Reading 2019-20 Season Review with Simeon Pickup, Matthew Batten and Lewis Radbourne

It looks like Reading will be in the Championship again next season, so Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) asked Simeon Pickup (@SimFromBucks) from the outstanding Royals website The Tilehurst End (@TheTilehurstEnd), outspoken fan Matthew Batten (@maffff) and aspiring journalist Lewis Radbourne (@lewisradbourne1) all about their previous campaign and what the future may have in store.

Gab: When I spoke to Reading fans last summer, there seemed to be some optimism that you were onto some steady progress under Jose Gomes. On paper, there has been more tangible progress under Mark Bowen and yet the mood appears to be more subdued. Why do you think this is?

Sim: I’d put it down, broadly, to three main things: style of football, personal character and overall form.

On the first, Jose Gomes had a broad philosophy that was fairly easy to identify: keep the ball and play attractive football. Although he did move away from that at points, such as in the Spring of 2019 and a little bit in 2019/20, fans knew what Gomes wanted to achieve, so found it easier to buy into ‘Gomesball’ as a project.

On the second, Bowen as an individual is much less charismatic than Gomes. In all fairness that’s more praise for Gomes than it is criticism for Bowen, as Gomes’ positivity and empathy made him hugely endearing, and (as with the last point) meant fans bought into his overall project that bit more). Bowen by contrast is still a nice chap, but isn’t as inspiring as Gomes.

And finally, all of the above could (and would) have been overruled if the progress that Bowen had made in 2019 had carried over into 2020. Reading looked like a team reborn over Christmas, and could have pushed for the playoffs, but fizzled out in the New Year and have struggled for consistency both tactically and in terms of results since. That dip – in the context of how good Reading were in late 2019 – has been far from catastrophic but it’s still tempered expectations.

Maff: I think this comes largely down to personalities, we’ve had a very disappointing few seasons and having a manager come in that was so galvanising, passionate and seemed to genuinely care really resonated with fans.

The end of last season when Gomes came in showed promise that we could be a team on the up before the faltering start. The sacking also seemed harsh at the time.

With all of this there still remains a lot of love for Gomes and while results and performances are important it felt like we had a manager with a clear plan and vision for what we wanted for the club.

We’ve improved with Bowen, there have been a couple of purple patches where the playoffs haven’t looked unreachable and we’re on track to finish in mid-table mediocrity.

This is huge progress compared to the uncomfortable end we’ve seen season-after-season aside from the Stam playoff final season, a position that as a club we aren’t used to give we’ve been largely spoiled from the mid 00’s.

But that doesn’t necessarily answer many of the questions that remain. There still seems to be some scepticism over the way recruitment was handled and the fact he was here as Sporting Director then progressed to manager is unusual and slightly bizarre.

He’s also a known Assistant Manager, we’ve been burned with the likes of Clement who were unable to step up, is he a man to stabilise us or a man to take us forward?

With him being a relatively dour and subdued personality wise in comparison along with him never really being clear about what his vision and approach is it’s still unclear what his end goal is for us or whether he’s the man to do that.

Lewis: I think it’s more subdued because of the circumstances of Bowen’s appointment.

Because Bowen was already Sporting Director, it seemed to fans as if he’d basically appointed himself, which didn’t go down well as Gomes was a well liked manager.

Although Gomes’ results weren’t the best on the pitch, he certainly improved the club’s morale off of the pitch through his clear passion for the sport and the team, a characteristic which the team’s previous managers had been lacking.

Because the majority of fans had a strong liking towards Gomes, the idea of him being replaced swayed them the wrong way, and gave them a negative impression of Bowen from the get-go.

This has led to some fans disliking Bowen and his leadership regardless of whether he produced better results for the club or not.

However, I do think that Bowen has turned over a new leaf with fans through the results produced under his leadership, by creating a solid defense leading to the team conceding less goals.

Reading have, not long ago, gone through a period of over-corporatisation that perhaps alienated supporters a little bit. Do directors Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li interact with fans and make their presence felt around the club, or does chief executive Nigel Howe take on that role? Do fans feel more connected?

