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Reading last reached the Championship play-off final five years ago with Jaap Stam before a 4-3 defeat on penalties to Huddersfield Town, so where are the Royals’ 2017 side now?

Stam took charge of the Berkshire outfit in June 2016 following a disappointing 17th-place result that saw three managers lose their jobs. Reading was Stam’s first gig in management as he became the Royals’ first overseas head coach after working as Ajax’s U21s boss.

The 2016/17 season was Reading’s fourth term back in the Championship after relegation from the Premier League in 2012/13. Only in their first year back in the second-tier had the Royals finished above the bottom eight positions, after ending the 2013/14 term seventh.

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Huddersfield beat Reading in Royals’ last Championship play-off final

Yet Stam had almost instant success at Reading as they ended the 2016/17 regular term in third. Newcastle United took the title that year from Brighton & Hove Albion by a point on 94 to 93. The Royals finished on 85 to Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield, both on 81.

Third-place returned a Championship play-off semi-final with Fulham that Reading won 2-1 on aggregate. Stam oversaw a 1-1 draw at Craven Cottage before Yann Kermorgant scored the only goal of the second-leg. Yet the final at Wembley ended goalless after extra-time.

Chances were thin and far between in London, with Izzy Brown spurning the Terriers’ best shot early on. Michael Hefele then missed the Town’s second penalty of the shoot-out. Yet Christopher Schindler punished Liam Moore and Jordan Obita for not beating Danny Ward.

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The following season saw Reading return to the lower reaches of the Championship with a 20th-place result. Huddersfield, meanwhile, finished their first-ever Premier League season in 16th fresh off winning the play-offs, but suffered relegation in 20th-spot the next term.

Now, Huddersfield are back in the Championship play-off final at the third attempt, while Reading have only finished higher than 14th once since the clash with the Terriers. So, five years on from play-off final penalty heartbreak, where are Stam’s 2017 Reading side now?

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Ali Al-Habsi (GK): Star of last Reading play-off final now retired since 2020

Ali Al-Habsi was a star of the last Reading side to reach the Championship play-off final in 2017 against Huddersfield. The goalkeeper played in every minute of all 46 regular season games and each play-off tie, while keeping a total of 17 clean sheets to 65 goals conceded.

The Oman international had joined Reading following his departure from Wigan Athletic in 2015, but left the Royals in 2017. Al-Habsi joined Saudi Arabian outfit Al-Hilal for two years before returning to England with West Brom for a season and then retiring in August 2020.

Chris Gunter (RB): Captain of last Reading play-off final now set to leave Charlton

Chris Gunter captained Reading to their last Championship play-off final in 2017 during his eight years with the Royals. The right-back joined Reading from Nottingham Forest in 2012 for £2.5m and enjoyed 314 appearances. He never featured more often with a single club.

Of his Royals outings, he started 49 in the 2016/17 second-tier season, including the play-offs. Gunter later left for Charlton Athletic in October 2020, but will now leave the Addicks this June once his Valley contract expires in search of a new club, per London News Online.

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Tiago Ilori (CB): Former Royals defender now on loan from Sporting Lisbon

Stam signed Tiago Ilori from Liverpool for £3.75m in January 2017 to strengthen Reading’s play-off hopes. The Portuguese had failed to establish himself at Anfield after a £7m move from Sporting Lisbon in 2013, making just three outings for the Reds to 64 with the Royals.

Never has the centre-half featured more for a club than he did with Reading up to January 2019. Sporting raided the Royals to re-sign Ilori for £2.2m, and have since sent the former U21 international out on loan to Lorient and presently Boavista for the 2021/22 campaign.

Liam Moore (CB): Penalty taker of last Reading play-off final now on loan at Stoke

Moore took Reading’s fourth penalty of the 2017 Championship play-off final, but blazed his shot over the bar at Wembley. It let Hefele off the hook for Huddersfield, before Ward saved substitute Obita’s attempt and Schindler swept the Terriers into the Premier League.

Stam paid Leicester City £1.5m for Moore in August 2016 after the Jamaica international had rejected a new Foxes contract. The 29-year-old remains contracted to the Royals now, but the 2023 free agent spent the latter half of the 2021/22 season on loan at Stoke City.

