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Reading FC's 2016/17 Season In Four Important Matches

We've deliberately chosen some of the less obvious ones.

Reading v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

If I asked you to name the most important games in Reading's 2016/17 season, there are a few options I'm sure would spring to mind pretty quickly. Looking at the worse ones, Fulham (5-0, away) and Norwich City (7-1) are fairly obvious whereas, on a more positive note, Leeds United (1-0, home) and Sheffield Wednesday (2-0, away) also jump out.

But, in truth, the story of a team's season is told not just by the big games - the special events we all remember - but also the more minor ones that largely go under the radar.

With that in mind, I've assembled what I think are were the four subtly most important matches of Reading's first (and hopefully not last) campaign under Jaap Stam.

Reading 2-1 Ipswich Town, September 9

Reading went into this game with two wins, two defeats and one draw in their opening five league outings, so we were still fairly clueless of how well the season would end up.

It was also almost exactly a year since Reading last played the Tractor Boys on a Friday night - the famous 5-1 win that saw Orlando Sa take home the match ball, Nick Blackman crash a shot into the roof of the net and Oliver Norwood find the goal with a rocket from distance.

However, this fixture was very different, with entertainment hard to come by, and some Reading fans booing a drab performance (understandably drab, as the team was still unused to 'total football'). In fact, all three of the goals came from the penalty spot - Garath McCleary and Brett Pitman scoring either side of half time, with Danny Williams winning the match deep into extra time.

Why was this an important match? Well, although the possession game did take a fairly long time to click into place, Jaap Stam managed what Brendan Rodgers had failed to do years before: he bought time by getting results on the pitch.

Many wins at the Madejski in 2016/17 were pedestrian affairs - we only won a home league game by more than one goal on four occasions - but the results came nonetheless. The triumph over Ipswich Town, in many ways, set the tone for things to come.

Reading 2-1 Sheffield Wednesday, December 10

Fast-forward a few months, and Jaap Stam's Reading had transformed their home ground into Fortress Madejski, after an impressive six wins, three draws and only defeat in Berkshire.

That was very different on the road though, where the Royals had shipped four goals or more in a single game three times already - 4-1 at Newcastle United, 4-1 at Brentford and, in the game just before the clash with The Owls, 5-0 at Fulham.

However, Jaap Stam's man-management skills spurred Reading on to bounce back on each occasion - the Royals drawing their next game after each of those first two defeats.

Why was this an important match? Reading's 'bounce-back-ability' reached an extra on this occasion, achieving a well-fought, gritty win through a Roy Beerens brace. Beating fifth-placed Sheffield Wednesday after a particularly awful game at Craven Cottage isn't to be sniffed out.

In the longer term, this result was crucial to making sure the 5-0 defeat didn't spark a collapse in Reading's season in the same way that the 4-2 a year earlier had.

Brighton and Hove Albion 3-0 Reading, February 25

By the end of February, Reading were in the middle of a very tough run of games. They'd just lost 1-0 to Huddersfield Town and, after a trip to the Amex, games against Newcastle United, Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United were coming up.

To be fair, this late kick-off on the south coast was probably the most difficult of all. Nonetheless, if the Royals were to keep their faint hopes of automatic promotion alive, three points against the Seagulls were a must.

In reality, despite a fairly positive start, Chris Hughton's men had Reading at arm's length for most of the contest, and easily ran out 3-0 winners. Brighton's three goals (from Sam Baldock, Jamie Murphy and Anthony Knockaert), came from incisively direct football that the visitors simply couldn't deal with.

Why was this an important match? In short, it was a reality check. Despite Reading's vast improvement under Jaap Stam, they were brutally disposed of by a team that would go on to deservedly earn automatic promotion to the Premier League.

On the whole, it was a sharp reminder of just how big the difference was between Reading and automatic promotion. But, on a more positive note, it was also an encouraging sign of how good Reading could eventually be if they stick to their long-term plan.

Reading 2-1 Rotherham United, April 17

It's funny how the same scoreline can be interpreted in different ways. 2-1 against Ipswich Town was an efficient result, and 2-1 against Sheffield Wednesday was an excellent reaction to an away rout, but 2-1 against Rotherham United was pretty poor.

Yes, at that stage of the season we only needed three points to keep things ticking over, but was such a close result good enough? I'd argue not.

As ThatMarcMayo points out in his excellent piece about 2016/17's entertainment value:

"Squeezing past Rotherham and Wigan at home by the odd goal, either side of a loss at lowly Nottingham Forest, is the footballing equivalent of a plain bowl of rice served alongside a glass of tepid water."

In the match, Reading fell behind after a 19th minute Tom Adeyemi goal, before just about managing to save their blushes through goals from Lewis Grabban and John Swift.

Why was this an important match? Where the Brighton game highlighted Reading's problems against top sides, this fixture underlined their inability to really have fun against the division's worst.

An already-relegated Millers team should never have been any problem, but in reality it was a worryingly pedestrian performance only a few days after one of the results of the season - a 3-1 triumph at Villa Park.

Despite consistently being able to grind out wins at home, Jaap Stam never really let his Reading team off the leash at the Madejski Stadium. It's certainly something I'd like to see happen more in 2017/18.