Sim: Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li remain as distant and silent as ever, having barely addressed the supporters directly since their arrival in May 2017, but fans don’t seem overly bothered by that.

That’s probably in large part due to them both being busy business people from the other side of the world – it makes a decent amount of sense that they’re not that visible or involved on a day-to-day basis. It helps that they’ve invested a huge amount of money into the squad and other parts of the club.

In their place, Nigel Howe does the direct communication with the fans. He’s not done too much of that – there are certainly no regular updates or interviews with him – but fans trust someone who knows the club inside out and deeply cares about its welfare.

It should also be said that Gomes did a lot of work to reconnect the club with the fans. Supporters never really took to Paul Clement, so having someone in the dugout as charismatic and endearing as Gomes made it feel a lot more like there was a tangible link with the club as a whole.

Maff: Engagement from the senior echelons has been relatively limited and fan connection to the owners is almost non-existent, but given their support for the club financially the fan ratings from the Tilehurst End does reflect this and fundamentally it seems to show a respect of them quietly providing from behind the scenes, an appreciation that they’ve tried different things that haven’t worked out (e.g. a big name CEO in Ron Gourlay…) and a slight worry that they may get tired of funding us.

With intermittent financial issues at KSV Roeselare, a team where Dai Xiu Li is majority owner and has on occasions said she may stop funding them, this does provide some red flags, but overall we’ve not seen any of that here.

They’ve sold the stadium and the training ground to themselves to try to keep us within financial fair play, but what they can do from here is a huge question mark.

Our latest accounts are very worrying, although since then we were able to bring in the likes of Puscas – so what exactly they’re doing we don’t know. Nigel Howe also recently came out to say he hopes the owners continue funding us.

The connection isn’t huge. Nigel Howe’s connection to the club provides a large amount of reassurance and he has the respect and trust of the fans, even if we’re not quite sure of what is exactly going on.

Lewis: Fans don’t feel any more or less connected than before.

Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li only say anything themselves when it’s extremely important (such as a manager being sacked), whereas Nigel Howe does all the communications and stuff (like a representative).

As he’s been at the club for ages and he’s a likable character, a lot of the fans like to know what he has to say about issues.

Very little comes from Yongge and Xiu Li, and most communication comes from Howe, so fans wouldn’t feel any more or less connected than before as their means of hearing from the top-heads of the club haven’t really changed.

Joao Virginia started the season in goal but he made a few high-profile errors, most notably at Hull on week two and probably struggled to adjust to the senior game. How important a signing was Rafael Cabral?

Sim: I don’t feel that Virginia’s been treated that fairly really.

He was a little shaky in pre-season and his first game in senior football (Sheffield Wednesday at home), but made a clanger against Hull City in his first ever away game and was pretty hung out to dry.

No patience from the club and minimal sympathy from the fans. He’s a young chap and needs experience to adjust to senior football – not to be harshly judged after a couple of nerve-induced errors.

Rafael though is the antithesis of a nervy ‘keeper. He exudes confidence, commands his box very well and has on some occasions been an outstanding shot stopper, notably away to Fulham and at home to QPR.

His influence has been key in steadying the ship at the back and, in terms of the main aspects of a goalie’s job, he’s one of the best we’ve had in recent years – although for me he’s probably not quite as good as Al-Habsi.

However, his distribution isn’t great, and he can be pretty erratic over long range. That’s less of a problem under Bowen, but he wasn’t a good fit for Gomes’ more possession-based style.

In that regard, he’s worse than his two predecessors: Emiliano Martinez and Joao Virginia.

Maff: Virginia came in when we were still under the ‘temporary embargo’, although when this eased and it was clear he was out of his depth we did move quickly to replace him.

When you can say that the best thing Joao Virginia did was prompt us to sign Rafael Cabral it shows he wasn’t ready. His confidence was quickly shot and he needs more time, but it’s too soon to write off Virginia’s career.

Rafael on the other hand. He’s a huge signing. We’ve been very lucky with having some outstanding keepers in recent years and Rafael is up there with the like of Emi Martinez and Ali Al-Habsi. To get a Brazil capped keeper to cancel his contract in Serie A to come over to Reading was a huge coup.

