Right-back previews our opener against the LilywhitesOur last competitive fixture at Madejski Stadium came over three months ago, when a late goal from Dan Johnson earned a 2-1 victory for visitors Preston… and it so happens that our opening fixture of the 2016/17 campaign is also a home meeting with the Lilywhites.
After an eventful summer off the pitch for Reading, defender Chris Gunter believes that the Royals will be able to offer a much firmer challenge to Simon Grayson’s squad this time around, as Jaap Stam prepares to take charge of his first fixture in the Sky Bet Championship.
“It’s nice to start at home – there is always excitement before the first game,” said Gunter. “It’ll be a tough test though – they are a very good team.
“But speaking to the boys here through pre-season, there have been some really good performances and on Friday against Bournemouth there was certainly some stuff we can take forward. We’ll certainly go out on Saturday looking to get the three points and off to a good start.
“Preston will have ambitions of their own this season and, exactly the same as us, they’ll want to get off to a good start. But I think they’ll come to Madejski Stadium this weekend and they’ll be facing a completely different Reading team this season.
“We were in a bad way and a real rut at the end of last season, and we couldn’t shake ourselves out of it. I’m sure they’re aware that they’ll be facing a very different Reading team this time. Hopefully we can get the three points and kick-start our season.
“It is important that you get that team spirit in pre-season, because there’s six or seven weeks off and it gives everyone a chance to clear their minds and come back in with a fresh start – even more so this summer because we’ve got a new manager and staff.
“So I’m sure the club has benefitted from the slate being wiped clean. Coming back in, you can sense there is a real excitement – there is before most seasons, but certainly with the new manager and staff, you can tell over the last four weeks that there has been a real clear plan put in place. Now it’s up to us as players to go out there and execute the plan. That starts at the weekend against Preston.”
Gunter joined up with the rest of the Reading squad a little later than most – his Euro 2016 tournament this summer with Wales, where the Dragons reached the first semi-final in their history, kept him in action through the summer months.
That semi-final against Portugal was, remarkably, the 67th fixture in 12 months for the Royals right-back – but he is already feeling fighting fit to head straight into the new season with Reading.
“It was quite a busy summer obviously – it went a lot better than what some people expected,” he said, recalling the history-making feat with his country. “Looking back with some time to reflect it was a fantastic experience, and one that I’m sure in years to come I’ll look back on with massive pride.
“We have had a philosophy with Wales over the last few years of never really talking about results or points – we just focus on the performance. We know that if we reach that level of performance that we know we can, then generally we do quite well. That was the aim going into the tournament – whenever we got back on the plane home, we wanted to know that we had fulfilled our potential.
“I’m quite fortunate that I’ve got to a high number of games in a lot of the seasons I’ve played now; I’m able to do it and physically I’m able to repeat the work game-to-game.
“I had a couple of weeks off – Reading were really good to me and gave me a bit of extra time off, and when I came back and did my testing I was where everyone else was if not slightly ahead because I didn’t have long off.
“So it has worked out really well. There is always a buzz and an excitement at the start of a season. I’m feeling really good and I’m ready to go.”