Taking away the 2016/17 season, supporting Reading in the past five years has been tough for supporters after seeing their side decline rapidly since their 2017 play-off final loss against Huddersfield Town.
From being just a few spot-kicks away from the Premier League, the Royals have been far too close to the relegation zone for many fans’ liking since then, struggling in the bottom half of the Championship from the summer of 2017 until 2020.
Winning seven and drawing one of their opening eight league matches of the 2020/21 campaign, a return to the top-flight looked like a realistic target all of a sudden after three years of mediocrity.
Quiz: Have Reading FC ever won an away game at each of these 20 stadiums?
Their decline after then saw them finish in seventh place, a finish many Reading fans would have taken before the beginning of last term but one that was disappointing after spending the majority of the campaign competing in the top six.
Still, that has given them a platform to build on this term, something that could be scuppered with a potential points deduction coming down the tracks.
But we’re focusing less on the present and more on the bigger picture in this piece, as we pick the best combined Reading starting lineup from the last five years.
Do you agree with these picks? What changes would you make? Let us know on our social media channels and send us your preferred 11.
Ali Al-Habsi not getting in the starting lineup just shows how good Emiliano Martinez was during his short stay at the club, with the latter coming in at a time of need and helping to turn the club’s fortunes around under Jose Gomes during the second half of the 2018/19 campaign. Quite simply, the Argentine was exceptional in every department.
Omar Richards just about pips Jordan Obita to the post at left-back, establishing himself as one of the best left-backs in the division during the 2020/21 season before his move to Bayern Munich in the summer.
He is joined by two current Royals in captain Liam Moore and Michael Morrison at centre-back, with the former being the subject of a £10m bid from Brighton and Hove Albion back in 2018 and Morrison noticeably improving the club’s defence when he arrived the following summer.
The ex-Birmingham City captain is currently out injured after an underwhelming start to 2021/22 – but his first two seasons in Berkshire were impressive – earning him a spot in this team over the likes of Matt Miazga and Tiago Ilori.
Meanwhile, Andy Yiadom has to start over experienced Welsh international Chris Gunter on the right, mainly due to the fact the former has arguably been the better performer when comparing the duo’s performances at the Select Car Leasing Stadium.
Moving on to the midfield, Josh Laurent was exceptional last term as he adapted seamlessly to the Championship, joining John Swift who has taken his game to another level this term with 15 goal contributions in 17 league appearances.
He has played in a more advanced position this season – but his ability to player further back and the inclusion of a talented teenager further up the pitch means he drops back into a deeper position in midfield – another area where he can be effective.
The man who takes Swift’s place in the more attacking role in midfield is Michael Olise, who will be a real asset for current club Crystal Palace after joining Patrick Vieira’s men in the summer for an £8m fee. Many people would argue he’s worth at least double that.
Another pick many would find hard to argue with is Yakou Meite on the right-hand side. He has scored an exceptional 37 league goals in his last three campaigns – and his absence has been sorely felt this season after sustaining an ACL injury in the summer.
The man on the other side is a slightly more controversial choice – but Modou Barrow deserves his spot in the starting lineup for almost single-handedly keeping the Royals afloat in the Championship during the 2017/18 campaign – and his pace and ability to frighten second-tier defenders is something the club have lacked ever since his departure.
Ovie Ejaria may be other people’s pick – but you want the ex-Liverpool man to be more consistent at times. If he was, he would probably get in over Barrow.
Up top, it was a choice between Yann Kermorgant and Lucas Joao. The former may have played a huge part in leading the Berkshire side to the play-off final in 2017, but the latter was similarly brilliant last term and due to the fact there’s probably still more to come from the Portuguese forward, he’s the one to make the lineup.