Statistically there are four standout keepers in the league – Casilla, Rafael, Raya and Samba. We’d be much worse off without him.

Lewis: I think Rafael was probably our most important signing this summer.

Following the departure of Emiliano Martinez after his loan spell, we were in need of a goalkeeper with Sam Walker our only senior goalkeeper going into the season.

Virginia came in having not played a senior game in his career, and it was clear in the two games he played that he was not ready for Championship football.

Getting a goalkeeper with the pedigree and quality of Rafael was an instant upgrade and since then he has probably become one of the best goalkeepers in the league.

Andy Yiadom enjoyed an impressive 2018-19 campaign, when he was probably your best player over the duration. Has he been able to match those levels this term, or is stronger competition required? Tennai Watson gained lukewarm reviews from AFC Wimbledon and you might say Chris Gunter is a bit of a spent force…

Sim: I’d say he’s matched those performances and continued to show how key he can be to this side’s attack.

He’s got a great mixture of close control and dribbling that drives the team up the pitch, and those qualities have probably been more evident this season than in his debut campaign.

Chris Gunter surprised a lot of us by how good he was when he came back into the side in late 2019, replacing the injured Andy Yiadom.

He not only looked solid defensively, but also seemed to be more adventurous going forwards, albeit over a relatively short timeframe in the first team.

He’ll probably be released in the summer though, leaving us with the task of finding a new backup. As you mention, I don’t think Tennai Watson’s done enough to properly stand out in his loan spells, so could be moved on.

Teddy Howe could have taken this role if he’d stayed past January, but in truth he needed regular first-team football, so moving to Blackpool probably helped.

Academy right back Lynford Sackey is yet to play for the first team, but he’s been capped for England at youth level so it’s probably a matter of time before he makes the step up. At 17, he’s got time on his side but being backup to Yiadom next season may be too quick a leap forward.

Maff: Yiadom is brilliant. Not a lot else to add, strong defensively but also provides an attacking outlet going forward.

To call Gunter a spent force would be a bit harsh, he’s shown himself to be solid over a long period with here and was able to slot in when Yids was injured earlier in the season without weakening us massively.

It’s probably time for Gunter to move on, as a higher earner and player that you couldn’t justify keeping as a backup, but that doesn’t diminish that he’d probably do a job for another Championship or top end League One team – although after as long as he and McCleary have been here without us having any success in that time it’s also fair to admit that it may have gone a bit stale and is time for that clean break.

Succession concerns me. I haven’t seen that much in Watson that has made me think he’s either got the quality to fit here or would suit our style, I still remain unconvinced.

I did expect Teddy Howe, given he’s a more attacking full back, to have been developing with us further to being our backup from next season but we sold him to Blackpool.

We do have players that can cover there, Filipe Araruna, while yet to adapt for convince in his very early days, can play across central midfield, defensive midfield and importantly right back, I expect he’ll likely provide much of the cover for Yiadom.

Andy Rinomhota has also featured there and our midfield has managed to crowd out last year player of the season on multiple occasions.

Lewis: I would say he has been able to. He has yet again this season been one of few consistent performers in the team this season, even after his injury in the new year he slotted straight back in as if nothing happened.

However, right back will be a position we will have to look at this summer. With the club’s financial stability on the decline, and with Gunter being on high wages, he will probably end up being released unless he takes a significant pay cut.

Tennai Watson also does not look like he will play for the club again.

You’ve operated with a back-three in 18 league games this season. When Matt Miazga is fit along with Michael Morrison and Liam Moore, do you think you have three strong centre-backs at this level? Is that part of the temptation with the three-man defence?

Sim: To be honest, I think that when Bowen’s gone for a back three at Reading, it’s been more about fitting in a two-man strike force without sacrificing the three-man midfield. Our chopping and changing between a back three and a back four has revolved more around which works better offensively.

However, it can certainly be said that Reading have got three strong centre backs in Miazga, Morrison and Moore, so going to a back three isn’t a problem for us.

There’s a good mixture there in experience with Morrison, technical ability in Moore, and an all-round mix of technical ability and aerial prowess in Miazga.

