Returning hero Ali is ‘Premier class’

Ali Al Habsi
Ali Al Habsi

Ali Al Habsi will make an emotional return to the DW Stadium this weekend - with Reading boss Jaap Stam admitting he faces a struggle to keep him at the club.

The Oman No.1 was a real fans favourite during his five-year stint with Latics, winning the Player of the Year award in 2010/11, before leaving in the summer of 2015 following relegation to League One.

He makes his first return to the DW this afternoon having enjoyed a sparkling start to the campaign, which has seen him linked with a move back to the Premier League.

And Stam acknowledges it will be hard to hold on to Al Habsi if the fifth-placed Royals don’t remain in the hunt for promotion.

“Every team in the Premier League is looking for a good keeper who can make important saves for the team,” said Stam.

“He’s improved a lot this season in how we expected him to play and made some crucial saves to keep us in games.

“But, I always tell him he needs to make his own decisions.

“He’s doing a great job and we don’t have any complaints in what he’s doing.”

Stam has also settled in nicely to life at the Madejski Stadium, having taken over during the summer.

And he is anticipating a tough game this afternoon against a side he feels are in a false position in the bottom three.

“Of the games they’ve played they’ve had a lot of draws, or they lost by the odd goal,” added the Dutchman.

“They can play nice football, they have some good players, they have good pace and physique. They want to play out from the back.

“They have made it difficulty for several teams, we’ve been watching them for the last couple of games.

“They had a good result at Cardiff, it’s not easy to get a result over there so it’s going to be a tough game.

“Everyone knows that, just like we did against Nottingham Forest.

“They were not in the highest position either in the table but they still gave us a very hard time.

“So we need to be very focused to get a result.”

Stam is also wary about the prospect of facing a Latics side managed for the first time by new boss Warren Joyce.

“I don’t know much about him , but if he comes from United he will want to play nice attractive football, so that should make it an attractive game,” recognised Stam.

“Instead of just dropping in deep against us and waiting for the moment to counter attack, looking at Wigan they have the players to play football because they have wingers who have pace. We need to be aware of them.”