McAnuff talks up Reading FC's survival chances ahead of Sunderland clash
click to enlarge
Leading from the front: Reading skipper Jobi McAnuff.
READING'S staggering transformation in the past month may have come as a big surprise to their most critics, but not to skipper Jobi McAnuff.
Written off as relegation fodder barely five weeks ago, the resurgent Royals have strung together a run of results that teams at the top of the Premier League table would be proud of.
Brian McDermott's in-form men stretched their unbeaten run to five matches by drawing 2-2 with Chelsea on Tuesday night.
They have also won three and drawn two of their last six Premier League fixtures to move out of the bottom three.
For a side that had claimed only one league victory in the first four months of the season, it signifies a remarkable turn around of fortunes and has given Reading more than a fighting chance of avoiding relegation back to the Championship.
McDermott's decision to revert to a 4-5-1 formation with Pavel Pogrebnyak leading the line, the return of Danny Guthrie in midfield, the improved fitness of express winger Jimmy Kebe and Adam Le Fondre's late goalscoring spree have all been contributing factors in the team's recent revival.
But McAnuff believes there could be a different explanation behind it all.
Speaking before last night's home clash against the Blues, he said: "There is no secret to it really. It really was a stop-start beginning to the campaign for us with form, fixture rearrangements and international breaks.
"We couldn't quite get into a run of games and we feel we're at our best when we have a few games in succession."
If Reading are to avoid the drop there is no doubt where their escape route lies.
Royals face five potential relegation six-pointers at Madejski Stadium between now and the end of the season.
This Saturday they host Martin O'Neill's Sunderland (3pm ko) and, while Black Cats' recent form has taken them out of trouble, they are a team Reading can still catch.
But it is the upcoming home fixture against Wigan Athletic (Feb 23), Aston Villa (Mar 9), Southampton (Apr 6) and QPR (Apr 27) which are likely to offer their best chance of climbing the table.
McAnuff argued: "Our home form has been good of late, we've been winning games which is always good.
"We want to make the Madejski Stadium as hard a place as it can be so that it is going to be difficult for any team coming here. Whether it's Chelsea or Sheffield United, we want to make it a fortress."
In addition to those home six-pointers, Royals still have to travel to two more teams within the lower reaches of the Premier League table when they go to Norwich City (Apr 20) and Fulham (May 4).
Before all that, Royals will need no added incentive when they face Sunderland this weekend than to make amends for their 3-0 defeat at Stadium of Light in December when James McClean, Steven Fletcher and Stephane Sessegnon were on target.
However, Reading were struggling with injuries at the time and are sure to be a much different proposition this weekend when they go all-out for revenge.
McDermott's men have no fresh injury concerns at the moment, though Jason Roberts remains sidelined with a hip problem.
Meanwhile, Danny Graham is set to make his Sunderland debut this weekend following his £5 million switch from Swansea City.
On-loan Black Cats defender Kader Mangane could also make his debut after he was an unused substitute during their 0-0 draw against the Swans on Tuesday.
Sunderland will make only their second visit to the Madejski Stadium in the Premier League.
Royals won the last meeting 2-1 in December 2007 thanks to a controversial Stephen Hunt injury-time winner, with replays suggesting the ball did not cross the line.
This article appeared in Bracknell News 01 Feb 13