Ahead of tomorrow's game against Reading we talk to top Royals site The Tilehurst End to see how their season has been going and how they anticipate the match itself going...
So we're just over the half-way point in the season now, has it been tougher than you remember from last time around or as expected?
The Tilehurst End: I think it's been far more difficult than I remember. I'd forgotten how long it is between games in the Premier League and how often you can go on bad runs that just never seem to end. Throw in awful refereeing decisions you get to see from 283 camera angles and it only adds to the frustration of being in ‘the best league in the world!!!'. While the Championship isn't quite as glamorous, at least you go into 95% of games fancying yourselves to nick a result.
In terms of how we've performed, well I expected a struggle but not for the near capitulation that saw us achieve a low points tally after 15 games that few others had managed in Premier League history. We looked completely out of our depth, with last year's title winners struggling to make the jump up and our new signings looking equally Championship standard.
Still. A back to basics approach from Brian McDermott seems to have given us a new lease of life and we're within a point of safety.
It seems as though in recent weeks that Reading have turned a bit of corner though. What would you put that down to? Has there been a significant change in personnel or tactics?
TTE: Very much so.
We started the season switching between 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 before Brian went right back to the players and 4-4-2 tactic that had won the title last year. After a couple of promising displays early on, our tactics soon got found out as we lost a series of high scoring yet ultimately pointless games, culminating in our utter and total capitulation at the Stadium of Light which is by far our low point of the season so far.
With relegation beckoning, Brian decided to once again put his faith in 4-5-1 to keep games tight and turn them almost into 25 minute games at the end when he brings on Le Fondre, goes 4-4-2 and throws everything at it. So far so good and 10 points from a possible 15 has once again given us hope.
Player wise, he's given the previously misfiring Pavel Pogrebnyak and Danny ‘I don't want to go to Sunderland' Guthrie another chance and so far both have rewarded his faith.
The other big boosts have been the return to fitness of Jem Karacan and Jimmy Kebe, while there's been a general improvement in our defence, with the back five now looking a lot more solid and less likely to ship four, fives and sevens.
What do you make of some of Reading's January business in Carrico, Akpan and Kelly?
TTE: Stephen Kelly looks a good signing so far, replacing the slightly shaky pair of Shaun Cummings and summer bust Chris Gunter. He's nothing spectacular, but his experience and solidity will be a big boost in the run-in.
Carrico is very much an unknown quantity and is so woefully short of match fitness I'm not sure when we'll see him again. He came with a good reputation in Portugal but I think you have to wonder how a player goes from £10m prospect looked at by Man City, to ending up at Reading for £600k....
Akpan Is another gamble, a lower league signing that we hope will turn into the next Doyle, Long, Hunt, Sonko, Shorey etc. He seems to have plenty of energy but whether he's up to PL standard yet is questionable.
I'd like to hope we can add one or two more before the deadline but I'm not holding my breath!
Of course you must be delighted to have kept a hold of Jimmy Kebe after his little announcement the other day...
TTE: It certainly provided some entertainment and I'm sure it produced a few smiles up on Wearside as well!
Jimmy has always had a reputation for being a bit unpredictable and a joker so I don't think too many of our fans were reeled in, though the same can't be said for the national press! It was a stark reminder for many in the industry that Twitter isn't gospel!
Reading fans have long been singing ‘He's Jimmy Kebe, he does what he wants' and long may that continue.
Onto our game though, what would you say is the key thing for Reading to come away with the victory?
TTE: To keep things tight and take our chances. Sounds simple enough but that's all it's really going to come down to. We won't play an expansive game that sees us going at you for 90 minutes, we'll simply look to keep things quiet and then break down the wings where possible. We've also got a good record from set pieces, so we'll be hoping former Sunderland man Ian Harte has a good day.
Do you see anything in the Sunderland side which causes any major concerns for Reading?
TTE: Well you caused us more than enough bother when you smashed an albeit weakened Reading side 3-0 a few weeks ago.
Adam Johnson is someone that can cause any side problems, while Fletcher just knows where the goal is. Like us with Harte, you've also got a player in Seb Larsson that can cause plenty of problems.
Where do you see both our two teams finishing this season?
TTE: I think Sunderland will be fine, though I don't quite see you finishing in that top half. Somewhere around 12th will be a decent season after the early struggles but it does seem as if you've been treading water a while now.
As for us, well I still think we're going to slip back down to the Championship but I'm pleased that we're actually putting up a real fight and are going to be scrapping away until the last few games of the season. I wouldn't be stunned to see us stay up, particularly with another signing or two, I just think we lack that little touch of quality we need.
And lastly, what do you predict for this game?
TTE: It's a game we really need to win and I'm hopeful we can nick it 2-1 or 1-0.