The recent history of Reading FC has been one of confused identity. In between Steve Coppell and Brian McDermott's hugely successful reigns was the Brendan Rodgers era, a short tenure that failed to move the team out of wing-based, pacey, and often direct play to one that was slower, more progressive, and possession-based. The big difference between those epochs was that Coppell and McDermott delivered fantastic results and entertaining play, and Rodgers did not.
Nigel Adkins, while entertaining for good parts, also aped Rodgers and ultimately failed to bring about success. Steve Clarke, hailed as a forthright, no holds barred kind of coach, was more of the same, with similar results. That led us back to McDermott, to no avail, and now Jaap Stam. Probably the most possession-obsessed of the lot.
Never can I recall 77 percent of the ball being held in Reading's domain, as was the case at Leeds last week when the Royals lost 2-0 (Rodgers' last game at home to Scunthorpe controlled just 53 percent). The result of which were calls of 'boring boring Reading' from the Elland Road crowd and a war of words breaking out afterwards.
Needless to say, Stam vehemently defended his side's style and took a pop at a club that is notoriously big-tackle-addicted. I saw this as his way of creating a siege mentality at Reading, another similarity to the 2011/12 campaign like those Jonny has recently pointed out on TTE, and this is a great approach for a club like Reading. Making it seem as if the whole world wants you to fail is brilliantly motivating, particularly for a club that's failed to motivate its players for a number of seasons. It's also worked very well at clubs like Chelsea for a while now.
However, there is a tightrope to be walked here because this mentality is born out of philosophy. The reason Stam's so adamant is that his style is the 'right way to play', the 'superior' tactic. For many fans who've lived through multiple formations and managers, we know the only right way to play is the one that gets results. Losing and being snobby about those who beat you is a pathetic past time.
But, Stam is getting results. In third place at Christmas, Reading and their rookie boss are exceeding expectations and sit above those that denounce them. This should be taken as a sign that the siege mentality is working, that we are good enough and that we can push on. It's not an excuse to start pretending that passes > points.
Reading fans should know more than any the folly of becoming obsessed with style over substance. Plenty of Madejski Stadium season ticket holders don't rate Stam's style of play, but it's a work in progress and needs to be treated as such, praised when it works and scolded when it doesn't, such as at Leeds. Come the end of the season we'll know far better how the team is progressing, and I'm confident we'll be an even better side by then.
Leeds come to Berkshire on April 1, and if Reading get things right between now and then, we can beat them with smart, technical play. There's nothing Royals supporters would love more than to beat them 3-0 with 'boring boring Reading' hurled back at the South Stand, and that can best be achieved with a siege mentality.