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Can Kelly match the Griffin effect?

Published: 18 Jan 2013 06:300 comments

WHEN Andy Griffin signed for Reading in January 2010 it turned out to be one of the best pieces of business ever conducted by the club.

Full back's union: Stephen Kelly could make his Reading debut at Newcastle United after signing from Fulham.

An experienced Premier League campaigner with Stoke City, Portsmouth and Newcastle, Griffin took the brave division to drop down a division and help Royals get out of a mess.

Brian McDermott was a rookie manager at the time having replaced Brendan Rodgers only a month earlier. However, with Reading still coming to terms with the fallout from Rodgers' reign plus the departure of talismen like Kevin Doyle, a poor first half of the season plunged them down the Championship table and towards relegation into League 1.

Griffin, though, proved to be a pivotal signing and a major influence in the dressing room where his experience of top-flight football rubbed off on his team-mates.

Suddenly, Royals were reborn and Griffin was the catalyst for a storming second-half to the season that saw the club finish comfortably mid-table.

Then the following season Royals reached Wembley where they lost to Rodgers' Swansea City in the Championship play-off final.

Griffin may have conceded a needless penalty in the final, but he should be best remembered for the key contribution he made when he first set foot at Madejski Stadium.

And any lingering regrets he had about the play-off final were quickly banished last season when he picked up a Championship winners' medal during Reading's promotion-winning campaign.

Fast forward three years and Royals find themselves in a similar predicament, this time battling for their lives to stay in the Premier League.

So few eyebrows should have been raised last week when McDermott signed full-back Stephen Kelly from Fulham for an undisclosed fee on a two-and-a-half year deal.

Time will tell whether the Republic of Ireland international can have a similar affect on Reading's fortunes as Griffin once did.

But the former Tottenham Hotspur defender is ready to roll up his sleeves and fight for Royals' cause as he prepares to make his debut at Newcastle United this Saturday.

"I've been chatting with the gaffer and the chairman and the club seems to be going in the right direction," explained the 29-year-old.

"Everybody has the right idea and everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet, so this is definitely somewhere I want to be.

"I see myself having a good future here and for myself it was a no-brainer to come and play football and be involved with this club.

"You look down the league table, you look at the points and there's not that much between us and the teams that are in a safe position.

"I think if you're going to stay in this division it's about beating the teams in and around you. Looking at the schedule, we've got to play most of the teams around us at home.

"Home is where you need to pick up the points - and if we can do that then I think we've got a great chance of staying up."

Kelly may not be the marquee signing some Royals fans were expecting last week, but few positions on a football pitch are more influential than full-back.

Reading have struggled to find the right combinations in that department this season, with Shaun Cummings and Chris Gunter sharing the responsibility on the right leaving Nicky Shorey and Kelly's former Ireland team-mate Ian Harte to do the same on the left.

But it is clear McDermott believes the position needed strengthening and in Kelly he has drafted an experienced international who is comfortable on both flanks.

"I'm very fortunate to have been involved in the Premier League for a long time now after coming through the ranks with Tottenham," added Kelly.

"I've also been lucky to be fit and healthy enough to sustain it, so it's a matter of continuing on there with Reading.

"I'm hoping to bring in some experience that I've gained over the years, but I'm still young enough - and capable of getting up and down the pitch so I'm looking forward to adding my game and giving a different dimension."

He added: "I've had some great memories so far in my career - European football with Fulham was a fantastic experience and playing for and captaining my country is also up there, I've had plenty of highs.

"I'm just looking forward to getting on the pitch as soon as possible. I've heard some great things about Reading as a club and the people around here seem fantastic so I'm looking forward to getting stuck in between now and the end of the season."

Reading boast a successful record of signing Irish players after Doyle, Shane Long and Stephen Hunt all had significant roles in recent years.

And the presence of Harte plus Hunt's brother, Noel, in the current dressing room should help Kelly settle in.

McDermott, who is of Irish heritage himself, stated: "I'm delighted to have Stephen here. He has played a lot of games in the Premier League and more than 30 times for his country. He's the kind of player I've been talking about - someone with great experience, but at 29 still very young in football terms and at a really good stage in his career.

"I've always liked him as a player, and the first time I met him was at Kevin Doyle's wedding a while ago now and I thought he was a top guy. I know he's going to fit into the dressing room here really well.

"He's up for the fight, up for the battle, he's hungry, he wants to do well and I know he'll be successful for us."

Kelly is likely to make his Reading debut in tomorrow's Premier League clash against Alan Pardew's Newcastle United at St James' Park (3pm ko).

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