I still think we’re better overall in a back four though, which prompts an annoying question: which two of those three are Reading’s best?

There’s not really a clear answer – as mentioned above, all of them offer something different and something very useful. Most fans would have automatically put Moore in there due to his captaincy, but the defence looked tighter when he was dropped for the other two.

Maff: When we were under embargo and our first signings were Charlie Adam and Michael Morrison I have to admit I was very concerned. Particularly with Morrison given we have set ourselves up to be a passing team and it’s not a particular strength of his…

Coming on the back of a strong season at Birmingham, in other circumstances to take their captain, who is a known threat up front from set pieces, would be a huge coup despite his age. In some ways it has looked that way and despite his limitations he’s been one of our better defenders.

Miazga has had a more subdued season than past, in part due to injuries and Moore hasn’t really risen to the level’s he’s capable of. We have three strong centre backs definitely, but circumstances haven’t really seen them flourish.

In terms of the three man defence, partially, but also I see this as being a route of freeing up the likes of Richard and Yiadom, who are attacking wing backs, to be able to go further forward given we don’t exactly have strong wing options.

Even Tyler Blackett has had some purple patches in that regard and does have a killer cross on him. Giving Morrison additional short passing options also mitigates partly his limitations as well as giving us different options to counter more physical teams.

However, three at a back doesn’t necessarily suit the players, Liam Moore has been quite open that he prefers playing as part of a two.

Lewis: I think we do, we have three very good, experienced centre backs at this level. Jose Gomes played three at the back and Mark Bowen started off with it, but more recently has come back to four at the back, with Moore and Morrison playing while Miazga was injured.

And with youngsters coming through too, I’d say centre back is somewhere where we are very strong.

In terms of that position, you’ve also got Tom McIntyre and Gabriel Osho coming through… I know Reading fans were excited about both 12 months ago. Do you have any feelings about their subsequent progressions? Osho had a good time at Yeovil…

Sim: Reading fans love McIntyre, who’s very much the epitome of the ‘fan on the pitch’, having not only come through the academy but been a loyal supporter since he was a kid.

I’d add that, besides generally being a sharp, mobile defender, he’s also got a terrific ability to bring the ball out from the back on his left foot and charge up the field. That’s a great weapon to have in a back three.

The only real question is what opportunities open up for him now. He needs games in the first team, but that can only really come from him being promoted to third choice – if Miazga leaves and is unreplaced. The club may prefer to bring in a more established successor to Miazga.

Osho’s been left behind though somewhat, due to being overshadowed by McIntyre and not having too many first-team chances of his own.

I suspect that he’ll be released in the summer while another bright young crop (Jeriel Dorsett, Akin Odimayo and Andre Burley) comes through.

However, any League One side in need of a ball-playing defender would do a lot worse than to snap him up. I’ve got a feeling he’ll go the same way as Rob Dickie, Jake Cooper and Dom Hyam.

Maff: Subsequent progression for Tom McIntyre has been good. Limited chances to play but doesn’t look out of place at this level. Having him in a three has been helpful as it does leave him less exposed and being left footed provides some additional balance to our defence.

Given he’s a fan of the club, an outgoing and an infectiously positive personality he’s one that fans have a lot of time for and hopefully can be one to step up and become part of the future of the club.

Osho is reaching a point of his career where he’s not been afforded the same opportunities despite having been captain in the same teams as McIntyre, has some strengths to him others don’t (great penalty taker for instance). His contract is up at the end of the season.

Personally I’d like to see him get at least another year, maybe one more loan or have him on the fringes, but given he’s be fifth or sixth choice and clearly behind McIntyre I can see why the club could also look to let him go or he may feel it’s time to go out and get first team football. There’s a good player in there, but he’s reaching a crossroads in his career without the same clear pathway McIntyre has forged.

We also have Tom Holmes, the first of the three to make his debut, who is 19 months younger and has another 2 years on his contact here.

Injuries aside he seemed to do quite well and the club may look to continue their investment there over Osho. Odimayo and Burley, both over a year younger than Osho, also seem to have had quite good loans in Ireland.

