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The Stale Factor - Reading FC 2012-15

Last night's defeat made it three home defeats in just six games for new Reading boss Steve Clarke. The FA Cup has provided some genuine excitement in the Clarke era but our home performances continue to provide evidence that it's all gone a bit stale at the Madejski Stadium.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Let's be honest, watching Reading at the Madejski Stadium has more often been a chore than a pleasure dating right back to that magnificent promotion under Brian McDermott.

Here's our home league record since that night against Nottingham Forest:

PLAYED WON DRAWN LOST
59 19 22 18

Stats can be spun whichever way you like, but the cold hard facts show that we've seen nearly as many defeats as we have home wins in nearly three years. Sure, seven of those defeats came in the Premier League, but even without that season taken into account we've still won 15 and lost 11.

So if you've paid £1,200 for season tickets in those past three(ish) seasons, you've so far been treated to a win for every £63 of your hard earned cash. I'm not about to start an argument that you should expect a win when you buy a ticket, but from an entertainment standpoint you're going to find those sorts of numbers harder to sell than this season's Championship highlights DVD...

Personally I can't remember a time when I've been less inspired to turn up to the Madejski Stadium to watch a Reading side

There have been the odd moments of inspiration and some would argue that the comebacks against West Brom and Chelsea, the thumpings of Bolton and Blackpool plus the odd sublime performance against a Watford or Fulham makes it all worthwhile. Likewise as Will argued earlier this week, perhaps we've just become a bit spoiled due to an unprecedented run of drama that's seen us have something to fight for almost every year this millennium.

Take those fleeting moments away though, and personally I can't remember a time when I've been less inspired to turn up to the Madejski Stadium to watch a Reading side. In our previous eight home games we've scored in just two, firing blanks against Leeds, Wigan, Bolton and Charlton.

Reading have had bad home runs before but few have ever seen such little fight or so few reasons to get excited. The nearest sequence I can remember was during early 2009 when Steve Coppell's side somehow managed to come fourth in a three horse race for automatic promotion. That season featured a group that had finally run out of steam after a journey that for some had begun nearly a decade before - once again, you're left with a feeling that this is a group that is running on fumes after one of the most turbulent periods in the past 30 years.

Let's be bluntly honest here, there are some members of this squad who would have long since moved on were it not for the financial catastrophe that Anton Zingarevich brought upon the club. Even had the Russian not spent money he didn't have, Sir John Madejski has long since run out of the financial means to bankroll a club instantly into the top half of the Championship. The new Thai ownership looks as if it may have the clout to build a competitive side but Financial Fair Play has either stopped them, or it's allowed a lack of spending power to go unnoticed... we'll find that one out after June.

Without a sugar daddy, Brendan Rodgers, Brian McDermott and Nigel Adkins were all given the job of trying to make the club self-sufficient. While McDermott had the emergence of, and subsequent funds from, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Shane Long and Matt Mills to build strong sides, Nigel Adkins came in to find the saleable asset cupboard largely bare and an academy set up that while promising, was still years from really bearing fruit.

Glamour signings like Pavel Pogrebnyak and Royston Drenthe created a buzz, but there's a reason those players ended up at the Madejski Stadium, and within months both had proved themselves costly vanity signings. Individually none of the Zingarevich signings could be labelled a complete disaster but combine them together and you've got a recipe for failure.

All of the above has simply created an atmosphere where the players that remain at the club have been far too comfortable.

When Michael Hector and Alex Pearce were under-performing: what other choices did we have? An ageing Kaspars Gorkss? A crocked Anton Ferdinand? Or Jake Cooper who hadn't played in a professional game before being handed a debut this season.

Likewise the club have had to operate with one fit left-footed full-back for the best part of two seasons. Jordan Obita's development has been promising, yet his selection is almost automatic even when he's struggling.

The wing department has relied almost single-handedly on Garath McCleary for the better part of two seasons, with the only alternatives hardworking yet fading forces in Jobi McAnuff and Jamie Mackie, the unpredictable Drenthe or the ever-promising yet normally non-delivering pair of Nick Blackman and Hal Robson-Kanu, neither of whom even see themselves as true wingers.

That duo both want to play up front, yet neither have proved or established themselves despite facing perhaps the lowest quality of competition since Jimmy Quinn and Stuart Lovell kept Uwe Hartenburger on the sidelines 20 years ago, or perhaps when Martin Williams had to fight the forces of Paul Brayson, Robert Fleck and Keith Scott for a spot up top. In this era Pogrebnyak has been a frustrated figure, Glenn Murray looked like he couldn't wait to get back to Palace, Simon Cox has been seen more in his own box than the opposition's and even Adam Le Fondre tended to fizzle out if the month wasn't January....

Yet throughout this era we've been littered with players who've had 'potential'.

The thing about potential is that it usually shows itself the most when the pressure is off. In any walk of life when there's limited expectation you tend to have a better chance of delivering your best. You can argue that £30k a week footballers should be different but according to recent studies, players for the most part do remain human beings and are still subject to emotional pressures.

The environment is simply one of getting by rather than a desperate scramble for success that characterised previous Reading teams

Reading are expected to deliver in home games but whether it's for mental reasons, quality issues or more likely a combination of the two, they simply fail more often than not. Many players have long since lost their reasons to worry about their places and with that worry gone, so is the pressure to adapt and change your game. There's little need to put in that extra 10% in long hours on the training ground or innovate under pressure when your normal game still gets you picked regardless of performance. Sure, Blackman might replace Robson-Kanu for a bit, Kelly could come in for a Gunter but five games later it's usually swapped back again. The environment is simply one of getting by rather than a desperate scramble for success that characterised previous Reading teams.

There will always be those afternoons where the team finds itself pumped up, whether it be due to the opposition, one player firing, a ferocious crowd (hey it does happen!) or perhaps the game getting a bit tasty in the middle. When those factors aren't there though, Reading have lacked the conviction to make things happen. Look at how many times our stats desk have reported the same old problems: aimless crossing, sloppy passing, and appalling positional play - all hallmarks of a team that lacks the skill and conviction to improve and succeed at the very highest level.

Yet despite a home record you wouldn't wish on Swindon (I'd wish far worse obviously...) Reading have actually been fairly entertaining on the road. Last year's run-in was littered with away-day glory while Steve Clarke has masterminded a magnificent cup run and pulled off some fine league road trips as well. Once again, it's all a bit of a tease because how can you possibly explain wins at Wolves and Derby, whilst suffering home defeats to Leeds and Wigan?!

This isn't an article that's designed to simply bash the players. Likewise, I can't sit here and bash the management of the football club. Both players and staff have been through a very difficult period and what we're seeing is simply the consequences of years of underinvestment, costly short-term gambles and players that haven't quite lived up to their sometimes inflated potential. They seem an honest, hard working bunch and many of them will go on to have good careers here and elsewhere but together the mix isn't right.

The good news is that change is around the corner. Steve Clarke has already begun to chop and change his squad and with several contracts up in the summer and FFP restrictions easing, we should finally see a summer of building rather than patching up the holes. For years we've looked a ship that's been using pumps to keep us afloat, but as long as we keep ourselves in the Championship come May, this should be the dawn of a new era.

So don't lose faith dear fans, it may be glum, it may be uninspiring, but for all of the faults there's an FA Cup quarter-final to look forward to. Plus remember that as painful as it is now, this period of staleness make the next period of inspiring performances that bit fresher.