Reading last reached the Championship play-off final five years ago with Jaap Stam before beating Huddersfield Town 3-4 on penalties. So where does the 2017 Royals squad stand now?
Stam took charge of the Berkshire team in June 2016 after a disappointing 17th place finish that saw three managers lose their jobs. Reading was Stam’s first appearance in management as he became the Royals’ first foreign head coach after working as Ajax Under-21s boss.
The 2016–17 season was Reading’s fourth league spell after being relegated from the 2012–13 Premier League. Only in their first year in the Second Division did the Royals finish above the bottom eight, having finished the 2013/14 season in seventh place.
Huddersfield defeated Reading in the Royals’ final play-off final
Still, Stam found success almost immediately at Reading as they finished the 2016/17 regular term in third place. Newcastle United lifted the Brighton & Hove Albion title that year by a single point, 94 to 93. The Royals finished the game at 85 ahead of Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield, both at 81.
Third place brought back a Championship play-off semi-final with Fulham, which Reading won 2–1 on aggregate. Stam drew 1-1 at Craven Cottage before Yann Kermorgant scored the only goal of the second leg. But the final at Wembley ended goalless after extra time.
The odds were slim in London and Izzy Brown spurned the Terriers’ best shot early on. Michael Hefele then missed City’s second penalty in a penalty shootout. But Christopher Schindler punishes Liam Moore and Jordan Obita for not beating Danny Ward.
The following season Reading returned to the lower tier of the Championship with a 20th place finish. Huddersfield, meanwhile, finished their first Premier League season in 16th place after winning the play-offs, but were relegated to 20th place the following season.
Now Huddersfield are back in the Championship playoff final for the third time, while Reading has only finished higher than 14th once since meeting the Terriers. Where does Stam’s 2017 Reading side stand now, five years after their play-off penalty final heartbreak?
Ali Al-Habsi (GK): Star of last Reading play-off final retired since 2020
Ali Al-Habsi was a star of the last Reading side to reach the Championship play-off final against Huddersfield in 2017. The goaltender played every minute of all 46 regular-season games and every play-off game while keeping a total of 17 clean sheets and conceding 65 goals.
The Omani international joined Reading after leaving Wigan Athletic in 2015 but left the Royals in 2017. Al-Habsi spent two years at Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal before returning to England for a season with West Brom and then retired in August 2020.
Chris Gunter (RB): The captain of the last play-off final at Reading will now leave Charlton
Chris Gunter led Reading to the last Championship play-off final in 2017 during his eight years with the Royals. The right-back joined Reading from Nottingham Forest in 2012 £2.5 million and enjoyed 314 performances. He has never played more often for a single club.
He started 49 of his Royals games in the 2016/17 second division season, including the play-offs. Gunter later joined Charlton Athletic in October 2020 but will leave Addicks this June once his contract at the Valley expires while looking for a new club, per London news online.
Tiago Ilori (CB): The former Royals defender is now on loan from Sporting Lisbon
Stam signed Tiago Ilori from Liverpool FC £3.75m in January 2017 to bolster Reading’s play-off hopes. The Portuguese had failed to establish himself at Anfield after one £7 million joined from Sporting Lisbon in 2013 and only made three games for the Reds until 64 with the Royals.
The centre-back has never played more for a club than at Reading up until January 2019. Sporting ambushed the Royals to re-sign Ilori £2.2millionand have since loaned the former U21 international to Lorient and currently Boavista for the 2021/22 season.
Liam Moore (CB): The penalty taker of the last play-off final at Reading is now on loan to Stoke
Moore took Reading’s fourth penalty in the 2017 Championship play-off final but shot over the bar at Wembley. It let Hefele off the hook for Huddersfield before Ward saved substitute Obita’s try and Schindler swept the Terriers into the Premier League.
Stam paid Leicester City £1.5m for Moore in August 2016 after the Jamaica international turned down a new Foxes contract. The 29-year-old now remains with the Royals but the 2023 free agent spent the second half of the 2021/22 season on loan at Stoke City.
