THE TILEHURST END: Paunovic’s ‘payback’ month gets off to perfect start

“We’ve got a few games this month which are reverse fixtures, and the manager has called it ‘revenge month’”.

I really loved this quote from Tom McIntyre in an interview last week. More specifically the term ‘revenge month’, which I suppose should be credited to Veljko Paunovic. It perfectly encapsulates what Reading should be trying to achieve over the next few weeks, and should give them an extra bit of motivation in each game they play.

Thanks to a quirk of the fixture calendar, the Royals’ next four matches are all against teams who beat them in the first half of the season – Preston North End, Bournemouth, Stoke City and Brentford.

Coventry City too, who Reading beat 3-0 on Tuesday night, were victorious over Paunovic’s side in the reverse fixture. In fact, the only teams to have won against Reading earlier this season who will not have faced them again by mid-February are Norwich City and Birmingham City.

It means that this could prove to be a crucial period of the campaign. If Reading can beat some of the sides that they lost to earlier in the season, they will give themselves an incredibly strong platform to build on against clubs they have already picked up points against.

If they are beaten again, they are likely to be left playing catch up in the promotion and playoff race.
This is even more pertinent considering that three of Reading’s upcoming opponents – Brentford, Bournemouth and Stoke – are all in the top seven at the time of writing and no more than six points behind them.

It is these games that the Royals must improve in, as they have picked up just 11 points from a possible 27 available in games against the current Championship top 10 and only four from a possible 15 against the current top six.

But by placing the emphasis on payback, Paunovic is ensuring that the team’s mindset is as focused as it can be. It is another example of his strong man management that many players have already been quick to praise. Some coaches might shy away from labels such as ‘revenge month’ and discuss the fixtures just as any other normal run of games.

But the Serbian is giving his players an additional incentive, almost as if it is not only the three points on the line, but the team’s pride and reputation. They will not want to be defeated by the same team twice.

It might only be one game, but it clearly worked against Coventry on Tuesday. Reading were clinical
and assured against the Sky Blues, with an early misplaced pass from Tom Holmes being the only real moment of worry all evening.

There was a clear determination in the team and that resulted in a thoroughly professional performance.

There is no doubt that the likes of Brentford and Bournemouth, and probably even Preston on Sunday, will provide tougher tests, but the Royals have crossed off one payback target, and they will not want to stop there. 

By Olly Allen

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