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5 Things: Burton Albion (Home) and Bristol City (Away)

Five talking points from Reading’s disappointing Christmas fixtures.

Bristol City v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

Terrible Christmas run continues

As I have said previously, Christmas and New Year is an incredibly important part of the season because of the amount of games that are played in such a short amount of time. In Reading’s last four matches, they have picked up just the solitary point from the disappointing draw against Cardiff and Jaap Stam has suffered three consecutive defeats for the first time as Reading manager.

It goes without saying that the team needs to pick themselves up going into the new year if they are to get anything worthwhile out of the season. Maybe a few fresh faces in January could spark the Royals into life.

Same old story

Lots and lots of the ball but no end product. Let’s be honest, that statement could sum up far too many Reading games this season as Jaap Stam’s men had 76% of the possession against Burton but could only muster up seven shots in total. As a one-off statistic, that would be quite shocking but by now it is one that Reading fans are used to seeing.

The Royals always dominate the ball but they just seem to struggle to do anything with it, with just three players touching the ball more than once in Burton’s penalty area and Sone Aluko not making a single touch in the box. That’s completely unacceptable for a forward.

What on earth was that winner?

There have been a few examples of some dire defending so far this season but none as bad as that which led to Burton’s winner on Saturday. Joey van den Berg’s botched attempt to control a pass meant Liam Moore was rushed into attempting a clearance which bounced off Tom Naylor and past Vito Mannone who was caught unawares.

Whilst van den Berg had showed some decent form prior during Reading’s recent run, it seems impossible to shake the feeling that he is always mere moments away from his next mistake and the Dutchman sure lived up to his ‘liability’ tag with his performance against Burton.

Returns from injury

One small positive to come out of the games was the return of three players to the matchday squad: Garath McCleary, John Swift and George Evans. McCleary had not played for the Royals since the 1-0 win over Leeds in October and while it is now expected that the 30-year-old will have plenty of spells on the sidelines each season, when playing at his best the winger is as good as any in the league. The 16 minutes he played against Bristol City will be a welcome sight to Royals fans.

Reading v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

John Swift played nearly half an hour after coming off the bench against Burton and he will also be a big addition for Jaap Stam. Before his injury against Bolton last month, Swift had just begun to find some form with two goals against Nottingham Forest and an assist against Derby and Stam is definitely in need of the midfielder picking up where he left off.

George Evans had not made a Championship appearance for Reading since August before he played 83 minutes on Boxing Day and, with Liam Kelly unwell and Swift being rested after his return against Burton, the 23-year-old had a significant role to play alongside Dave Edwards in the centre of the park. Evans did pretty well considering it was his first game for three months and is an important option to have going forward.

Stam Out?

As mentioned earlier, this is the first time in Stam’s managerial reign at Reading that he has lost three games in a row and with the Royals sitting in a lowly 17th place, there will be the inevitable questioning of his future. Has his system and style been found out or are the players not doing him justice?

While it may seem harsh to sack the manager who guided Reading to a surprise third place and play-off final last year just halfway through the season, football is very much an immediate results business and, quite simply, Reading’s immediate results just aren’t good enough.

However, when given time to build a team, plenty of managers have found great success and Reading have not got anywhere in recent times with their quick managerial turnover. Still, the question remains. Stam in or Stam out?