First home league game for Zenga
It would be fair to say I’m anticipating this game more eagerly than any of the games attended post-October of last season, with this being my first match of the season (you might note that there was neither a preview nor a reaction to the League Cup game vs Crawley in midweek…I’ve as much interest in that competition these days as I would if Starsailor decided to release a new album). A chance to see some new players with hopefully a more enterprising style than anything dished up at Molineux in 2016, a big crowd and a fresh start for the club. I don’t think anyone is reasonably expecting us to charge away at the top of the table, but we as fans can at least approach games with a feeling of eagerness rather than all-encompassing dread for now.
The good news is that we have no fresh injury concerns at present, so our thin squad isn’t further tested as we look to bed down this season. The bad news is that we haven’t signed anyone this week, so we’re still stuck with picking from various sub-standard options and hoping for the best. The defence has looked alarmingly shaky against modest opposition so far and there are question marks right along the back five. The Danny Batth/Kortney Hause partnership doesn’t look convincing at all with indecision and slack marking the order of the day so far. We certainly can’t keep persisting with a left side of Matt Doherty and James Henry; two slow, exclusively right footers who frankly just aren’t up to standard. So my chosen back four has a make do and mend look to it, with non-specialist full backs, but then we badly need reinforcements there. It should be a priority that we sign at least one full back in the next week or so given we won’t see Silvio until next month and there have to be longer term concerns about his fitness given his appearance record over the last three seasons.
It’s our Fosun era acquisitions who’ve provided most of the positive aspects of our play thus far so all those available should be down to start. In both games so far we’ve felt the need to make a change at half time and pair Joe Mason and Jon Bodvarsson together; we need to start this way on Saturday as it’s apparent that we can’t give either the required support if we’re using them as a lone central striker. This means going for a basic 4-4-2 formation; again not ideal given our central midfield options, but it really is imperative at the moment that we get two forwards on the pitch. Of course playing the extra man in midfield nominally gives you more control of the game, but on that front all bets are off when one (or more) of the three is George Saville or Dave Edwards given that neither are actually capable of retaining the ball reliably.
Conor Coady – Dominic Iorfa – Danny Batth – Kortney Hause
Joao Teixeira – Jack Price – Lee Evans – Helder Costa
Joe Mason – Jon Dadi Bodvarsson
Subs: Andy Lonergan, Matt Doherty, Sylvain Deslandes, George Saville, Jed Wallace, James Henry, Bright Enobakhare.
While we await full evidence of what Fosun’s ownership will bring to our club, Reading appear from the outside to be a confused club at board level; while they’ve remained steadfastly a mid-table Championship club under their Thai owners, the direction and underpinning approach seems to be muddled. They’ve already worked their way onto their fourth manager in 18 months, the inherited Nigel Adkins, then moving through Steve Clarke (focusing on solid defence and producing dour football), Brian McDermott (seeking to recapture past glories) and now on to the untested but high profile Jaap Stam. The transfer and player ethos has also shifted, from relying on youth and the odd expensive signing – paying such a hefty fee to loan Watford’s Matej Vydra last season seemed extremely strange – to a system of largely low profile overseas signings and with Michael Hector, Oliver Norwood and Aaron Tshibola all sold. However there have been promising early signs for the new approach, the opening day performance at home to Preston being extremely encouraging and debutants John Swift and Roy Beerens in particular impressing. Stam’s complete lack of managerial experience makes him a complete outlier at present, no-one is sure what his prospects are although it would certainly seem advantageous to have such a legendary player at the helm should the club wish to further explore the Dutch player base. More familiar faces are on show in the form of former Wigan keeper Ali Al-Habsi, ex-West Brom defender Paul McShane and Welsh Euro 2016 stalwart Chris Gunter.
Last league line-up (vs PNE, 6.8.16, W 1-0): Al-Habsi; Gunter, McShane, van den Berg, Obita; Williams, Evans, Swift; Beerens, Rakels, McCleary.
Saturday 6 February 2016: Reading 0-0 Wolves
Ah. This was supposed to be a fun little feature of the match previews but as it happens (spoiler alert) I’ll be reminiscing about 0-0 draws for the first FOUR games of this season. Less material on offer than a Christina Aguilera costume change. This bit will get more interesting as the season goes on, honest. This one was as tepid an affair as the scoreline suggests, both sides producing a mere two shots on target and Kenny Jackett choosing to bench Joe Mason despite him scoring on his debut four days previously. We also had the legendary sight of Ken making a mere one substitution despite us clearly offering next to no attacking threat. The point left the two teams in 11th and 15th place respectively; this really was the dictionary definition of mid-table Championship fodder with entertainment values to match.
Team: Ikeme; Iorfa, Batth, Ebanks-Landell, Doherty; Saville, McDonald, Coady; van La Parra (Byrne 79), Sigurdarson, Henry. Unused subs: McCarey, Deslandes, Rowe, Price, Mason, Le Fondre.
2015/16: W 1-0 (H), D 0-0 (A)
2014/15: L 1-2 (H), D 3-3 (A)
2008/9: L 0-3 (H), L 0-1 (A)
2005/6: L 0-2 (H), D 1-1 (A)
2004/5: W 4-1 (H), W 2-1 (A)
2002/3: L 0-1 (H), W 1-0 (A), W 2-1 (H, P/O), W 1-0 (A, P/O)
1997/8: W 3-1 (H), D 0-0 (A), L 2-4 (A, LC)
1996/7: L 0-1 (H), L 1-2 (A)
1995/6: D 1-1 (H), L 0-3 (A)
1994/5: W 1-0 (H), L 2-4 (A)
Wolves 2-2 Reading (Bodvarsson, Teixeira)
We just look too flimsy at the back and through the heart of midfield to shut teams out as it stands. We’re a work in progress and we’re going to get results to match until we can finally purge the squad of the mediocrity left at the tail end of the Steve Morgan era.