Reading's hopes of automatic promotion may be all but over, but with nine games to go, the Royals find themselves still in sight of the playoffs. Fifth place in the league, a position many fans could only have dreamed of at the start of the campaign following the dismal last two seasons. Whilst results recently have taken a downturn, Reading's hopes of reaching the top flight are still in their own hands, and the future certainly seems far brighter than it has done in recent years. A relatively young squad that is still largely finding its feet in the Championship, Jaap Stam has built not only for the now, but also for the future.
And when you've got one of the best home records in the division, that's certainly something to build on too. Reading currently sit second in the "home form" table, taking 41 points from a possible 57 off the back of 12 wins in 19 at the Madejski Stadium. Whilst some fans are still yet to fully take to Stam's style of football, you can't argue that it doesn't get results. Fortress Madejski has once again been strengthened, with opposition sides fearing their visits to Berkshire.
The most recent side to travel to the Mad Stad was Newcastle United. Championship leaders, and with the best away form in the division, many feared the worst. Not so. Whilst the Royals rode their luck in the first half, the second 45 brought a spirited, dominant performance from Reading as they proved more than a match for the Magpies - with a full house showing their appreciation throughout the match. Games like that one prove that Stam's side can match it with the best in the league. Now it's just about doing that on a consistent basis.
As mentioned above, consistency is the key thing Reading are lacking at the moment, especially away from home. Reading's goal difference of zero certainly doesn't suggest a side that's gunning for promotion, and you only have to look at some of the results on our travels to see why. 3-0 defeats at Preston and Brighton, 4-1 losses at Newcastle and Brentford, and a 5-0 hammering at Fulham cause concern that this team seems to capitulate all too often when they're without home comforts. And if our playoff hopes come down to goal difference, that's the first place people will lay the blame.
Strangely, for a side which is known for controlling matches, many of those goals came on the counter-attack. All three goals at the Amex sprung from quick Seagulls counters, whilst Preston's second (from our own corner) again showed signs of a side which seems to have an all-too-exploitable weakness. It's been prevalent for the last couple of months, and yet Stam doesn't seem to have found a remedy found just yet. We've been over how the Dutchman must be expected to make mistakes in his rookie campaign, but this is one which has lingered for far too long.
And despite all the January arrivals, seemingly strengthening the squad, it seems to have instead had the opposite effect. The days of being able to name the first-choice XI, or even your best XI, are long gone - more mouths to feed, more players to keep happy, more options... could it be too many options? The ever-changing cast of players in midfield, on the wings and up-front can't be good for team cohesion and perhaps that's reflected in our recent run of form. Granted, key injuries to the likes of Paul McShane and Liam Moore haven't helped, but the drop-off in overall form since January is still slightly alarming.
So how do you feel about Stam's time at Reading so far? Let us know below - 5 is highest, 1 is lowest.