You only need to take a quick browse through the press ahead of the start of the Championship play-offs this weekend to see that not many pundits/journalists think Reading stand a chance against Fulham in the semi-final, let alone of actually winning promotion. A visit to the bookmakers backs this up, with Reading the least fancied to go up according most if not all betting companies - at time of writing, SkyBet have the Royals at 5/1, Huddersfield 3/1, Sheffield Wednesday 9/4 and Fulham 17/10.
Reading are better than those odds suggest
I'm struggling to see how they can possibly have come to this conclusion. Jaap Stam has guided his side to third place in the league, four points ahead of Wednesday and Huddersfield and five ahead of Fulham. Surely the table doesn't lie? Opposition fans can say that we play 'boring football' or are 'really average', but the stone cold fact is that after 46 games (which I think is a pretty good representation of a team's quality), only Newcastle and Brighton who have dominated the division all season have picked up more points than Reading.
Doubters will look at the thrashings at the hands of Fulham and Norwich and instantly come to an ignorant conclusion that team isn't that good. But what they don't seem to understand is that this is a side who have lost the fewest games at home this season, have bounced back from those heavy defeats extremely well and were the only team in the Championship to not be beaten twice by the same club this season.
That 5-0 defeat at Craven Cottage has unsurprisingly been brought up a few times this week, with pundits using the result to suggest that we don't stand a chance when we return to West London on Saturday. Yet that was a Reading side without key figures Liam Moore, John Swift and Yann Kermorgant and one that was reduced to 10 men when the score was still only 2-0. Personally I'm not sure how much that game represents what will happen this weekend.
I'll admit that Fulham's recent form is very impressive. Unbeaten in their last six games, of which they have won five, the Cottagers will want to carry that momentum into the play-offs. But Reading's recent run isn't bad either. In fact, over the last ten games, the Royals (21 points) actually better Slovisa Jokanovic's side (20 points). It is also possible to argue that form means very little when it comes to the lottery of the play-offs, as Wimb researched back in March. Since 2010, the play-off winners have ended the league campaign with from as many as 19 points from their last eight games to as little as six points from their last eight games. These next two or three games are standalone ties. It's what happens on the day that effects the outcome not what's come before.
Relish the underdog tag
But so what if Reading are the underdogs? In many ways, it's a good position to find ourselves in as it means the pressure is off. Fulham's Scott Malone told the press earlier this week that Fulham are "possibly the favourites at the minute", which is never a good thing to say. The Cottagers are clearly expecting to win against Reading, making them much more vulnerable to crack under pressure. Malone's statement has also done half of Stam's team-talk for him - I'd imagine McShane & co are now desperate to go out and prove the former Cardiff left-back wrong.
The Royals will be able to go out and play with freedom, something that should suit the possession style of play perfectly. The only thing that matters is that the players on the pitch believe in their ability, something which Liam Moore assured fans is the case.
Reading have been written off all season. We were tipped for relegation at the start of the campaign, tipped to collapse in January but team thrived under this with an admirable desire to upset the odds. There's no reason to suggest that they won't do it again. You can say that that the media and Fulham can write us off at their peril, but I'd add that they can do it all they like. It will just make a potential victory even sweeter.