Cottagers Confidential: Reading FC is number three in the table. Are they really that good?
The Tilehurst End: In a word... Yes. It's not just that there's quality in the starting XI, it's that Clarke has assembled a quality roster that can absorb a number of heavy injuries and still come out with a poweful lineup. We've already seen our first choice keeper, one of our best centre backs in Anton Ferdinand and record £2.5m loan signing Matej Vydra all hit the shelf and yet we're still finding ways to win. Are we the complete total package that saw us romp to a record 106 points in 2005/06? No not yet but if we do manage to keep a settled side and get a little bit of luck I really do feel that this is a team capable of winning the league. At this rate Nick Blackman is just going to win the league for us on his own...
CC: Orlando Sa? He was one of the most disappointing Fulham signings of all time. How is that working out for you?
TTE: He came to Reading being compared with another former Fulham man in Pavel Pogrebnyak and while we loved the Pog he was never that effective in front of goal for the club. Sa lumbered through pre-season without generating much hype but after a slow start he burst into life with four goals in two games including the Championship's first hat-trick of the season live on the TV against Ipswich. Sadly a moment of madness against Derby cost him a three-game ban and since then he's not quite got back up to form. Hopefully with Vydra now fit he'll return to his best but so far he's in the fans' good books, including a decent terrace song sung to the tune of Spandau Ballet's Gold.
CC: Steve Clarke has been in charge for almost a year now, how has he shaped the team and does he seem like the right man for the job?
TTE: He's clearly established himself as a man who can set up a team very, very well. The way he got a team mired in awful league form to take Arsenal to extra time in an FA Cup Semi-Final demonstrated just how he can squeeze every last drop out of a limited team. With that being said we're yet to really see him able to produce a side who can impose and dominate a team determined to get a point. It took a late winner to beat Charlton while MK Dons and Leeds have both left the Madejski with clean sheets this season. When teams come on to us we're deadly but we still perhaps lack a little bit of quality when breaking down a stubborn side. Personality wise Clarke is no nonsense and that sits well with the fanbase who had to put up with plenty of nonsense from Nigel Adkins.
CC: Score and lineup prediction?
TTE: Despite my positivity I'm always nervous about a trip to the Cottage so I'm thinking we'll slip to a jammy 2-1 defeat, much the same as last season. As for the lineup, the injury situation is a bit fluid but here's my gamble.
(4-2-3-1) Al-Habsi, Obita, Hector, McShane, Gunter, Williams, Norwood, Piazon, Vydra, Blackman, Sa