When we lost to Watford and I remarked that we had another week to sell some more players I was actually joking. Thomas is the latest to move on (permanently), and good luck to him. I really mean that. He was a player that I liked to watch from sometimes. Sometimes, of course, he was no fun to watch, but he played a part in some of the best (relatively speaking) memories of our spell in the Premier League. His two goals against West Ham in our 4-0 win and the two he scored against Spurs (one at home and one away) helped to secure three wins against rival London teams. Good times!
What Jerome had, sadly, I believe he wasted. Despite the fact that on his day he looked every part the Premier League player, all too often he looked like a lazy, overpaid mercenary. I know that may seem to be harsh, but as New York Addick suggested he seemed to be able to keep his place in the side (and therefore his salary) by doing 'just enough'. All be it that this was adequate for a Premiership Club with a turnover in the millions and many talented players, it was nothing like the Charlton Spirit that dragged us into the Premier League in 1998 and 2000, nor the attitude that will get us promoted again without a rich benefactor.
So we now have just four players left that played for us in the Premier League. Matt Holland (who is clearly coming to the end of his career) Darren Ambrose, Lloyd Sam and Jon Fortune. The former of this list being the only player that has played more than 38 games (a season) for more than one team in the Premier League, and the only one that could genuinely claim to be a Premiership Player. I know that is harsh on Ambrose and Fortune, but their contributions could be explained away as being squad players punching above their weight. Neither of them have been coveted by Premier League sides since our relegation, and in the case of Fortune Pardew has been trying to off load him even since he got here.
Thus I would suggest that our transition to a Championship club is now almost complete. I am optimistic (as I always am) that this could be the year that Ambrose, and Lloyd Sam for that matter, really start to show that they have the quality to shine in this division, but there can only be so many chances given out. I think Ambrose has delivered enough to justify him staying, although I doubt that any Premier League teams will be looking to sign him, even when he is fit. Lloyd Sam, on the other hand has delivered three rather unspectacular performances this season and must be glad to see Scott Wagstaff go out on loan.
So, where does that leave us for Reading? Well, Ambrose and Todorov came through a reserve game 'unscathed' on Wednesday night, according to the Official Web site, so they may be on the bench on Saturday. Bouazza is a straight replacement for Thomas in the squad, and probably the first eleven. ZZ is back from China and will probably be involved in some way (assuming he hasn't been sold by then) and Bailey should make his Valley debut. It is a great shame that after eventually securing a place in the first team Therry Racon has broken his fifth metatarsal and will be out for 'three months'. Three months has in the past extended to a whole season, so that could be a real set back.
I would expect the team to look like the one that started at Watford with Basey in for the suspended Youga and Holland starting in place of Racon. With Basey being 'unfit' for the Wales U21 match, however, he might not play either. There could also be justification for starting Shelvey with Bailey. There could also be a change at right back with Moo2 coming in for Semedo who may, or may not, be given a midfield birth. So not the same side at all then? As I've already said, I would like to see Todorov and Ambrose on the bench and would hope that one or both of them get on for a bit of a run before the end.
I am rarely right when it comes to predictions, and football is no different, however for what it's worth I think that Reading will be the team to catch this season. I expect Birmingham to give them a good run, but I think that McFadden will leave before September, and I'm not sure that their manager will not jump ship too. He showed a complete lack of integrity leaving the Scotland job for the mega money in the Premier League, and I suspect that as soon as a job becomes available he will be more than happy to show Birmingham fans his back.
Still as I'm normally wrong with these things chances are that Reading will finish eighth and McLeish and McFadden will lead Birmingham to the title. Either way this Saturday is a very good test of our credentials this season. Without putting too much pressure on our young side a defeat to Watford (who I think will be in the playoffs but nothing more), followed by a defeat at home to Reading (one of the promotion favourites) will put a question mark over our aspirations.
To be fair to the team/squad/manager/board I don't actually think that it is imperative that we win promotion this season. Obviously we'd all like it, and it would lift massive financial restrictions that we are currently working under. I do think, however, that if we fail to go up this season we, at least, need to look (for most of the season - especially towards the end) like we just might. This means beating some of the fancied teams and never being more than a win or two away from the magical sixth place. Pardew's promises that his teams always come good towards the end of the season will not be believed this term so we daren't go into the last ten games nine points behind our target. I would like to think that our target after 36 games would be second, but realistically we are aiming for 5th and will accept 6th as a consolation.
Thus Reading becomes our first must win of the season. I would actually say that it is more like a mustn't lose. We can, obviously, still finish behind Reading and win automatic promotion, but either way a win on Saturday would enable us to claim to have set out our stall for the season with promotion being our aim. It would also relieve some of the pressure that can be sensed on the message boards, blogs and email lists that are suggesting that avoiding relegation would be a good achievement this season.
What ever the outcome I will be at The Valley for my first league game of the season. Hopefully they will give me a reason to go home happy.
Come on you reds!