Joao: We will fight to keep Reading up

Lucas Joao takes a moment before reflecting on what has been a tricky campaign for himself and Reading.

Last season, he scored 19 goals as the club narrowly missed out on the play-offs. This time around they have suffered a points deduction and are hovering just above the relegation zone.

Had he not missed the bulk of the first half of the campaign with a hip injury, things may have looked very different for the club than they do right now.

“It was so frustrating for me, because I felt my hands were tied,” he tells Sky Sports.

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“The team were doing well up to a point, winning games and around the top six. Then suddenly a bad period came and then there was the points deduction and injuries.

“I feel like if I had been fit we would have been a bit higher up the table at least. With the qualities I have I could have helped the team.”

Since he returned in mid-January, Joao has underlined his importance to the side.

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He scored on his first start back, although that came in defeat to Huddersfield, while five goals and an assist in six games in February earned him the Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month award.

“In my mind I was mentally and physically ready to have a better season than last season,” Joao says. “But it’s football and injuries come.

“But now I’m fit and we are fighting. Football without pressure is not the same, you have to be able to deal with it, and we are working hard to keep this team in the league.

“I feel thankful to the people who worked with me to get me back to fitness. After such a long period out to come back and be able to do what I’ve done is a huge credit to the medical department.

“Without them I wouldn’t have gotten back to doing what I’ve been doing. We’re into a big period of the season now and I’m able to try and help.”

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Highlights of the Sky Bet Championship match between Nottingham Forest and Reading.

It was a strange 2020/21 season for Reading. They spent all but one of the first 40 gameweeks in the top six, but one win in their final 11 saw them eventually drop out of the play-offs.

Off-field issues, a six-point deduction and injuries to key players led to a dismal decline this season, with manager Veljko Paunovic eventually losing his job last month.

“It was a strange season last year but ultimately it was a good season,” Joao says. “As a coach, a person and a friend to see [Paunovic] lose his job the way he did was sad.”

Paul Ince was a surprise interim appointment – with it being his first managerial role in eight years – but his opening win has since been followed by three defeats and nine goals conceded.

Despite the difficult results, Joao has enjoyed working with the former Manchester United, Liverpool and England midfielder.

“It’s been a good experience because he’s an interesting coach,” Joao says. “It’s all about hard work and he’s very demanding. But he’s also a very funny person and it’s good to have someone like him around the training ground every day.”

There are just four points between Reading and the relegation zone heading into Tuesday night’s trip to promotion-chasing Bournemouth.

Joao is desperate to score the goals to keep them in the league, hopefully allowing them to rebuild from there in the second tier.

“Reading gave me the chance to play regular football and I want to repay them for that,” he says.

“We couldn’t give the fans the season of celebration they deserved on the 150th anniversary of the club. They’ve not had the chance to enjoy that properly.

“But I’m confident with me in the team we can stay up. I believe good things will come.”

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