A great way of assessing how well a team the size of Reading is doing is to look at how many fans are actually going to games. Unlike Premier League teams for example, the Royals can't rely on consistently high attendances come what may, so the figures are very changeable.
So, what do the stats say about this season?
(Overall attendance minus away contingent equals home contingent)
Preston North End: 15,764 - 1,000 = 14,764
Brighton and Hove Albion: 16,781 - 2,915 away = 13,866
Ipswich Town: 15,146 - 1,070 = 14,076
Birmingham City: 14,602 - 1,186 = 13,416
Huddersfield Town: 17,030 - 1,349 = 15,681
Derby County: 17,002 - 1,565 = 15,437
Aston Villa: 20,331 - 4,030 = 16,301
Nottingham Forest: 17,093 - 1,805 = 15,288
Burton Albion: 15,545 - 446 = 15,099
Bristol City: 18,778 - 3,529 = 15249
Average: 16,807 overall, with a home contingent of 14,917.
To unpack all of that...
Attendances started poorly at the start of the campaign for two reasons: Jaap Stam's Reading were an unknown quantity, and last season was terrible. Perhaps unsurprisingly, fans were unwilling to part with their hard-earned cash for 90 minutes of something that wasn't likely to be any fun.
Things started to pick up with the visit of then table-toppers Huddersfield Town. However, Reading fans haven't flocked to the Mad Stad in that many numbers since, bar a game against recent Premier League team Aston Villa.
Interestingly, there's been no recent upturn in line with Reading's charge to 3rd. Sure, there wouldn't necessarily be an immediate spike in attendances, but I for one would have expected some kind of upward trend.
Why is this the case? The fallout from the Adkins, Clarke and (second) McDermott eras?
Although the club is doing fine work in trying to get bums on seats (£20 ticket prices in the Eamonn Dolan Stand and 18-24 season tickets being just two examples), they can only do so much. Ultimately, fans want to watch good football and, as I mentioned earlier, the football has often been pretty dire in Berkshire over the last few years.
How 2015/16 went is particularly important here. Under Steve Clarke, Reading started very well before falling apart and bombing to the bottom half of the table. Similarly, in 2016/17, a new manager has overseen an encouraging few months. Perhaps fans are staying away because they think another collapse is on the horizon?
Logically, that would suggest that attendances will improve as long as Reading continue to fly high in the table. We might only see the ground getting somewhere near full when/if the team is in a promotion race in the final few months of the campaign.