When Reading clinched promotion to the Premier League last season, Ian Harte was immediately pencilled in by many Fantasy managers as a cut-price defensive option for the following campaign. With set-pieces and spot-kicks in his locker, the veteran’s four goals and eight assists from 32 appearances last time out were indicative of his potential for the Royals but Nicky Shorey’s return to the Madejski quickly scuppered the best-laid plans.
Despite starting the opening three Gameweeks of the season, Harte was shifted to the bench in favour of Shorey after back-to-back hammerings at the hands of Chelsea and Tottenham prompted Brian McDermott into a defensive re-think. As the season progressed, Shorey looked nailed-on and, handed a share of free-kicks and corners, afforded us the Reading budget option Harte was supposed to have been.
Come Gameweek 18, though, McDermott’s tinkering brought Harte back into the equation. Having shipped nine goals in their previous two home games, the Reading boss shifted from a 4-4-2 to a 4-4-1-1 and this time it was Shorey’s turn to slip out the picture – a narrow 1-0 loss at City was followed by back-to-back clean sheets at the Madejski as McDermott’s decision to tighten up paid off handsomely.
Back on set-pieces once again, Harte also supplied an assist against Spurs and has averaged four points per game since his return to first-team action – with his appeal also supplemented by a 3.8 Fantasy Premier League (FPL) price tag, the left-back once again enters our thoughts ahead of a run of three crucial home games in the next four.
While the upcoming visit of Chelsea is likely to deter most, McDermott’s side then play host to Sunderland and Wigan in the following three in addition to a trip to Stoke. With three wins in their last four, including a couple of comeback triumphs against West Brom and Newcastle, Reading have suddenly found their form and shown a fighting spirit that has defied the many doubters who had already consigned them to next season’s Championship.
Now just a point from safety, these next few matches will be crucial to their hopes of survival and will be earmarked by McDermott as a definite source of points – the schedule is set to turn nasty around Gameweek 28, with trips to Everton, United and Arsenal highlighting the task at hand. Although Harte was omitted from Saturday’s 4-0 FA Cup win over Sheffield United – with Shorey returning to the side once again – like fellow Royals budget option, Alex Pearce, it’s thought that this was simply a cup rotation tactic in light of two league games within the next week.
Fantasy managers can sit back and watch for the teamsheet against Chelsea: should Harte be re-installed in the starting line-up for Wednesday’s clash, he could be primed to finally vindicate that collective show of faith he initially received last summer and looks a definite cut-price prospect for our backlines over the short-term, at the very least.