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Why I’m Expecting A Reading FC Play-Off Hangover

While romping our way into the top two would be nice, I’m braced for a bumpy first few weeks.

Henley Regatta 2017 In Detail Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images

How long does it take to get over heartbreak?

It’s only been 62 days since that day at Wembley, but even now, thinking about it brings my mood down a notch. I’ve long since gotten over the practical ramifications of not being in the Premier League but the emotional gut punch still lingers, somewhat stopping me from truly embracing this shiny new 2017/18 campaign.

So how much of that sentiment remains among the players and staff who fought so hard last season, only to come so painfully short? On the surface they’ve said all the right things, talking of their determination to go one better and of how they’ve enjoyed being back in training etc. Yet my lingering suspicion, one proven so many times down the years, is that it will take a while for the club and players to really get Wembley out of their system and to build positive momentum this time around.

History Is Against Us

Earlier this summer we took a look at some of the positive success stories that saw play-off despair turn into automatic joy, while Olly also looked at the wider picture from the past decade or so. However, for this piece, I thought I’d take a look at the more immediate aftermath and the results over the first couple of months of the new season.

As you can see, of the last six beaten Championship play-off finalists, only one side has managed to win over 50% of their opening six the following season and that was a Blackpool side who’d end up 15th. Generally, teams have struggled to get going in the immediate aftermath, with our own start to the season in 2011/12 a painful reminder of how tough it can be to pick yourselves off the floor following Wembley heartache.

Transfer Market Frustrations

The summer of 2011 has been playing on my mind a fair bit when looking at our business so far this time around. That year saw us lose top scorer Shane Long and (love him or hate him) Captain Matt Mills, while this summer we’ve lost Ali Al-Habsi and Danny Williams, plus having to deal with top scorer Yann Kermorgant missing the first couple of months due to injury. In 2011 it took a while for key players to be replaced and it wouldn’t be until after the season started that Adam Le Fondre and Kaspars Gorkss arrived, two men who played huge roles in our title success.

Flash forward to this summer and once again, key players don’t seem to have been replaced before the season, at least not with the type of exciting signing that you can feel confident will improve the team. I’ve got nothing against Vito Mannone, Pelle Clement or Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, but none of the three scream ‘UPGRADE!’ on what we’ve had before.

I’m sure Stam is going to improve the squad and I’m sure he’d have done so already had market conditions been right. Sadly, just as in 2011, we have to know our place in the food chain and it’s only after the big boys do their shopping that we really know where we stand and what we can afford.

So while I’m expecting things to get better, that doesn’t really help us with the more immediate problem of a play-off hangover. Even if Stam confirms the signings of Nakhi Wells and Nelson Oliveira tomorrow, it would still mean they’d have limited time to get up to speed and fit into our system ahead of the QPR game in just five days time.

A Bad Start Isn’t Fatal

A short holiday period, Wembley memories still fresh, a lack of new signings and a tricky opening few fixtures doesn’t bode well for our start to the season. I’m fully expecting a painful hangover during the opening weeks of the new campaign but the good news is that we’ve got plenty of time to get a bacon butty, down some Lucozade, watch some trashy box sets and get ourselves back up off the sofa, up the table and into contention again before May. If 2011 showed us anything, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.