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Joey van den Berg (CB): Former Netherlands international retired in 2020

Joey van den Berg spent all of his career in his native Netherlands expect for his spell with Reading between 2016 and 2019. The defender moved to Berkshire from Heerenveen and enjoyed 68 appearances – only trailing his 114 for Heerenveen and 81 with PEC Zwolle.

His Royals career concluded in 2019 after a season on loan with NEC Nijmegen, whom he joined permanently. Yet Van den Berg left NEC after just four months and later joined Alcides in February 2020, where he remained until hanging up his boots that September.

Tyler Blackett (LB): Starter in last Reading Championship play-off final now in MLS

Tyler Blackett started Reading’s last Championship play-off final in 2017 and is now plying his trade in Major League Soccer. The Manchester-born full-back joined Cincinnati last year after leaving Nottingham Forest, whom he joined from the Royals only 12 months before.

Reading employed Blackett’s services for four years after signing the Manchester United product from the Red Devils in 2016. The 28-year-old broke through at Old Trafford for 12 senior games, before playing 122 at the Royals. He has played the next most for Cincinnati.

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George Evans (CM): Former Reading star now on Millwall’s fringes

George Evans played more games for Reading with 71 than any other club in his career to date. He made 37 of his Royals outings during the 2016/17 term and played every minute of the play-offs. But Stam did not ask the Cheadle-born ace to take one of their penalties.

The 2016/17 season was Evans’ first with Reading after joining from Manchester City’s U21 side. He later switched for Derby County in 2018 before joining Millwall in the winter 2021 market. But the 27-year-old only made 23 Championship outings this term and started 12.

Danny Williams (CM): Star of last Reading play-off final joined Huddersfield in 2017

Danny Williams was one of the 11 that Stam started against Huddersfield in Reading’s last Championship play-off final. He had joined the Royals in 2013 from Hoffenheim for his first spell in England. Yet left Reading to join the Terriers after losing at Wembley to the Town.

Huddersfield kept the 23-cap USMNT international at the John Smith’s Stadium until 2019 when they released him. Williams joined Pafos FC later in 2019 and stayed with the Cypriot side until July 2020. He then remained without a club before retiring in March 2021 at 32.

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John Swift (CAM): West Brom target could now leave Reading after six seasons

John Swift joined Reading from Chelsea ahead of the 2016/17 season, which would return their last Championship play-off final appearance. The midfielder only made one first-team outing for the Blues as a last-minute substitute, but has enjoyed 202 with the Royals so far.

Yet his Reading career will likely end this summer as Swift is out of contract this June. The 26-year-old will enter the market unattached as one of the second-tier’s best creators with 11 goals and 13 assists from 36 starts over 38 appearances during the 2021/22 campaign.

Steve Bruce is very interested in West Brom signing Swift when his Reading contract ends, per The Athletic. Baggies bosses are also optimistic of persuading him of the move as they feel The Hawthorns would be the perfect place for the Reading ace to show off his talents.

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Lewis Grabban (ST): Former Reading star now Nottingham Forest captain

Lewis Grabban helped fire Reading into their last Championship play-off final in 2017 after joining the Royals on loan from Bournemouth in January. He returned to Dean Court in the summer of 2017 before temporary spells with Sunderland and Aston Villa up to July 2018.

Nottingham Forest signed Grabban from the Cherries four years ago for £6m and gave him a four-year contract. He now possesses the captaincy at the City Ground after 149 outings, but is also out of contract this June and suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in April.

Yann Kermorgant (ST): Opening penalty taker of 2017 play-off final retired in 2020

Kermorgant took and scored the opening penalty of the 2017 Championship play-off final for Reading against Huddersfield. The forward had joined the Royals from Bournemouth in January 2016, and scored 19 times over 45 games in 2016/17 up to the Wembley contest.

He remained with Reading for a further year before the Royals released Kermorgant in July 2018. Vannes later swooped in October to secure the services of the striker born in the city and developed in their academy for 18 months, before Kermorgant retired in April 2020.

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