Opposing View: Reading
What are your hopes, fears & expectations for the season ahead?
I think Reading fans have got to be realistic, expectations therefore have to be just to avoid relegation. If we can do that whilst holding our own against teams like Chelsea as we did on Wednesday night then we'll be happy. Of course we don't want to be in a relegation fight come the final few games of the season so I would hope that by April we'll have our 40 points and can then look at finishing as high up the table as possible.
As for my fears, picking up injuries and suspensions later on the season may make us struggle as I don't think we're particularly strong in the 'strength and depth' department, which is so key in the top flight. It's also a fear we don't win the home games we should. When the likes of Norwich, Wigan, Southampton etc. come to the Madejski they're games all Reading fans have highlighted as 'must wins' so it's crucial we pick up points in those games. If not we may find ourselves in trouble.
How did pre-season go for the Royals?
Pre season was a bit of a mixed bag for The Royals. We had a rout against AFC Wimbledon (7-0) and then our tour of Portugal saw us struggle a little bit, losing to Sheffield Wednesday and drawing against two Portugese teams - most notably Primeira Liga side Olhanese. However, a comfortable 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace (11th August) with goals from Le Fondre and Pogrebnyak settled pre-season nerves and showed that pre-season did what was needed, made players match fit and sharp as well as gelling the new signings into a closely knit team.
The signing of Pavel Pogrebnyak in particular smacked of the ambition of new owner, Anton Zingarevich - will more follow if needed?
Everything Anton Zingarevich has said about the ownership, ambition and running of the club is extremely promising. The names we have been linked with this summer have been incredible, Defoe, Ayew, Kone etc. and to have got Pogrebnyak and Guthrie to sign ahead of competition from established Premier League and European clubs is a clear sign of intent and that this club is going places.
Money is there to spend, not stupid money though. The owners refused to pay £6-8million for Jordan Rhodes, so business will be done properly and value for money has always been key to Reading signings. No doubt in January there will be an area of the team that needs strengthening and the funds will be there to do so.
How important was it to not lose the season's opener - a 1-1 draw with Stoke City?
You never want to lose your first game, especially at home. The late equaliser was no more than we deserved and it will no doubt give the side a massive confidence boost going into the next few games. I think it gave us a solid base to build upon and like I said earlier, that was a game we highlighted as a 'points' game, so to get at least a draw was extremely important.
Who will be the key man for the Royals on Saturday?
On Saturday we'll look to play expansive, counter attacking football again. We like to get it wide and new signing, right winger, Garath McCleary has been very bright in the hoops since signing from Forest. He made a big impact against Stoke and was fantastic against Chelsea last night, so I'd expect him to be a real threat against Sunderland. Of course Pogrebnyak will be a big figure up front, he's a fantastic out ball, holds it up well and is a threat in the box. Danny Guthrie has also been phenomenal since signing. His vision is incredible and he has the ability to unlock even the tightest of defences with one killer pass.
Who would you offload given half a chance?
This is a tough one as every first team Royals player deserves to be here, but If i was to show someone out of the door at Reading it would be Noel Hunt. He works hard, but for me he just doesn't have the technical ability to be a danger in the top flight. Many Reading fans won't agree with me on this one.
Who would you snare from Sunderland if you could?
If I were to take one Sunderland player and put them in the hoops, it would probably be Kieran Richardson. We were linked, very loosely, with him in the summer and he could play anywhere down the left side, which, in my opinion, is our weakest area. Defensively we have Ian Harte and Nicky Shorey, who both lack pace, a massive attribute needed in the Premier League, so Richardson would be perfect there. He can also play left side of midfield, where beyond skipper Jobi McAnuff we have very little. He's got a great range of passing and would fit in perfectly. I just wish we'd made a move for him, but it wasn't to be.
Saturday's match will be another big test for us, especially coming off of the back of two very tough games in the last week. If we play half as well as we did against Chelsea we'll give Sunderland a good game. There's no reason why we can't go to the Stadium of Light and pick up all three points. An early goal would definitely put the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons. Hopefully we turn up, play confidently and are well disciplined. Sunderland do not look overly threatening going forward so if we defend well and snatch a quick goal I can see us notching up our first win back in the top flight. A bias prediction, from the heart and not the head, says 2-0 to us.