Joey van den Berg (CB): The former Netherlands international retired in 2020
Joey van den Berg has spent his entire career in his native Netherlands, apart from his spell at Reading between 2016 and 2019. The defender joined Berkshire from Heerenveen and has played 68 games – just behind his 114 for Heerenveen and 81 for PEC Zwolle.
His career with the Royals ended in 2019 after a season on loan at NEC Nijmegen, to which he joined permanently. However, Van den Berg left NEC after just four months and later joined Alcides in February 2020, where he remained until September when he gave up his career.
Tyler Blackett (LB): Starter in the final Reading Championship play-off final, now in MLS
Tyler Blackett started in Reading’s last Championship play-off final in 2017 and now pursues his career in Major League Soccer. The Manchester-born full-back joined Cincinnati last year after leaving Nottingham Forest, who he joined from the Royals just 12 months earlier.
Reading employed Blackett’s services for four years after signing the Manchester United product from the Red Devils in 2016. The 28-year-old broke through for 12 senior games at Old Trafford before playing 122 with the Royals. He has played the next most for Cincinnati.
George Evans (CM): Former Reading star now on the outskirts of Millwall
George Evans has played 71 more games for Reading than any club in his career to date. During the 2016-17 season, he completed 37 of his Royals games and played every minute of the playoffs. But Stam didn’t ask the Cheadle-born ace to carry out any of their penalties.
The 2016/17 season was Evans’ first with Reading, having joined from Manchester City Under-21 side. He later joined Derby County in 2018 before joining Millwall in the winter of 2021. But the 27-year-old made just 23 league appearances this season and started 12.
Danny Williams (CM): The star of Reading’s most recent play-off final, joined Huddersfield in 2017
Danny Williams was one of 11 that Stam started against Huddersfield in Reading’s recent Championship play-off final. He came to the Royals from Hoffenheim in 2013 for his first time in England. However, he left Reading to join the Terriers after losing to City at Wembley.
Huddersfield retained the USMNT international with 23 caps at John Smith’s Stadium until 2019 when they released him. Williams joined Pafos FC later in 2019 and stayed with the Cyprus side until July 2020. He then remained without a club before retiring in March 2021 at the age of 32.
John Swift (CAM): The West Brom target could now leave Reading after six seasons
John Swift joined Reading from Chelsea ahead of the 2016/17 season in what would be their last Championship play-off final. The midfielder made just one first-team appearance for the Blues as a last-minute substitute but has made 202 appearances with the Royals to date.
However, his reading career is likely to end this summer as Swift is out of contract this June. The 26-year-old will emerge as one of the top La Liga creators with 11 goals and 13 assists from 36 starts in 38 appearances during the 2021/22 season.
Steve Bruce is keen for West Brom to sign Swift when his contract at Reading ends, per the athlete. Baggies bosses are also optimistic about convincing him to make the move, as they believe The Hawthorns would be the perfect place for the Reading ace to showcase his talents.
Lewis Grabban (ST): Former Reading star, now Nottingham Forest captain
Lewis Grabban helped propel Reading into the last Championship play-off final in 2017 after joining the Royals on loan from Bournemouth in January. He returned to Dean Court in the summer of 2017 before temporarily working at Sunderland and Aston Villa until July 2018.
Nottingham Forest signed Grabban from the Cherries four years ago £6 million and gave him a four-year contract. He now captains the City Ground after 149 games but is out this June and also unsigned suffered a hamstring injury at the end of the season In April.
Yann Kermorgant (ST): The first penalty taker of the 2017 play-off final was eliminated in 2020
Kermorgant took and scored the opening penalty of the 2017 Championship play-off final for Reading v Huddersfield. The forward joined the Royals from Bournemouth in January 2016 and scored 19 goals in 45 games in 2016/17 leading up to the Wembley competition.
He stayed with Reading for a further year before the Royals sacked Kermorgant in July 2018. Vannes later dropped in October to secure the services of the City-born and developed striker at their academy for 18 months before Kermorgant retired in April 2020.
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