by Bob Lethaby

Saturday the first of December could be the day when Reading fans begin to lose hope and start to look for the crumbs of comfort that come with what is beginning to look like an inevitable relegation after lacklustre performances against fellow rivals for the drop, Aston Villa and a Wigan side that looked so under strength they could have been beaten by The Dog & Duck Old Boys.

On the whole, with the exception of old boy, Nicky Shorey, the new signings for Reading have not paid off, in fact, it wouldn’t be harsh to say that they have been an utter disaster and the only lights to have shone, apart from Shorey, are Alex McCarthy (out for the season with a shattered shoulder) and Sean Morrison, a colossal young centre back who has spent the last few games attempting to bail out the hapless Kasper Gorkss who is becoming the master of comedy errors.

When I look through the team, I see little to offer me any hope: Jobi McCanuff, Mikele Leigertwood, Noel Hunt, Jem Karacan, Chris Gunter and Gareth Mcleary are stereotypical hard working Championship players who would walk in to the Burnley side but would not feature in one Premiership line up that had any ambition of finishing anywhere but bottom of the pile. When Jay Tabb is the player receiving all the plaudits, you know you have an issue and don’t even get me started on Danny Guthrie or indeed Pavel Pogbreynak, who we “poached” off Fulham who turned to Dimitar Berbatov instead. Who’s laughing now?

I don’t like saying this, but much of the responsibility has to sit at the feet of Brian McDermott, a decent chap, who performed miracles by inspiring a group of ordinary players into Championship winners in May. However, his purchasing has been conservative with a small ‘c’ and it is a gamble that has, so far at least, failed in spectacular fashion, with the limited players already huffing and puffing but failing to blow down even the paper house that Roberto Martinez managed to patch together last weekend.

The early Christmas gift offered by an Everton side that were so generous, David Moyes must have woken up screaming in to the night air, could and should have been just the boost Reading needed, propelling them out of the bottom three with the games at the JJB and Villa Park to come. It is not so much that they blew it, it was that knowledge that they weren’t good enough to win or even draw those games that came as a metaphorical jug of icy water in the face to all but the most delusional Reading fans, of which there are quite a few.

I really don’t know where it goes from here, Norwich and Southampton are improving alarmingly, Aston Villa have a manager who can guide them through stormy waters, QPR will get better under the stewardship of media whore Harry Redknapp and it is difficult to see a Martin O’Neil team run in to too much trouble. The question we have to answer is this. Just who are worse than Reading? Answers on a post card please.

The January window offers little hope as who worth their salt would join a relegation candidate? In my opinion it needn’t have been that way, Jordan Rhodes and local lad, Charlie Austin were mentioned in summer, as was Zaha of Crystal Palace. Austin is now under the watch of Everton and even Arsenal whilst Zaha is being touted at around £20 million by Palace, a figure that is not being laughed by Premier League teams with ambition.  With a little ingenuity, Reading may well have got both Austin and Zaha at more than half the fees that are getting bounded around now.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course and I am first to admit that I thought we would be better than this; I am naïve I know, but I thought we were going to be in the mix with the likes of WBA, Fulham and Swansea in mid table. If I told someone that now, they would wonder what form of narcotic I am addicted to. Manchester United are unlikely to miss an opportunity to batter us tomorrow and if this happens, it could be the moment that the coffee is smelt and Reading realise that a close season of bargains and freebies is not going to pay off.

When Reading went down in 2008, Premier League sides had either already plucked or were about to pluck the likes of Steve Sidwell, Dave Kitson, Nicky Shorey, Kevin Doyle and Stephen Hunt from our grasp.

Morrison apart, I can’t see that being an issue this time around, though Burnley may come knocking!