Derby County v Reading preview, with The Tilehurst End

DCB: First off, we have to talk about Nick, of course…  Judging from the articles on your site and it seems that, even now, opinion is split on Blackman, with not everybody all that sad to see him go.  He’s made it very clear that he wants to play as a centre forward, but is that actually his best position?  Can he play as a lone striker, or is he better in a two?  And is he a player potentially good enough to compete in the Premier League? 

The Tilehurst End: Blackman has been tried in just about every attacking position at Reading, but I still don’t think anyone really knows where he’s best deployed.  What I can say is that he’s not really a traditional winger.  His crossing is OK and he can beat a man, but his pace is far from electric and he’s a bit of a selfish player, so doesn’t really link well with a full back.  In terms of an out and out striker, again, he’s not really a man who can lead the line on his own.  He’s OK in the air and can get a decent header in, as you can see by his goal in our 2-1 defeat at Birmingham – but he’s not got the strength to really hold a ball up and bring others into play.

I think Blackman prefers playing off a target man, or as part of a front three, probably on the right where he can cut in and unleash efforts onto his left foot.

Does he have Premier League potential?  Certainly!  But will he put it all together consistently enough to last in the top division?  I’m not so sure…  This isn’t a young prospect, it’s a 26-year-old who’s had around 200 games in professional football to figure things out.  Jason Roberts described him as one of the most gifted young players he’d ever seen during his time at Blackburn and you only need to watch his goal at Rotherham, or against Ipswich this season to see what he’s talking about.  Yet despite that, his career goalscoring record is bang average and even this season, he only scored twice in his last 13 games, after that early season hot-streak.

Whether an attitude problem is holding him back is something only Nick and his mangers will know.  What I can say is that watching him has been a frustrating and sometimes annoying experience – just look back on his sulky celebration when he scored the final goal in a 3-1 win at Pride Park a few years back.  He’s a man who believes his own hype and while that arrogance is all fine and dandy when he’s scoring goals, it’s not pleasant when he’s out of form.

Best of luck to you with him, but I’m happy to get £3m [Allegedly! – DCB] for a bloke with a limited track record and a contract winding down.

DCB: A superficial look at the Championship statistics – and I’ve checked this with a couple of boffins on Twitter as well – suggests that according to the most commonly used measures, Reading actually deserve to be doing a fair bit better than they have been.  You concede a lot less shots per game than anybody else in the division and 16 shots per game is easily the highest of any team.  Is there a sense around Reading that results haven’t quite matched performances, or are the Royals about where they deserve to be?

TTE: I think we’ve been hard done by this season, to the point where Saturday’s win at Bristol City was probably the first time we’d earned more points than we deserved from a game.  We’ve blown countless games thanks to individual errors, usually from the two-headed clanger factory of Ali Al-Habsi and Jonathan Bond in goal, while up-front, our strikers haven’t hit the target nearly as much as they would have liked.  While we’re shooting plenty, it’s not been a barrage of clear cut chances – the likes of Blackman and Williams have been having lots of digs from distance and not really troubling the opposition goalkeeper enough.

In the end, you tend to get what you deserve, but I do feel we’ve been robbed on more than one occasion.  The biggest frustration is having beaten Middlesbrough, Ipswich and Burnley, while failing to beat Huddersfield, Milton Keynes and Leeds.

DCB: Assuming the Blackman fee (whatever the real figure was) is made available for reinvestment, where do you think Reading need to strengthen most urgently?

TTE: We ran a poll recently and the two dominant winners were goalkeeper and striker – I can’t really disagree there.  Having a dominant ‘keeper is something we’ve lacked this season and it’s clear there’s not a lot of confidence from fans or the manager in the Bond or Al-Habsi.  With Blackman gone, it puts increasing pressure on Hal Robson-Kanu, Matěj Vydra and Orlando Sá to perform and so getting an out-and-out striker would be handy. We’ve been linked with Peterborough’s Conor Washington and that sort of frontman would be welcome.

DCB: If there was one player in the Reading team you could magically protect from injury for the whole season, who would it be?

TTE: Stephen Quinn, without a doubt.  He’s got everything you want in a player on and off the pitch and it’s no surprise that our fall from the top six started when he picked up an injury.  He’s one of those players that can drive a team on and you know will give you 100 per cent each and every week.  Keeping him fit is going to be crucial if we want to make a play-off charge.

DCB: How do you view DCFC as a club?

TTE: It’s been a rocky road since that diabolical 07/08 campaign and I was happy to see you give Nigel Clough so much time to rebuild the team, even if he maybe lacked the ability to get the right results.  McClaren was a bold appointment and there’s no way you should have lost that final to QPR (we’re well accustomed to losing play-off finals down here, so we know how you feel).  Last season seemed ridiculous from an outsider’s point of view, because when you smashed us at the Madejski, I thought you were head and shoulders the best team in the league, yet you slumped to the point where you got hammered on your own turf by Reading’s worst team in 15 years on the final day.

Now it seems you’ve managed to put all that beside you and look strong again.  As long as you can keep key players fit, I don’t see how you’ll be anything but top six and should be top two come May.  You’re a big club with good history, very loyal fans and haven’t gone bonkers financially, so I wish you all the best.

DCB: Finally, the time-honoured suggested starting XI and result for the match.

TTE: Our injury situation is a bit up in the air, but I’ll give it a go!

(4-4-2) Al-Habsi; Taylor, McShane, Ferdinand, Gunter; Quinn, Williams, Norwood, McCleary; Robson-Kanu, Vydra.

Score prediction – we’ll somehow sneak a 1-1 draw, as we’ve got a good record at the iPro.

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