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Beyond The 17th Game - Reading Progress Expected?

Things can only get better...or so they say. Reading have started slowly in previous seasons but then mounted late-season charges to finish in the mix by the end of the campaign. Will the same happen this time round?

Ben Hoskins

One thought about the Reading sides of recent years is that we are slow starters - a theory largely brought about by Brian McDermott's Championship seasons, in which we were far from spectacular early doors but then made late-season charges up the table. Will the same happen for Nigel Adkins? Or is his side one which won't necessarily pick up later on?

(This article picks up from Will's excellent analysis of our previous "first 17 games" in the Championship - check it out here.)

Picking Up

Let's take a look at Brian's two full Championship seasons first. Things did pick up at the end of his first season after a relatively slow beginning, and the team had shown that it was going places - evidenced by us getting to the Play-Off Final that year (say no more). We were again slow starters in the second season, yes, but Brian had the previous season's success to build off and, admittedly, the grace of being "one of our own".

Brian beyond the 17th game of each season:

2010-11: W14 D11 L4 (53 points, 1.83ppg)

2011-12: W22 D2 L5 (68 points, 2.34ppg)

He had shown in his first season that his team picked up after the slow start, and indeed it did begin to get better in both of his Championship campaigns (gloriously so by the end of the second). Brian had also demonstrated that he could get results from the side, consistently, when it mattered, putting together eight consecutive wins near the end of the 2010/11 season which catapulted the Royals into contention.

Even when McDermott took over after the sacking of Brendan Rodgers in the 2009/10 campaign, he oversaw a charge which took Reading to the brink of the playoffs. Rodgers lasted 21 games and secured 21 points - in McDermott's care, the team picked up 42 points in the remaining 25 matches (1.68ppg), at one point winning 8 out of 9 matches. Admittedly it wasn't a slow start caused by him (though we didn't win in his first five League matches), but he still consistently demonstrated an ability to get results out of a team from roughly the turn of the year onwards.


On The Slide

Adkins, in comparison, started relatively well last season, with 28 points from 17 games, but then picked up just 43 points from the remaining 29 matches - only a minor decline in PPG terms (1.65 to 1.48) but still a slide which saw us miss out on the final day when everyone else was trying to throw it away themselves for the last two months.

Now we sit on 21 points from 17 games - 1.24ppg, another downward curve. Injuries come into this of course, but that's not a situation exclusive to the Royals. And had we maintained the first 17 games' PPG throughout that first season, we'd have finished on 76 points, good for 5th in the table.

Losing 3/17 (18%) in his first stint in the Championship, to then losing 10/29 (34%) for the remainder of the season, to losing 8/17 (47%) so far this season doesn't represent progress at all - far from it. Adkins didn't show in his first season that his team will get better as the games roll on by, and for me, nothing on the pitch indicates that either.


Consistency and Momentum

As for consistency of performances? In McDermott's 117 Championship games, and his 59 Championship wins, 46 of those victories were achieved in consecutive games of two or more (i.e. "winning runs"), and six sequences of four or more wins in a row. That means 78% of his wins were consecutive, and would seem to suggest that Brian could get his teams on a roll, rather than relying on nicking the odd game here or there.

Adkins has had 25 wins in 63 Championship games, of which 14 have been consecutive (56%). That inconsistency is what leads some fans to believe that it's one step forward, one (or more) steps back, as we don't seem to be able to sustain momentum or take form from game to game. Our longest winning run under Adkins is three games, once last season and once this.

Longer winning runs are hard to come by, but not beyond a top-half team - seven of last season's top 12 had at least one run of four or more wins on the bounce (the top five, plus Bournemouth and Middlesbrough), whilst seven had more than one run of three or more victories (the top four, plus Bournemouth, Middlesbrough and Nottm Forest).

So whilst those winning runs don't necessarily guarantee you make the top six - Brighton had just one run of three wins, like Reading - it certainly helps propel you up the table. If we had achieved a four-game winning run, we would have been in the playoffs (OK, butterfly effect, the other results wouldn't have been the same...), and as we hear so often, it's a lottery after that.


Conclusions

What can we conclude from this? That the team is low on confidence? That the current management team has trouble preparing their side game to game? Or just that McDermott found a formula and struck lucky in his two full Championship seasons? It's a small sample size for sure, but when managers' reigns are so short these days, you have to work with the little evidence you have. "The 17th Game" as a framing point is simply used as we're at this point in the season now, and in response to Will's article earlier this week.

Having seen what McDermott achieved at the season went on, he did remarkably well to consistently raise performances towards the back end. Some of the statistics are ridiculous - 22 wins out of 29 in our Championship winning season is truly astounding, whilst that PPG rate would have put us on 109 points for the season had we begun the campaign as we ended it. But in all three seasons, results picked up - we even had that false dawn in January of the Premier League season where McDermott won Manager Of The Month... sadly it couldn't be sustained.

I'm not saying that I expect a promotion charge this season from this position during this season - going on a run like McDermott did three times would be expecting far too much from this side. But consistency is a different matter, and when this team can barely string together results or momentum, that's what gets on the fans' minds. And the fact that in terms of league position and points, this team is going backwards, adds to that frustration, not only in the context of previous Championship campaigns but also with regards to Nigel Adkins' reign.

Unfortunately Adkins didn't show the same rejuvenative skills in the second half of the season, and whilst it's easy to draw comparisons with McDermott's incredible turnarounds, that's what we do as fans - compare and contrast, remember the good times and try to explain what's happening on and off the pitch. The results have got progressively worse during Nigel's reign, and the performances haven't improved either - as I've said repeatedly, you can work with one or the other, but rarely do managers get the grace of achieving neither.

I would argue that inconsistency has been this team's problem since the Nigel Adkins era begun, which means fans don't arrive at matches with any confidence, the players might not necessarily believe they can go on a winning run, and momentum is almost non-existent. But let me know your thoughts below...