Sometimes in football, especially early on in a season, things might not be quite as bad as they appear. Similarly, things could seem a bit rosier than they actually are, which brings me neatly to the fixture between Reading and Everton at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday.
On the face of it, the narrative that has followed both teams this season has already been set, with Reading struggling after winning last season’s Championship title and Everton flying after their best start to a season since 2004.
And it is difficult to argue with that assertion considering that the Royals are yet to win in ten Premier League matches, while the Toffees are currently in the final Champions League position ahead of usual suspects Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.
But being the contrary so and so that I am, I’m about to do just that and suggest that maybe, just maybe, things aren’t quite as grim for Reading as they look right now and that Everton might be in (whisper it) a bit of a false position and as such, the 13/5 that bwin are offering on the draw looks like a good bet when the two sides meet this weekend.
If we take Reading first, no win in ten is pretty bad – you’ll get no disagreement from me on that score – and the longer the situation goes on, the harder it will become to rectify. For the first time this season, manager Brian McDermott was visibly irked when interviewers mentioned after the 0-0 draw against Norwich City that it was ten games without a victory, saying he only wanted to concentrate on the game, but he knows it is a situation that cannot go on much longer.
Having said that, only four of those ten have been defeats, which hints that Reading are doing some things right, even if three points remain elusive. And of those four defeats, three have been in fixtures that you might well expect Reading to lose no matter what the situation – at home to Tottenham, away to Chelsea and Liverpool – while the fourth, a 1-0 loss away at West Bromwich Albion, is hardly a disaster, seeing as every team to visit the Hawthorns so far this season has struggled to some degree.
And it is not as if the Royals haven’t been in with a shout of winning: McDermott’s side have led against Chelsea, Newcastle United, Swansea City, Fulham and Queens Park Rangers, as well as against Arsenal in that incredible League Cup match, and I do envisage them picking up points in the future, unlike a couple of the other sides who are near the bottom of the table.
Yet odds of 31/10 for a team without a win against a side who have proved themselves hard to beat don’t appeal too much, but equally, I don’t like the 83/100 about Everton either. I tend to try to stay away from odds-on away shouts as a rule and I’ve got no reason to change my mind here.
Everton have had a good start, but I don’t think it is as impressive as people make out when you assess carefully what has happened for the Goodison Park club.
Two wins from their first two matches was a blistering opening, especially when the first one was a victory over Manchester United, and broke with the Blues’ tradition of taking until Christmas to get going. But Everton have actually only won three of their last ten matches (including a Capital One Cup defeat to Leeds United at Elland Road) and I don’t think there have could have been too many complaints about those matches that were not won.
Only one of their 11 league games have been lost (to West Brom at the Hawthorns) and Everton were definitely unlucky not to beat Newcastle United at Goodison Park. But after beating Manchester United on the opening day, is a record of four wins from matches at home to Newcastle, Southampton, Liverpool and Sunderland and away to Aston Villa, West Brom, Swansea, Wigan, QPR and Fulham all that formidable?
I don’t think so, as there are not too many difficult games in that list and like I said, there haven’t been too many hard-luck stories. Everton deserved no more than a point away at Wigan and QPR, nor in the Merseyside derby for that matter, and even by David Moyes’ admission, the Toffees were a bit fortunate to beat Sunderland last weekend.
I am not convinced that Everton are genuine contenders for the top four – West Brom are on the same points but with much less fanfare – and I think 83/100 is a poor price for a team who have failed to win more often than they have won this term.
So with 11 draws in the 21 matches played by Reading and Everton this season, the 13/5 on another sharing of the spoils is where my money is going.