Revisiting the Reading FC Roadmap to Survival

Ben Hoskins

At the start of the season I wrote an article outlining where I thought we'd need points to survive. Back then the campaign was just five games old and despite our 19th position, I maintained we were still on course to stay up. Fast forward 18 games and are we still on track, or heading for a fall?

The roadmap was based upon splitting the Premier League up into mini-groups and then plotting how many points we need from each to survive.

With the season just five games old there was still a bit of guesswork needed to divide the teams but here's how I looked at it back in September.

Champions League:

Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham

Europa:

Everton, Liverpool, Newcastle, (SWANSEA)

Middle:

Sunderland, Fulham, West Brom, Stoke, West Ham

Strugglers:

READING, QPR, Norwich, Swansea, Villa, Southampton, Wigan (NEWCASTLE)

Overall I don't think I did too badly on predicting the bands, with the top five seemingly set and both Everton and Liverpool in the top eight.

Really the only change you might make is swapping Swansea with Newcastle, with the former greatly overachieving and the later very much struggling. Again it's all fine margins and I can see why you might favour West Brom over Swansea or swap Fulham and Norwich in the bottom/middle sections, but I'm going to proceed with the above with the only change swapping the Toon with the Swans.

With that in mind, here's where I thought we needed points to survive.

MINIMUM NEEDED BEST REALISTIC TARGET
CHAMPS 0/30 2/30
EUROPA 3/18 9/18
MIDDLE 15/30 21/30
STRUGGLERS 21/36 30/36
TOTALS 39 62

Given the way that the league is panning out, you might not even need 39 to survive, but with 15 games to go, anything is possible so we'll keep that as the target for the time being.

******

Reaching Our Targets?

So have we reached the targets needed so far? Here's a breakdown of the games we've played against each group and the points picked up in brackets.

Champions League

Chelsea (0), Manchester Utd (0), Manchester City (0), Arsenal (0), Tottenham x2 (0)

Total: 0/18 -

Remaining games: Chelsea (H) Man Utd (A), Man City (A), Arsenal (A)

Needed 0/18

Europa League

Liverpool (0), Everton (3), Swansea x2 (2)

Total: 5/12

Remaining games: Liverpool (H), Everton (A)

Needed 0/6

Middle

Stoke (1), West Brom x2 (3), Fulham (1), Sunderland (0), West Ham (3)

Total: 8/18

Remaining games: Stoke (A), Fulham (A), Sunderland (H), West Ham (A)

Needed 7/12

Strugglers

QPR (1), Norwich (1), Newcastle x2 (4), Southampton (0), Wigan (0), Villa (0)

Total: 6/21

Remaining games: QPR (H), Norwich (A), Southampton (H), Wigan (H), Villa (H)

Needed 15/15

****

Thankfully we're not out of range in any of the groups, though we've left it very tight to pick up the points we needed against our fellow strugglers.

We didn't expect to earn anything against the top five and that's how it's panned out with four 'bonus' games to come.

Beating Everton means we reached our target for the Europa group. Even better, our two draws with League Cup finalists Swansea have meant we've actually surpassed requirement in that category with two games still to go.

Against the midtable teams we're currently just about on track thanks to wins over West Ham and West Brom. However to reach our goal we'll still need at least seven points from four games with only one of those at home (Sunderland).

The disappointing area has to be our performances against the struggling sides, with just six points earned in seven games to date. To keep up with the par score we'll now need to win five out of five, a tough ask considering we've won just four games so far in 23. It also means we'll need to win at Carrow Road, a tough job when just three teams have won there during this campaign.

However, given those 'bonus' points against Swansea we could also afford to drop two points from our target in either of the bottom two groups. With that in mind, a point at Carrow Road and four home wins would still be enough, with our margin for error increasing if we get anything positive from our six games remaining against the top 8.

******

The Competition

Using the same criteria here's how our fellow 'strugglers' have performed.

Targets_medium

The first thing that jumps out from that, is that every club bar Reading have managed to nick something off a top five side and that every club including the Royals have been able to take something off of Everton, Liverpool or Swansea. While the later may be unsurprising given the relative weakness of that Europa class, the former has arguably been the difference between being in trouble and being safe.

If Norwich had Reading's record against the top five they would be level with the Royals, while it's only surprise results over those top five sides that has kept Newcastle and Villa above us as well. Such 'giant killing' feats are what kept Wigan and QPR out of trouble last year and Norwich are so far keeping that trend going, looking at needing just 13 more points to reach what should be comfortable safety.

While that success over the big teams is admirable, Southampton have done something even better by taking 16 points from potential relegation rivals. Not only has this helped them currently avoid the relegation zone, it's also denied the teams around them key points.

So while beating United or Arsenal is a great bonus, it still doesn't have the same impact as beating your rivals. Reading found that out to their peril back in 2008 when despite picking up big wins over Everton and Liverpool, while drawing at Old Trafford, they still went down in large part because they lost all four games to the two teams directly above them.

On that note Reading, QPR and Villa have done themselves no favours whatsoever by surrendering so many points to their relegation rivals. All three have taken six points or less and both have to win each of their remaining 'six-pointers' to hit the roadmap target.

Speaking of QPR, while it's pointing out the obvious, they've got a lot to do to try and hit 39 points, with 24 needed and just 27 available against the rest of the bottom 11. While 34/35 might well be enough for survival, they'd still need almost maximum points against those two groups plus at least two or three results against the top eight.

If we assume that the results will play as expected (i.e teams struggling to get anything from the big guns) then as the table suggests, it's QPR, Villa, Wigan and Reading that are currently in the greatest peril.

Conclusions

It's a big, big IF but IF Reading win those games against their fellow strugglers and simply continue their current form against the rest of the midtable sides, they should survive. Thanks to that win over Everton, 7 from 12 against Stoke, Fulham, Sunderland and West Ham plus 13 from QPR, Norwich, Southampton, Wigan and Villa would give us 39 points and almost certainly survival. Given the struggles of the rest, even 3 points less would probably be enough and when it's put in terms like that, it seems a very doable task.

Sadly doable hasn't exactly panned out that way so far and if Reading repeat their present struggles against the other bottom six, they'll end up relegated.

So far we've not followed the roadmap but we're not as far behind as it won't take sensational results to keep us in the Premier League for at least another 12 months.

So how do you see it going? Are we still on track or have we drifted too far to return? Let us know your thoughts below.

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