigns. Of course, there is disappointment and frustration that having been in the top six for much of the season, they have fallen away at the end, but after a few seasons where thoughts of promotion have been far from realistic, it has been a much better campaign on the whole for the Royals.
Canaries.co.uk: From the outside looking in Veljko Paunovic seems to have been a very good appointment. What has he changed from last season that has made Reading competitive again in this division?
RW: He has often spoken about the identity and character of his side, and that is something that is clearly important to him. 'Non-negotiables' is a phrase he has become synonymous with, with the Serbian big on effort and application and not having excuses. His attention to detail, coupled with his drive and determination, have put Reading on the right path, and he has got the best out of players like Lucas Joao, Yakou Meite and Michael Olise to make Royals a force in the second tier.
Canaries.co.uk: It is just one win from the last nine games that has ended Reading’s hope of promotion this season, what do you put this drop of form down to?
RW: Injuries have taken a toll on Reading like many teams this season, but for Royals, these have coincided with a loss in form at just the wrong time for some players. Early in the season, they were flying and looked to be almost certainties for a top six place, but some disappointing performances and poor results have seen them slip away. Decision making, particularly in the final third, has not been as good as it was early on, and they have paid the price for not killing teams off.
Canaries.co.uk: Reading have a great record of producing players through their academy. What graduates from the club’s academy have impressed you in the first team this season?
RW: Tom Holmes has been a standout in this regard this season. He had only made one senior appearance for Reading prior to this campaign, but has now established himself as a key part of the side’s defence. In addition, several other players from the club's academy have been key members of Paunovic's first team, including Tom McIntrye, Michael Olise, Andy Rinomhota and Omar Richards.
Canaries.co.uk: With the number of young players the club have in the first team, and the manager’s record for developing talent, how optimistic are the supporters that the club can build on this campaign and make a serious push for the top two spots next season?
RW: It all depends on who stays really. Several players are out of contract this summer and with the current financial situation, Reading may well see a few players leave, should suitable offers come in. Omar Richards is set to depart and he will need to be replaced, but if too many established first team regulars go, it will be a difficult job to replace like-for-like and go again next season.
Canaries.co.uk: Reading top the charts for the number of dribbles they complete per game. Which players in the Royals side are good in terms of carrying the ball forward and beating players in one v one situations?
RW: Josh Laurent has been a key player for Reading this season, driving Royals forward from the middle of the park alongside Andy Rinomhota. Signed on a free from Shrewsbury Town last season, the box-to-box midfielder has made a smooth step up to the Championship. In terms of dribbling ability, Ovie Ejaria has that in abundance. He can create from the wing and has caused plenty of problems for Championship defenders this season, while they have others who are also a threat, including Olise.
Canaries.co.uk: Are there any key players that might miss the game through injury or suspension or any players that might return to the starting line-up for the game?
RW: John Swift returned to the starting line-up on Sunday against Swansea City, and he really helped to make Reading tick for the first hour of the game. He has been a big miss this season, having been out injured for much of the campaign, and you wonder what difference he could have made had he been available for more of the season. Reading are still without Tom McIntyre, Michael Morrison and Felipe Araruna through injury. How many changes Paunovic could make, with play-offs now no longer possible, remains to be seen, although he has suggested that he will continue to name strong sides to be competitive.