It’s quite crowded in this space and I couldn’t predict that we’ll do in the summer. With McIntyre having another year left unless we were to invest heavily at centre back next window then I do expect him to remain and hopefully extend his contract in the near future.

Lewis: Tom McIntyre has made significant progression this season, impressing in cup games and has made some league appearances. Gabriel Osho did well at Yeovil, and looked good in the cup appearances he’s made this season. It’s nice to know we have two good young centre backs coming through.

Personally, I felt a bit indifferent about Omar Richards when he first came into the side but he seems to have gone up another level this season. Tyler Blackett could be released but with Jordan Obita now having a prolonged period to work largely on fitness issues and hopefully overcome long-standing injury issues, is the left-back competition hotting up?

Sim: This has certainly been Richards’ best season, both in terms of overall consistency and individual performances, but he’s still not quite nailed down that left-back spot. I’d like to see Reading keep him on, probably as second choice initially, and let him compete for a starting place.

Blackett will probably be released and head to Turkey, if rumours are to be believed, and Obita could head off too as he’s also out of contract.

He’s recovered from long-term injury pretty well already this season, and even contributed a few goals and assists, but he doesn’t seem to be back to the standard he was at before he was sidelined in 2017.

Normally he could continue his rehabilitation with a pre-season and new campaign, but with his deal soon to expire, the club will have a tough decision to make over whether they want to invest in him.

What it really boils down to is that Reading’s left-back spot is in need of clarity. Three left backs are simply too many, not to mention that they’re fairly similar in terms of quality so there’s no standout. Streamlining the position, and working out who the best option is (as we’ve got at right back) will be important going forwards.

Maff: Left back is another bit of an unknown. Richards has a huge amount of potential to him – having been crowded out from Fulham due Ryan Sessegnon’s prominence in the Fulham youth team there’s no slight on him for having come to us quite late. He’s got areas to develop his concentration isn’t amazing and he’s been caught out of position a fair bit, although his pace does allow him to make up for that quite often. He’s improving but not to the extent he’s a standout first choice and I’m more comfortable with Blackett at left back.

Blackett looks like he’ll leave. Not due to us wanting to move him on, but he seems to have other options on the table and a move to Turkey looks likely.

After a torrid start with us he’s moulded himself into a decent player. Having the best cross at the club it’s a shame he doesn’t go forward more often, but he’s a defensively minded left back.

Obita remains an unknown quantity. The injury did take its toll and it’s amazing to just see him back out on the field really. He seems to be ok for the level but before injury was a standout player – some things like his pace aren’t what they were.

That said, he has managed to get a decent tally of goals and assists in the short number of games he’s played. Whether we keep him or not, I’d hope we do, remains to be seen but the end of this season really would have been a chance for him to play for that new contract.

We have a reasonable set of left backs, some potential in there, but not a standout top of the league set of options.

Lewis: I think this ultimately depends on what the club do, as Blackett and Obita’s contracts are up this summer.

Omar Richards is a bright left back for the future, so we may need a left back in the summer providing that Blackett and Obita are released. Richards has come on leaps and bounds this season, gaining him a international call up with the England U-21s.

Jordan Obita has done well this season, but because of the club’s finances, it is likely he will be released.

Your midfield is an area that really intrigues me because, on paper, all-action dynamo Andy Rinomhota, the creative John Swift and the silky-footed Ovie Ejaria are your three best players individually… but putting them all together simultaneously may give you balance issues. Is it right that one of those players is sacrificed to incorporate a natural holding player in Pele?

Sim: A couple of months ago I probably would have said yes, as Pele’s defensive strength and reading of the game makes him a useful counterweight to more attacking options like John Swift, Ovie Ejaria and Michael Olise – who did really well in the first team in the weeks before football was called off.

But, at that time, we saw more and more of Andy Rinomhota in the team as the defensive option. He’s not the kind of deep-lying anchor like Pele, but a more dynamic destroyer with the mobility and positional flexibility to be part of a more fluid midfield.

