Last season saw one of the best leafue placings in Reading’s entire history. Only 6 teams have ever finished higher in the Football League, and two of those were relegation seasons. Yet if you asked Reading fans whether last season was in their top 10 in terms of pure excitement, you might well be surprised.
A poll we ran at the end of last season had 56% of fans rating the campaign as ‘not exciting’. It’s admittedly a small sample size but that’s still a large chunk of voters feeling somewhat down on a team who were two penalties away from promotion at Wembley.
Yet this season is slowly starting to feel a little different and right now I’m excited about what may follow over the next few months.
Perhaps it was the way the season ended at the National Stadium that contributed to the sour mood but in raw numbers, fans at the Madejski Stadium rarely had much to get overly excited about. We scored three or more goals at home just four times all season, with our only four-goal performance coming away from home in a dead-rubber game at Burton on the final day. Sure we saw plenty of wins but few had us eagerly awaiting our next trip to the Mad Stad. Part of that lack of excitement could be down to the fact we’d seen plenty of promotion races before, yet that underwhelming entertainment factor didn’t help.
However, with it being Stam’s first season, coupled with the unexpected pressure of a promotion race, we perhaps shouldn’t have expected too much. Jaap was building the foundations and always talked about being ‘ahead of schedule’.
New Season, New Era
That’s why I’m so happy with the business we’re seeing so far this summer. Jaap’s been slowly adding players who can get us off our seat and create some excitment in the stadium. Modou Barrow is the best example of this, yet the captures of Sone Aluko, Dave Edwards, Leandro Bacuna and Pelle Clement shouldn’t be understated either.
Aluko is someone who loves having a run at a player, while he’s not afraid to shoot either (something we needed in facing Aluko and Fulham earlier this season).
Edwards is a gutsy player who’s not afraid to put a foot in, while popping up with key goals. He’ll add that bit of bite and drive, perhaps missing since Danny Williams left.
Bacuna should provide a similar jolt in the middle, allowing Liam Kelly and John Swift to hopefully flourish further forward as well.
Clement may not have dazzled so far, yet we’ve seen odd flashes from the former Ajax player that suggests he could develop into an exciting player down the line.
When you add the defensive flair of Tiago Ilori, the late season form of Jordan Obita and the eye catching stops of Vito Mannone in goal, you’ve got plenty of ingredients needed to build an exciting team to watch. Heck, that’s not even counting what a fully fit Garath McCleary, Callum Harriott or Yann Kermorgant might inject when they return in the coming weeks and months.
Enough For Plans A,B, C & D
One of the big criticisms of Stam has been his unwillingness to change his game plan. Yet with the players he’s manged to bring in, suddenly we’ve got many different ways of playing.
Need an extra man up front? Sure, throw Aluko in alongside Kermorgant or Bodvarsson. Want some pace out wide, McCleary and Barrow it is. How about some trickery? Let’s get Beerens and Clement involved. Likewise, the midfield suddenly has lots of different combos. Whether it’s the skills of Swift and Kelly, the grit of Edwards and Joey van den Berg, or the utility of Evans and Bacuna, the combinations and headaches posed for opposition managers when planning to face has swelled greatly.
It would again be premature to expect to see dramatic progress overnight but if Stam does manage to get that final piece of the puzzle and land a dynamic striker, we could well be set for a much more entertaining brand of football, that’s hopefully every bit as successful as last season.