Sunday, 24 January 2021

With every player fit for every game, we’d win the title

PORRIDGE oats have been popular in this part of the world over the festive season. Perhaps this is what fuelled Reading to victory on Boxing Day?

They certainly looked like a team nutritionally more sensible and restrained than I had seen the previous day.

Reading propelled themselves back up into the play-off zone with a 2-1 win against Luton at a Madejski Stadium that was as empty as the three bears’ house when Goldilocks arrived.

For three games, a limited crowd produced a good atmosphere but with Berkshire now in tier 4 it was back to behind closed doors and stony silence.

Will football continue uninterrupted for the next couple of months? There may be some decisions to make with covid-19 infections on the rise in professional football.

In the last round of fixtures in League 1 six games had to be called off. Premier League and Championship clubs are also finding it difficult to contain outbreaks.

The authorities may decide a hiatus now will improve the chances of getting the season completed in May.

Despite the Boxing Day result, a few weeks off is exactly what Reading need right now. Their Championship campaign has floundered in the last two months entirely because of injuries.

Key players in key positions, and their obvious understudies, have all been crocked. The harsh truth is in three positions — the striker and both full backs — the fourth choice option is starting games. That is not a good situation in any squad.

Having January to get players back and fully fit to take on the rest of the season would be ideal. The danger is players are rushed back, weary, and
re-injure themselves.

The science and know-how is in place to avoid this but sometimes the temptation to rush a player back after an injury is overwhelming.

With nearly half the season gone, and having been at every game, my impression is that if every Championship player was fit Reading would win the league.

Football does not work like that. With luck and careful management, and if the fitness base level is already in place, Reading could win promotion in 2021.

That is a refreshing way of thinking for everyone connected to the club. At times in the last few seasons with every player fit Reading might have finished mid-table.

It is difficult to know what to think going into the New Year. If 2020 has taught us anything, perhaps it is that we should all expect the unexpected and ought to live life in the now more fully.

Manager Velkjo Paunovic is adamant his team must only focus on the next game, rather than getting too far ahead of themselves. It is probably advice we should all heed.

If you want to get ahead of yourself, then it’s Huddersfield away tomorrow. Then the following Saturday it is the FA Cup at Luton.

I just can’t help myself, gazing off into the distance again.

Best wishes for 2021 to all Henley Standard readers. The odds of next year being better than the last year have never been shorter.

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