For example, if he lines up in a two-man midfield alongside Swift in a 4-2-3-1, when Swift drops deep to get onto the ball, Rinomhota can push up as a passing option in front of Swift. I couldn’t see Pele doing that.

Putting Swift and Rinomhota together means room for both Ejaria and Olise higher up – another two dynamic players who can interchange freely. That does make for a fairly lightweight midfield though, but it does also make our midfield that bit less predictable, so it’s worth working with going forwards.

Maff: Absolutely. We’ve not quite got the balance right throughout the year despite Rinomhota, Ovie and Swift all being cracking players.

At times Charlie Adam has looked like our best midfielder. Pele had a slow start but as time has gone on he’s looked undroppable, which has led to Rinomhota, last seasons player of the season, often being dropped.

Swift has become one of the best players in the league, in terms of goals to games for a central midfielder and chances created. With him and Ovie together there are two flair players that cause problems for other teams.

Lewis: Yes, and it is usually Andy Rinomhota. With Swift and Ejaria you have two midfielders that like to go high up the pitch, so you need a defensive midfielder to stay back when they go up. Rinomhota can play this role, but he does like to get forward which means we can then be countered easily.

With Pele, we have someone that can play that role well, and has impressed this season.

As an outsider, I’m not a fan of Yakou Meite wide right as I feel like you’d want to use his aerial prowess centrally – like you did towards the back-end of Paul Clement’s regime – but some Reading fans see the logic to having him there. What’s your take?

Sim: The problem with Meite is that, yes, he’s very good aerially, but his close control and general technical ability is so poor that he’s a liability when you play him as a centre forward.

He’s simply not up to the task of being a target man – the kind of foil capable of holding the ball up and bringing our real danger men (Ejaria, Swift, Olise etc) into the game.

To really play to his strengths as a centre forward, you’ve got to change the style of play, whether it’s lumping crosses into the box for him to get his head on, or playing on the counter so he can get in behind.

His best run of form (for me at least) came in the Spring of 2019 under Gomes when Reading did the latter and there was space in behind for him to attack.

Bowen’s approach of using him as a wide forward in a 4-2-3-1 (rather than as an out-and-out winger) means Meite can still get into the box, but the job of holding the ball up goes to someone else.

Maff: When Lucas Joao is fit, he has to be our first choice up front. Puscas and Baldock also add things in their own way. Due to that there’s not really space for him in the centre.

Putting Yaks as a wide target man gives another outlet for when we go long ball, he’s a menace and causes all manner of issues aerially and physically for the opposition left backs, he’s also shown from there he can cut in and put the ball in the back of the net.

We have no other real options for the right wing, Garath McCleary is past is, Sone Aluko has never worked here and while Michael Olise has done it for France at youth level it’s not his best position and he does need to be phased into the team.

For what we have, it’s something different, and it works. I prefer him wide right than in the centre.

Lewis: I agree that he can be used centrally, but I think having him out wide gives us something there which other teams don’t have, using a wide target man. He has also played a lot better on the right than centrally, and if we have him centrally then one of Lucas Joao and George Puscas loses their place.

I always feel that George Puscas can be a huge asset when he’s in a team that is already playing well, because he can give you those final touches in the final third – August’s 3-0 win over Cardiff is the classic example – but then I look at him when the game is getting away from you a bit and the other forwards are getting dragged back, he’s not half the player. Is the task next season to construct a team that can really play to Puscas’ strengths, or do you need to add a more athletic, persistent centre-forward to suit different scenarios?

Sim: Puscas is, on paper at least, our best striker; he’s got a better all-round skill set and more potential than anyone else in the squad.

We’ve had two big problems with him though: confidence and tactical use. The first was a particularly bad issue earlier on in the season under Gomes when Puscas would regularly miss a golden chance that he really should have gobbled up. Ones against Swansea, Charlton and Bristol City were particularly bad, but he also missed a one-on-one in that Cardiff game.

When he came back into the side in the New Year, after Lucas Joao was injured, Reading were tactically inconsistent and there was no clear idea of whether Puscas should have been in the side at all, and if so, with a partner or not.

My view was that he needed time to adjust to being a lone striker at the top of a 4-2-3-1 (for me our best system).

