Today was one of those afternoons where you’re left to question just why you go to watch football. If your expectation is to be entertained, you wouldn’t have been. If you go to see drama, you’re equally out of luck. If you go to see your team get a result and bask in that glory, you were almost satisfied, while if you’re going as a cheerleader to play a pro-active part in the performance by singing, making noise and offer your backing, you were probably in the minority.
Reading’s 1-1 draw with Hull had elements of all of those things and it’s how you see your role as a football fan that will dictate just how you reacted to Jaap Stam’s post-match comments, where he suggested those who booed, whatever their reasons, should probably reconsider turning up again. Make no mistake, Stam sees nothing positive from the crowd’s negativity and has no time for those who are growing frustrated.
Some of you will agree with him, others won’t, while a majority including myself can see both sides. Yet on a day like today, I’m sorry Jaap but you’ve got to pick a better time and place to put your own argument forward.
A Point Forward?
Today’s game wasn’t unique, it wasn’t spectacularly dire, nor was it surprisingly entertaining either.
As for most of Stam’s reign we dominated possession against a team quite happy to concede it to us. Reading had 74% of the ball but managed to carve out just three shots on target, while their visitors had two to show from 26%, not to mention another effort that crunched the woodwork.
The lineup Stam named would have been enough to cause grumblings among many. The Dutchman opted to stick with the side that started the second period at Griffin Park, so Roy Beerens replaced the only recognised striker, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson in the eleven, with Bodvarsson joining Jordan Obita and John Swift amongst the substitutes.
What followed, was 45 minutes of sheer boredom.
Yes there were a couple of nice flicks and one darting run down the left that should have ended up with Sone Aluko’s first goal for the club but overall this was a limp display from a team who had no idea at all how to break down a stubborn Hull team. There was no pace, no urgency, little creativity and next to no star quality against a team that hadn’t tasted an away victory in 22 matches.
Yet it was that winless team who struck first in a sun-drenched Madejski Stadium and once again the Reading defence and midfield will have to take a strong look at themselves in the video room on Monday. Tyler Blackett’s clearance was weak, Liam Kelly failed at an interception and with the midfield nowhere to be seen, Paul McShane was forced to stride out of the backline. The Irishman missed his tackle and Fraizer Campbell ghosted into the empty space, evading a flailing Gunter to slot past Vito Mannone. It was a good pass from Seb Larsson and a lovely finish but how many times have we seen Reading’s backline pierced this season, with no support from the midfield?
Shoots Of Hope
Stam showed his ruthless streak just three minutes into the second half. After an attack broke down because of a Blackett mistake, the Reading boss called immediately for Obita to strip down and get ready to come on.
This sub worked.
Straight away, Obita provided a better attacking outlet, putting in some teasing crosses that while they didn’t find too much at the other end, at least gave Hull’s defence SOMETHING to think about. It was like finding out that the last cold beer in the fridge is that brand you hate - at least it’s cold.
There were brief flashes of Reading teams of old. Gunter started linking up with McCleary, who’d been painfully quiet for the first 45. Joey van den Berg started striding forward, while Sone Aluko was doing his best to try and make something happen. Yet despite that huff and puff, again, very few clear chances for Reading.
That’s when Stam made a sub that may have perhaps made sense tactically, but was a far from solid move if you’re trying to get a crowd on side.
Kelly had been OK in the first half but barely noticeable in the second, so his subbing wasn’t unjustified. Yet the Reading Manager’s decision to replace him with defender Tiago Ilori incensed a section of the crowd, with boos unheard of during the Stam era ringing out.
Hull could have made those boos far, far worse only to spurn two golden chances within minutes of each other, as Reading were forced to commit more men forward, including Jon Dadi Bodvarsson who replaced Chris Gunter with 14 minutes to go.
Who’s Our Dadi?
What must have been going through the head of Bodvarsson before his entry is anyone’s guess. The man has no competition for a striker’s berth yet found himself benched for Beerens and Garath McCleary, neither of whom provided anything of note in terms of end product. Worse still, he found himself sat on the bench for 76 minutes despite his team trailing and struggling to create anything.
From the outside it seemed a stunning vote of no confidence in the Icelander from Stam, no matter how reasonable the argument put forward by our own Bucks Royal earlier this week, that perhaps we’re better off without a main striker.
Bodvarsson did the only thing he could to prove his worth, he scored a bloody equaliser. A hopeful ball forward found Aluko, who did enough to guide the ball over to Bodvarsson, who controlled superbly before firing past McGregor.
Reading nearly provided the ultimate tonic for the restless crowd but Liam Moore couldn’t steer a scrambled chance home in the final minute of stoppage time.
The full-time whistle came to almost no reaction from the home fans, who were more concerned with a prone Jordan Obita being loaded on to a stretcher. The full-back looked to have done some serious damage to his knee, with Stam admitting the initial assessment doesn’t look good. Get well soon Jordan, you’ll certainly be missed.
Stam Sticks To His Guns
We’ll have a full transcript of Stam’s thoughts up later this weekend but the key message from his interview with BBC Radio Berkshire’s Tim Dellor was simple. If you’re coming along to boo the team, don’t bother turning up. Stam went on to say that if you’re expecting us to improve on last season’s finish and win the league, it just isn’t going to happen. There was no grey area here, the Reading boss is clear in his view that there’s zero place for negativity from the home fans no matter what’s happening on the pitch. In his eyes, it’s our job to lift the team and not vice-versa.
Whether you agree with him, goes back to the first paragraph in this match report. Yet the ultimate reality for Stam is that whatever his own philosophy, he has to start getting results and quickly. It’s just nine points from eight games so far and Reading are languishing 18th in the table.
Brendan Rodgers earned 11 points in his final nine games before he was sacked. Steve Clarke had nine points from his last nine, Nigel Adkins picked up 10 from nine and they all found themselves sacked. This is sacking form right now, whether he likes it or not. Results just aren’t good enough and there’s no obvious sign that improvement is just around the corner. Sure Mo Barrow might return on Tuesday at Millwall, but with Obita sidelined that leaves perhaps John Swift as the only obvious trump card the Dutchman has left to play. Once again just who decided to abandon the hunt for a new striker and just how we failed to land one remains an increasingly unjustifiable scenario.
So that leaves the Dutchman hoping for improvement from what he’s already got and fortunately we know there is more to come from this group. Then again, the same could have been said about the teams managed by all those mentioned above. Stam can blame the players all he likes but unless they get him results, we know who’s going to be leaving first.
It’s certainly not time to sack Jaap Stam, yet it’s certainly fair to start asking questions about whether his current plan is going to lead to better things for this football club. Once again, the definition of what you consider better things is going to be almost wholly dependent on just why you come to football in the first place.
Reading: Mannone, Gunter (Bodvarsson), Moore, McShane, Blackett (Obita), Van den Berg, Edwards, Kelly (Ilori), McCleary, Beerens, Aluko