The story of Shaun Cummings is one of huge change and transition. He started at Chelsea as a 12-year-old, and played frequently for their second string side. After loan spells at MK Dons and West Brom, it was decided that he was not going to break into the first team at Chelsea, and so he signed for Reading. After that, as Royals fans will remember, he struggled to establish himself in the first team after a series of unimpressive performances, most notably being given a torrid time at the Hawthorns against his former club of four games, West Bromwich Albion, Jerome Thomas acting as his nemesis on that day. The arrival of Andy Griffin certainly didn’t help matters, and Shaun soon found himself unable to get a game.
But what some Reading fans do not appreciate is the amount of hard work that he put in over his year out in the cold. He trained well with the team, worked hard on his game, and regularly captained the reserve team, showing that he can handle pressure and responsibility remarkably well. Now, having played a few games this season, and having turned in a man of the match performance against West Brom, keeping his old enemy Jerome Thomas under lock and key for the entirety of the game, Shaun Cummings is again knocking on the door and putting a lot of pressure on Andy Griffin for his place in the team.
Personally, I have been distinctly unimpressed on numerous occasions with Reading’s full backs. Ian Harte is something of a genius from dead ball situations, it has to be said – but is that enough to justify his place in the team? He looks fairly solid some of the time, but if ever he comes up against pace, he doesn’t have an answer. Nathan Dyer for Swansea ran rings around Harte in both Reading-Swansea games, and it’s simply because he doesn’t have the pace to cope with that kind of attack. And considering the number of quick wingers in this division, it is a fairly serious problem to have. Add to that his dodgy heading ability (never unnecessary at full back) and you’re coming close to having a real problem position. Notwithstanding a couple of games at left back from Shaun Cummings, and the slightly disappointing comeback of Chris Armstrong, who just isn’t the player he was at all, Reading don’t really have a replacement. Marcus Williams, for whom I had hope at the start of the season, has vanished without a trace, so let us all hope he’s trying to turn himself into a left-footed Shaun Cummings.
Meanwhile at right back, Griffin suffers from similar problems. Obviously they are not as marked, otherwise he would have been dropped already, not having Harte’s array of free kicks and corners to justify his place. But still, he’s not fast, and that lack of pace, though it has only really been exposed by Swansea winger Scott Sinclair, could get him into trouble in the future. His defensive abilities are not in doubt at all, and his calm assurance at the back has got Reading out of trouble a number of times, but there is something missing. Certainly he’s a player in the style of Reading legend Graeme Murty, but is that the sort of player we want at the Madejski nowadays? I personally hanker after attacking full backs like Nicky Shorey, Liam Rosenior and Ryan Bertrand. Shaun Cummings, as he showed in the FA Cup, has all the defensive prowess of Andy Griffin, but he also has the pace and the willingness to get forward without leaving himself open at the back. And when Kebé’s got two men marking him, that can be very useful.
Overall, without wanting to criticise Brian McDermott, who has done an excellent job, I think he needs to be a bit more ambitious and think of the future a bit more. The best way to do that? Pick Shaun Cummings.