A lot of that was down to loose touch and a lack of work rate, but he improved those a lot in the last few weeks before lockdown and seemed to be improving a lot all round.

Maff: I think it’s more Puscas adapting. Sometimes he looks unplayable and sometimes he looks lost.

Lucas Joao is still my preferred option up top, but there’s a hell of a player in Puscas and I do think in the next season or two if he remains we’ll see it start to come out. If he keeps developing he’ll end up at much larger clubs than Reading.

In his first season Puscas has scored the most goals in a debut season for Reading in 9 seasons despite being yet to fully convince for us (but being on fire for Romania). He’ll come good, with us or somewhere else.

Lewis: I think the task would be to play a style that suits him when he plays, as it’s either him or Lucas Joao playing, not both.

He certainly has the quality to be a top player in this league, as shown by performances such as the Cardiff game and the hat trick against Wigan. If he can get his confidence up, we have a 30 goal striker in our ranks.

Youngsters Danny Loader, Michael Olise and Coniah Boyce-Clarke are all tipped for big things. Do you take pride in the work the academy is doing?

Sim: Sure do. We seem to be putting out players with plenty of potential – not only those players but also Thierry Nevers, Jeriel Dorsett and Lynford Sackey to name but a few.

If we can manage this crop of talent well, I’m convinced we’ll have the quality coming through to properly build a squad around and allow the club to be much more self sufficient.

A lot of work has been done in clearing the squad out of the kind of driftwood that not only inflates the wage bill, but also blocks the progress of these youngsters. That process has to continue though, and hopefully we’ll see this crop shine more and more over the next 1-2 years.

Maff: We always take pride in our academy. We’re getting good numbers with some involvement with the first team and although many do not fully embed into the team they are making careers in the professional game – which fundamentally is the biggest success we can have.

There is now a good number of former players bobbling around the top two tiers with many others showing potential to do that.

The investment creates a source of revenue in addition to the potential to give further squad options. Questions will always persist of whether the right players stayed or went, but the academy in itself is doing its job and the numbers of those making their debut here continues to be a testament to Eamonn Dolan’s legacy.

Lewis: We as fans take a lot of pride, and I think our academy is massively underrated. With players like Gylfi Sigurdsson and Alex McCarthy coming through our academy in the last 15 years, I feel we have one of the best in the country.

This generation of players of coming though I would say is the best we’ve had in a while, and I can’t wait to see more of them next season.

How do you reflect on the season as a whole?

Sim: On the whole positive, but not without its frustrations. The hope a year ago was that we’d really kick on in 2019/20 and make rapid progress, but in hindsight the season’s been more one of gradual transition overall.

On the face of it, replacing Gomes with Bowen hampered that progress, but having Bowen at the club since Spring 2019 meant the Welshman was effectively building on the work of his predecessor, rather than replacing it.

Having that, rather than the jumping back and forth like we had with McDermott-Stam-Clement-Gomes, means the club can move in one direction rather than messing about.

Overall, this season hasn’t been revolutionary, but it’s put us on the right track, laid some decent foundations and can hopefully be built on even more next season. For example, last summer’s recruitment was about rebuilding the spine of the side. We’ve now largely got that, and can add to it in the next transfer window.

Maff: It might not be the most exciting season, but it’s been progress.

The real questions are about what next.

Is Bowen the manager to take us to another level? Do we need to continue stabilising? Is continuity the key or do we want a clear and defined approach? With FFP looking concerning can we keep our better assets and build around them, or do we need to sell?

Are we still looking to bring a Sporting Director in (after Mattos went to Atletico Mineiro), and if so what will that do to recruitment? How strong is the influence of Kia to our future transfers? Are we going to need to focus more on our academy assets due to FFP?

Signs of progress. Lots of unknowns.

Lewis: Overall this season has been a massive improvement compared to recent years, we have a manager who has taken us to heights where we haven’t been for 3 years (we could be fifth in the table if the season started when Bowen was appointed), we have owners who are willing to spend, however we need to balance the books.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we are in the play offs next year, so keep an eye out for us.