Year of the Royals - 2009
When 2008 ended and the Royals headed into their first game of 2009 against Cardiff in the FA cup, few could have predicted just quite how far we would fall in a calendar year. Two managers have departed, we failed in the play offs yet again, sold all our best players and now look like one of the favourites for relegation. 2009 has been a disaster for Reading, so why not relive it all in our Year of the Royals month by month round up!!
Our first match of 2009 was the previously mentioned trip to Cardiff in the FA Cup where Steve Coppell played a weakened side and lost 2-0, leaving us to focus on securing promotion back the Premier League. The 'first team` were recalled for the visit of Watford 6 days later and we run out 4-0 winners over Brendan Rodgers Hornets side. Despite a poor result away at Swansea we welcomed Wolves to the Mad Stad in a massive game under the floodlights and an early own goal was enough to secure all three points for the Royals. Little did we know then how long we would have to wait for another home win! The month was rounded off with a goalless draw at QPR, a real game to forget.
Only three games in February and all at home, a great opportunity to really put ourselves in contention for the title or so we thought. A 0-0 draw with Preston was another game that we quickly tried to erase from our memories, but defeats against mid table Bristol City (Who we had thumped 4-1 earlier in the season) and relegation candidates Nottingham Forest left Royals fans disappointed and wondering what had happened to the side that had beaten Wolves in such style less than a month ago. Championship winning season player of the year Bobby Convey was released in this month, leaving Royals fans wondering what might have been if he hadn`t picked up that knee injury.
In a bid to end the alarming dip in form, Steve Coppell dipped into the loan market and some familiar faces were back - Glen Little and Dave Kitson. Both had joined on loan until the end of the season after finding themselves out of favour at Portsmouth and Stoke respectively and were keen to help the Royals win promotion and perhaps permanent moves back to the Mad Stad. The month started well with a midweek win away at Sheffield Wednesday, Kevin Doyle back among the goals, but our troubles returned with consecutive 2-2 draws against lowly Plymouth and Charlton. People were starting to pick up on our poor run of form at home and a defeat to Ipswich didn`t do much to help things. We did pick up a good result on the road at Doncaster, Kitson scoring a fine goal but a 0-0 draw away at Crystal Palace left us chasing top 2 Wolves and Birmingham going into April.
We were having real trouble scoring goals and another goalless draw, this time against Coventry at the start of the month, was quite possibly one of the worst games I have ever witnessed! A Good Friday clash with Sheffield United turned sour when Brian Howard scored the only goal for the Blades in a 1-0 win and they overtook us in the race for automatic promotion. Despite taking a 2-0 lead at Blackpool on Easter Monday, the Seasiders came back and we drew 2-2 before another 0-0 draw at home to Barnsley. Our promotion hopes looked to be gone but a 2-0 win at Pride Park against Derby, followed by a win at Norwich by the same score line, as well as other teams slipping up, saw us go into the final match of the season needing to beat Birmingham to go up!
The anticipation leading up to the game was fantastic, after months of disappointing results we were surprisingly still in with a chance of automatic promotion and we just needed to beat Birmingham and we would be up, as long as Sheff Utd only drew which they did. An uncharacteristic mistake from Marcus Hahnemann gave the Blues the lead, and Kevin Phillips grabbed a second. Just after the hour, Marek Matejovsky gave us hope but in truth we never looked like winning the game and we were left to face the play offs once again, with a semi final against Burnley. Bikey was sent off in the first leg, the Clarets winning 1-0 thanks to a Graeme Alexander penalty and in the second leg, Coppell played his joker by putting Simon Church into the starting line up but it didn`t work and goals from Steven Thompson and Martin Paterson sent them to Wembley. Steve Coppell resigned straight after the game and it was to the end of an era at the Madejski Stadium. The likes of Leroy Lita and Marcus Hahnemann were released and we were left to reflect on a season of disappointments.
On 4th June 2009 Brendan Rodgers was appointed the new manager of Reading FC. He had worked at the club before in the academy before departing to Chelsea and then onto the Watford managers job. He had done a great job keeping the Hornets up (Despite the 4-0 reverse at the Mad Stad - See January!) and looked to bring a new era to the club. He soon found out he would start with tough games at home to Notts Forest and then away to recently relegated Newcastle. The month also saw the departure of Kevin Doyle who left to join Wolves for £6.5million.
