FROM THE OTHER SIDE: Reading fan Graham Loader on today’s game at Carrow Road
- Credit: PA
Founder and editor of online Reading fanzine Hob Nob Anyone? Graham Loader is delighted with the Royals season ahead of the trip to Carrow Road.
You must be delighted with Jaap Stam's work this season?
Yes, the season has been a really pleasant shock. He made some great signings and introduced some real structure to the club on and off the field. Some fans are still coming round to the idea of the patient, passing it around the back, possession football. However, Stam stuck to his tactics, despite some abuse, and now the league table speaks for itself. It's worked. The season has been a massive success and we have to remember that, even if we do our usual and lose in the play-offs.
Which of the players have been your standout performers?
Ali Al Habsi has been outstanding all season – there are games where he has earned the points with his saves and safe hands. What people seem to miss in our new style of play is our consistent players who have done exactly what Jaap Stam has asked from them week in, week out. That includes Chris Gunter, who deserves far more appreciation. Yann Kermorgant is now scoring for fun, but his performances everywhere on the pitch make him first choice every week. Liam Moore in defence is the real standout; absolutely solid, mistake-free in the centre of defence every single week. Moore should be player of the season.
Do you think automatic promotion is now out of reach?
It was never really in reach! Brighton and Newcastle have been well clear all season. We got close a few times but never really expected to catch them. We were also expecting to drop out of the play-offs but three straight wins has fixed that. We'll finish top six and be very pleased with that.
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Do you feel you are well placed to win the play-offs and is the club ready for a Premier League return?
Apart from the win at Sheffield Wednesday we've really struggled away from home against teams in the top six. The key will be the home leg. If we can get to the final then anything can happen. We've only ever tasted play-off disappointment, so it would be good for that to change. I'm not sure you can ever be ready for the Premier League but if the chance comes along you've got to take it, ready or not. I'd be disappointed to miss out now.
Have you been surprised to see Norwich struggle?
Yes, it's been a roller coaster for you hasn't it? Great start, a bad run of form, a recovery and then another bad run. Before your last two defeats I was still expecting a late run to challenge for the play-offs but that seems to have gone out of the window now.
Do you feel Reading are strong favourites to win today?
No, not at all! We've already lost away to Newcastle, Brighton, Huddersfield, Leeds, Fulham and Preston. Some of those have been big defeats. Norwich are decent at home. We did manage a draw against Derby and Norwich are next in the table!
Which Canaries players do you remain wary of?
Steven Naismith will always be a player to be wary of – but how is his form recently? Should we be worried? Jonny Howson has a good reputation. He can make things happen – he's creative and can pop up with some goals. He's also not a bad goalkeeper if I remember rightly, I guess you'll be hoping he lasts longer on the pitch this time.
And lastly, what is your prediction?
Confidence might be low for you after recent results, which might work in our favour, but a draw would still be a great result for us. They'll be some goals though. Norwich are quite fond of 2-2 draws it seems – so I'll go for that.
For more from Graham, go to www.royals.org