In the first column of 2021, it seems only right to look back on the highs and lows of the last 12 months.
The year started off in sensational fashion with a 2-1 win away at Fulham complete with a Charlie Adam goal and knee slide.
The penalty shoot-out win against Cardiff in the FA Cup in early February might mean more to me because I was there, but no game this year has matched the drama that night provided. Reading’s post-lockdown form was poor, but a rare highlight was the 5-0 win over Luton – the club’s biggest win in over six years.
Despite no fans being in attendance, Reading’s incredible start to the 2020-21 season under a new manager should not go unmentioned. 22 points from the first 24 available ranks among the best starts to a campaign the Championship has ever seen.
The form had dipped slightly by the time supporters returned to the Madejski Stadium in early December, but that in itself was a special and long-awaited moment which was made sweeter with victory over Nottingham Forest.
In contrast, the 3-0 home defeat to Wigan in February was one of the most embarrassing Mad Stad nights in recent years.
Reading put in an inexcusable performance, capped off by Liam Moore simply giving up as the Latics scored their third. Equally, the capitulation on the final day of the campaign as
Reading lost 4-1 to Swansea marked a sorry end to a season which had long been over for the Royals.
Finally, even though the change of manager has clearly worked, the way in which Mark Bowen’s dismissal was handled – the timing and apparent lack of respect for the Welshman – still leaves a slight sour taste.
There are a few contenders for best player. So far this season, Lucas Joao, Michael Olise and Josh Laurent have all stood out, but that is only half of the year. Similarly, Rafael stood out in the second half of 2019-20 and won the club’s player of the season award, but has seen mistakes creep into his game with alarming regularity this term.
Yakou Meite often doesn’t get enough praise, but top-scored for Reading in 2020 with 17 goals – an impressive tally considering he is usually deployed on the wing. He also became the first Reading player since Kerry Dixon in 1982 to score four goals in one game when he did so against Luton.
But for me, in terms of consistency and reliability throughout 2020, Michael Morrison tops the list. The centre-back has missed just one league game all year and has barely put a foot wrong.
Despite the rise of academy centre-backs and the arrival of Lewis Gibson on loan, Morrison has kept his place in the backline and been a dependable and reassuring presence.
I don’t particularly want to use the term ‘worst player’, but I will put forward a few suggestions for the most underwhelming. Danny Loader, once lauded as the academy’s greatest ever product, left the club for free in the summer with barely a whimper, having failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him.
It has been a year to forget for Andy Yiadom who completed only seven league games due to a torrid injury record, while January loanee Ayub Masika had more of an impact off the pitch, as he brought a wave of Kenyan fans to Reading, than on it, as he played just 100 minutes.
I’m sure 2021 will produce many more moments to remember and to forget, hopefully in the presence of fans. Happy New Year!
By Olly Allen