On Tuesday, October 27, Reading fans were in dreamland. We had just won 4-2 away at Ewood Park against a very capable Blackburn Rovers side to go seven points clear at the top of the Championship table.
Three games later, the Royals have retained their position – but have won zero points out of a possible nine, conceded nine goals and have failed to score in the latter two.
Perhaps we should expect results to be unusual in these strange times with empty stadiums – but to go from conceding just one goal in over 630 minutes of Championship football to letting in three goals in three consecutive games is quite concerning.
As fans, we knew we were going to lose at some point, that was inevitable. The start of the season was remarkable. In fact, Veljko Paunovic’s first game on the touchline was our Championship opener away at Derby County – what a baptism of fire that was.
Combine that with the initial fan scepticism about his appointment and having to quarantine in England for two weeks before joining up with the first team squad – and you have to say the gaffer’s short-term impact has been enormous considering the circumstances.
Regardless of the adversity the Serbian has overcome so far though, his toughest test is yet to come. Our defence must be devoid of confidence after recent results and we begin our very busy festive period away at recently-relegated AFC Bournemouth – a side who have lost just one game all season under Jason Tindall and kept things tight at the back.
Maybe this is stating the obvious – but this is not the ideal time for Reading to be playing a side in top form. Just the thought of playing the Cherries is daunting but this is where Paunovic comes in.
Mentally, he needs to get his team in the right frame of mind to avoid another defeat this weekend.
I have always said football is a mental game, however cliché it may seem. But I really do think it applies to this Reading squad, especially at this important point in the campaign. This is a reasonably young squad after all, which makes man management all that more important.
Get this right – and we will be up there come the end of the season. Get this wrong – and the damaging effect sliding down the table could have starts to become a reality. Stabilising the rocky
Royals ship must be at the top of the club’s priorities and if Paunovic can do that, we should all get behind him for the long-term.
This will not be an easy task however, with a packed fixture list coming up in the next couple of months. For a side inevitably suffering from fatigue already after a busy October and November period, playing eight games in December will be a major challenge and we can only hope every squad member has fully recharged their batteries during this much-needed break.
At 2pm on Saturday, let us pray we see a few of our previously-injured players return – because we need everyone to contribute if the Berkshire side are to continue flying high in the second tier.
By Adam Jones