In advance of the FA Cup semifinal against Reading tomorrow, we chatted a bit with Dan, from SBN's Reading blog The Tilehurst End. He asked us some questions, we asked him some, you know the drill. His answers to my questions are below, and my answers to his questions are here. Onward!
TSF: Although seemingly safe from relegation, Reading currently sit 18th in the Championship. Is this a surprise, or is a lower-half finish about what Reading fans expected at the start of the season?
TTE: It's a bit disappointing to be honest. Few expected a serious promotion challenge after the financial strife we've been through but the players themselves will admit that they've not been at their best this season. A change in manager briefly sparked our league form and we've scraped together enough points to be safe but nobody will be buying the highlights DVD for the league games! The cup on the other hand has been a thoroughly unexpected yet delightful surprise.
TSF: What have been Reading's biggest surprises this season, both positive and negative?
TTE: Aside from this cup run, a positive surprise has been the way younger players like Michael Hector and Jordan Obita have continued to develop and grow, while several other Academy graduates have tasted Championship football at an early age which bodes well for the long-term future of the club.
The negative surprise was probably seeing Nigel Adkins sacked after a 6-1 mauling at Birmingham. Nigel wasn't universally liked by any stretch of the imagination but most expected him to see out the season after guiding us through some awful off field problems. Sadly the team just wasn't responding to Nigel's efforts and with FFP stopping us from bringing in a load of new players it was inevitable that the manager would be the one to go.
TSF: Which Reading players will worry Arsenal the most on Saturday?
TTE: Let's be honest, few Reading players are really going to frighten you but there is some quality in the side. Chelsea loanee Nathaniel Chalobah looks a player destined for big things and his class and composure have been vital in our cup run to date. Fellow midfielder and USA International Danny Williams also has plenty of quality but it's Reading's prospective widemen in Garath McCleary and Jamie Mackie who could be the two to cause your defence some worry. Mackie is someone that just won't stop running while McCleary has raw pace and has the ability to score some stunning long-range strikes (as a quick search of his name in YouTube will show!).
TSF: Given that Reading don't have a ton to play for in the league at this point, do you expect them to come out guns blazing on Saturday, or do you expect that they'll keep something in reserve to climb further away from the bottom three in the Championship before the end of the season?
TTE: While mathematically we're not safe, it would take a stunning turn around in form from the teams below us to see us in any real danger, and this is the closest we've been to a major cup final in 88 years so there's no doubt whatsoever that Reading's players will give it absolutely everything on Saturday. The fans are also going to be making as much noise as possible to try and help the players on.
Through no fault of your own fans, it's often harder for supporters of big Premier League sides to understand what days like this can mean to a fanbase and a group of players who know they might never make this stage of the competition again. If our squad can't get themselves motivated for Saturday then football is dead to me.
TSF: Complete this sentence: If Arsenal want to beat Reading, the one thing they need to do effectively is...
TTE: Be patient. Reading are going to try and frustrate Arsenal as much as possible but if you keep moving our players around we're going to tire and in time the chances will come.
TSF: Finally, the usual: Prediction? Score? Man of the Match?
TTE: Score wise I'm going for 2-0 Arsenal, and as a MOTM Sanchez... or our goalkeeper Adam Federici.
BONUS QUESTION: Ketchup?
TTE: I have no words.....
Thanks to Dan and the crew over at the Tilehurst End for taking the time to chat.