Rodgers made his first signing as Reading manager and it was no surprise that it was a loan from Chelsea, left back Ryan Bertrand joining on a season long loan. The players returned for pre season and headed off to Sweden for their usual tour putting in some decent performances and scoring some fine goals. Not the busiest of months though!
If July was quiet, August was anything but! After drawing 2-2 with a strong Chelsea side (and releasing a horrible away kit!), hopes were high ahead of the new season. Matt Mills signed from Doncaster and Ivar Ingimarsson was made club captain ahead of the opening day of the season, a 0-0 draw with Nottingham Forest. The transfer activity continued with Stephen Hunt departing for Hull City, and scoring on his debut for the Tigers, and things were looking good on the pitch after a 5-1 Carling Cup win over Burton. Newcastle demolished us 3-0 at St James Park though in the next league game before Andre Bikey was the next name to leave the Mad Stad for big money. We tried to make a signing to bolster our attacking options but were left red faced when Tommy Smith decided to join Portsmouth at the last minute just as we had called a press conference to unveil him! We did manage to sign Jobi McAnuff and Grzegorz Rasiak but not before a 3-1 home defeat to Sheffield United that prompted chants of 'where`s the money gone` from Royals fans. We finally managed our first league win of the season away at Barnsley with Noel Hunt looking in fine form grabbing a couple of goals and there was a busy transfer deadline day. Liam Rosenior and James Harper departed on season long loans, all but ending their Reading careers as they are both out of contract at the end of the season. Darren O`Dea arrived from Celtic on loan and Brian Howard and Shaun Cummings were signed permanently from Sheff Utd and Chelsea respectively.
The month started with The Sun newspaper reporting that we were about to be taken over by Arab Billionaires, wish full thinking unfortunatly! On the pitch, September followed the same pattern as August - nice football but no wins until the last game of the month. Doncaster held us to a 0-0 draw, Cardiff beat us 1-0 despite deserving nothing from the game and Peterborough came from 2-0 down at the break to beat us 3-2. Brendan Rodgers old side Watford travelled to the Madejski and took a point as the winless run at home continued but a midweek win over Preston at Deepdale raised expectations once more.
The first game of the month saw Rodgers select an unchanged side for the first time but it didn`t work as Middlesbrough won 2-0 at the Mad Stad, with Leroy Lita scoring one of the goals. Despite taking the lead at West Brom, we eventually lost 3-1 with Shaun Cummings having one of the worst games by a Reading player in years. Things didn`t get any better 4 days later and this time we shipped 4 goals away at QPR and sections of the support turned on Brendan Rodgers for the first time. His response was to make a number of changes and finally found a regular place in his team for Marek Matejovsky but despite a fantastic display against Leicester, most notably in the first half, we still lost 1-0. A 3-1 win at Coventry kept up our run of only winning the final game of the month, Rasiak scoring twice at the Ricoh Arena.
A 1-1 draw with Ipswich saw us come from behind to take a point and we should have won our first home game in over 10 months but 2 weeks later we did it! A late goal from Grzegorz Rasiak gave us all three points and things were looking up. We lost at Derby with Shane Long sent off, but deserved to win that match but couldn`t build on Gylfi Sigurdsson`s goal.
A win at Sheffield Wednesday continued our mini revival, and Jobi McAnuff was hitting a real impressive run of form. The winger was instrumental in the win at Hillsborough and also looked unplayable at times against Crystal Palace, but Victor Moses inspired the Eagles to a 4-2 win and piled the pressure back on Brendan Rodgers. We should have beaten Scunthorpe 4 or 5-0 in the next home game but somehow allowed them to equalise late and only managed to draw 1-1. Rodgers reacted angrily to BBC Radio Berkshire`s Tim Dellor in a post match interview, after the journalist suggested the performance against The Irons had been worse than that against Palace earlier in the week. He told Dellor that 'He would be nowhere near his team` as they prepared for the trip to Bristol City the following week. Unfortunately nor would Rodgers himself, as just days later he was sacked by the club, just as things on the pitch were starting to get slightly better. Sir John Madejski put Brian McDermott in temporary charge and he saw his side snatch a late leveller at Ashton Gate to earn a 1-1 draw in his first match in charge. On Boxing Day he oversaw another 1-1 draw against Swansea before a rubbish year ended with the Royals at a new low - a 4-1 hammering away at Plymouth. Surely things will get better in 2010, won`t they?!!