How have Reading found the season to date?
Pretty depressing to be honest. Although were we prepared for a slow start to the season, we didn’t imagine it would be this bad. A completely winless run before the international break made fans particularly anxious that Reading would be bound for League One come the end of the season but, after our first league victory on Saturday at Deepdale, we’re that little bit more optimistic.
Why has it been such a challenge?
Reading haven’t been that bad for the most part, it’s more that we’ve come out on the wrong end of tight matches. The opening games, a 2-1 home defeat to Frank Lampard’s Derby County™ and a 1-0 loss at Nottingham Forest, were particularly annoying given that we’d gone toe-to-toe with quality teams. After that, morale has been pretty low and we’ve not done ourselves justice both in terms of overall displays and individual ones.
Given the lack of outright quality in our squad, not helped by a relatively low-key summer transfer window, it’s perhaps unsurprising that we didn’t make a quick start to this season. Nonetheless, we need to start registering wins quickly.
Did the club make the right decision in sacking Jaap Stam?
I’m very much in the minority when I say no. Although it was plain to see last season (particularly the second half) that results and performances were dire, we had to ask ourselves two questions: how did we get into this mess, and how do we get out of it in the long term?
For the first, although Jaap Stam was at fault for our decline, there were other factors present – recruitment and injuries to name just two. They weren’t necessarily his fault, and sacking him wasn’t going to change those things for the better. As for the second, Reading have been in an ongoing cycle since 2013 of going through managers too quickly, thereby destabilising the club and ensuring we didn’t build anything in the long-term. I for one wanted us to buck that trend by backing Stam and giving him a chance to solve last season’s problems rather than going back to square one.
Paul Clement seems to have divided your support base, how do you feel about him?
Clement hasn’t been the most inspiring manager Reading have had in recent years but, to be fair to him, he’s had to deal with problems that aren’t his fault. Morale was on the floor when he came in – both in the team and in the stands – and after keeping us up by the skin of our teeth he’s not had much money to play with in the summer.
Although most fans are OK with giving him time – a sacking would certainly be very harsh – there’s a sense that he wasn’t the best appointment in the first place. Despite winning credit for his straight-talking approach in interviews, he’s not the kind of manager to inject a club with optimism that the future will be better – after Nigel Adkins’ time at the club, we’re used to that kind of gaffer.
Plus, he’s too cautious in promoting youth. Reading have some top young talent on their books at the moment such as goalie Lewis Ward, midfielder Andy Rinomhota and strikers Danny Loader and Andrija Novakovich, but they’ve generally been kept with the under-23s or sent out on loan. That’s in stark contrast to Jaap Stam’s Ajax-influenced approach to youth which resulted in him handing out nine academy debuts in his almost two seasons at the club.
What are the aspirations for the season now you’ve got your first win?
In the short-term, start winning games and push up the table – a middling finish come May will please anyone. If we have genuinely turned a corner after that first win and points start coming, I’ll rest more easily, but I’ve been bitten by a false dawn too many times before.
The atmosphere at the Mad Stad, I’ve seen snippets on social media about flags and a singing section, is it enhancing match days?
At the moment no, but that’s not their fault. In short, we’ve all known for years that the atmosphere at the Mad Stad is dire, so last season a group of fans (Club 1871) took the initiative to set up a singing section in the South Stand. To their credit, the club backed them this season by giving them half that stand, which would otherwise go to away fans – that’s meant a big loss in revenue when teams with big away followings come to town.
It’s helped the atmosphere a bit but, given how poor the football has been, it’ll take a while before it properly kicks off. Nonetheless, if Huddersfield Town and Crystal Palace can start a singing section, so can we.
Side note, best of luck with the singing section in the Barclay End at Carrow Road which I see went down well for your game against Stevenage.
What do you make of Norwich at present?
I’m surprised you’ve started as slowly as you have, especially given the quality you’ve got in your side with players like Leitner and Rhodes, but I’m sure you’ll push on up the table across this season. I’m glad you’ve stuck with Daniel Farke as he’ll need time to improve the team and get you firing on all cylinders.
Is there anyone from Norwich you fear?
Moritz Leitner’s ability to dictate the tempo from his quarter-back role alongside the more physical Alex Tettey – we tend to struggle against clever midfielders like him and did so when Barry Bannan ran the show at the Mad Stad a few weeks ago. Otherwise, Jordan Rhodes is bound to be a goal-threat so we’ll have to limit chances for him.
What will Norwich have to do to beat you?
Get the first goal, frustrate the team and the home crowd, and extend your lead in the second half when you can hit us on the break. We’ve also got a poor record of conceding just after half-time, so try to come out fired-up in the second half.
Simeon’s predicted line-up and score prediction…
Mannone; Gunter, Ilori, Moore, Yiadom; Sims, Kelly, Bacuna, Barrow; Swift, Baldock.
Reading 2-2 Norwich City (Swift, Barrow; Pukki x2)
A huge thank you to Simeon Pickup, you can follow him and the Tilehurst End on Twitter here: @SimFromBucks and @TheTilehurstEnd
Good luck to Simeon in his quest of featuring on all the Norwich City fan sites!