Reading captain Jobi McAnuff keen to keep Premier League dream alive

The Royals are among the favourites to be relegated

Reading skipper Jobi McAnuff has warned he is not prepared to let his Barclays Premier League dream go willingly.

McAnuff has had to wait until this season, and after his 30th birthday, to finally taste life in the top-flight of English football.

In the preceding years McAnuff, who began his career at Wimbledon, has endured more than his fair share of near misses.

The midfielder suffered a hat-trick of play-off exits with Crystal Palace, Watford and Reading - before last season leading his side to the npower Championship title and, most importantly, the Premier League.

"I've really enjoyed it, it's a challenge," McAnuff said ahead of tomorrow's crucial clash with relegation rivals Aston Villa at the Madejski Stadium.

"Like with anything in life if things come too easy then do you really appreciate it as much?

"Of course it is a difficult season but it's the best league in the world.

"From our point of view we've been written off before the season even started by pretty much everybody outside Reading Football Club.

"That drives me on."

McAnuff is aware enough to realise the reason his side have been widely tipped for an immediate return to the second tier.

The unfancied Berkshire club lasted just two seasons on their previous visit to the Premier League and, five years on, have relied on a cast of little-known names.

In addition to McAnuff the likes of top-scorer Adam Le Fondre, Alex Pearce, Hal Robson-Kanu and Sean Morrison have had to serve an apprenticeship in the lower leagues.

The rare top-flight experience Reading did take into the season came in the form of veteran campaigners such as Ian Harte and Jason Roberts.

"It's easy to criticise from the outside," McAnuff said.

"We accept that happens and there are reasons we have been written off - because we haven't gone out and spent £30-40 million on getting new players in.

"A lot of players haven't played in the Premier League before.

"I can't speak for any other club but from our point of view that definitely motivates us.

"It's taken a long time to get here. Most of the squad will be the same in that respect. It was a challenge to get here, it's a bigger challenge to stay here."

Le Fondre has perhaps been the biggest revelation of the campaign with the former Rochdale and Rotherham frontman scoring 10 league goals, mainly as a substitute.

He is set to get his chance to lead the line tomorrow, with Pavel Pogrebnyak suspended, as he tries to score for the first time since his late double to steal a point from European champions Chelsea a month ago.

"He's scoring for fun I can't really take the mickey out of him," McAnuff said.

"He's doing his job whether it's coming off the bench - he's putting the ball in the back of the net.

"Fair play to him, he's really stepped up this year.

"If you look through the team it is a similar case. It is important not to lose perspective of where we have come from."

Where they will be next season is foremost in McAnuff's mind for now and, despite being parked in the bottom three for the majority of the season, they could go clear of danger with victory over Villa tomorrow.

Reading were faced with a similar scenario a fortnight ago, only to suffer a 3-0 reverse at Wigan and left the Madejski Stadium to jeers from the home fans.

This time around McAnuff is keen to play down the fans' expectations - which have only been heightened by a fixture list that shows away trips to Manchester United and Arsenal next up.

"The extra significance that people are putting on that outside the game - it's understandable given we're playing Villa and they're right next to us in the standings," he said.

"At the end of the day all we can do is go out there and try and win the game. There is only three points on offer.

"We know we need to perform and get a result. We feel capable of doing that."

PA

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