Results - P7 W4* D1 L2
Obvious as it may sound, I always like going into the international break on a winning note.
Two of those wins have come against weaker opposition in the league cup, but that is somewhat mitigated by a number of youngsters making senior debuts and playing well, including Sam Smith (brewery jokes also acceptable) netting his first goal.
A couple of features are very typically Reading. We've not had the same result in the league in consecutive games. We have performed well against promotion favourites and arguably struggled more against those suggested for relegation. We have largely not been great away from home. The Mad Stad has been a fortress. So, it's same old in that regard...
For me, though, the most important part was the last win up at Brum. It was away from home, we got a clean sheet, and we won by more than one goal. Hopefully, that will serve as a real confidence boost.
As we started with a cliché, let's end with one. Consistency will be key, and it's not there yet, though of course it's early doors still. We've started alright, and done the minimum, got a couple of wins under our belt to get the ball rolling.
Solid - B-.
*(One win aet)
To be honest, we have been largely uninspiring, and appear to lack real goalscoring threat, but in spells have shown glimpses of a very high ceiling.
With plenty of options in midfield and out wide, our link up play has been tidy, with glimpses of real excitement. We still lack a bit of zip, though. We don't spend much time at all playing the passing game with real intensity. We have also lapsed defensively on occasion (ahem, Joey), which has cost us points, especially with failures to put games to bed.
Still, you sense that Stam's style is one that bears more fruit slightly later down the road, once those intangible understandings between players develop. Bar opening day, we have also not had a shocker. Nothing that has set pulses racing yet, though. Improvement will come.
A real mixed bag - C+.
How you view this depends on a number of factors in your own perspective, namely, your view on the necessity of a striker, how highly you rated Danny Williams, and to a lesser extent Ali Al-Habsi, and your opinion on the youth team clear out.
For me, this lack of a goalscorer is what does let this window down somewhat. We know that Jaap and Brian have been after a striker all summer. While it would seem a general failure not to have signed one, I can certainly imagine them balking at the prices going around. Of course, it would have been better if we'd been able to get someone in, but prudence is also necessary, especially as our competition was likely to be premiership teams (à la Nahki Wells).. So, marks off, but not too many. .
I feel like we are missing Danny Williams. The criticism that he only turned up sporadically is valid, but on his day he could drive the team on in a way no one else could. This is where I tell you that Dave Edwards is my dark horse to be the hidden gem of the transfer business. If you're asking me who could do it on a wet Tuesday night in Stoke... Well, once Joey has been sent off, it would be him. It's not Danny himself, it's the type of player he is, and hopefully in the combination of Edwards and Bacuna we have made a decent fist of replacing that presence.
The youth clearout is an interesting one. As a fan, the academy is something you take great pride in, and it seems a shame to lose so many players who have come through our system, especially those we've seen occasionally, and even been impressed by. Ultimately, though, Stam has proved so far to be a very good judge of a player, and those younger players who are still here, have performed very well in the cup. If it allows Jaap to get more time with the youngsters he sees real potential in, then I'm happy to put it down as a positive.
Of the players who have come in, the impact is clear when seen in the context of last summer. Pelle Clement aside, we have not brought in any raw youngsters, which made up a decent proportion of business last year. Instead, we have smashed our transfer record and brought in players with championship pedigree or better, with premier league and champions league experience added to the squad. That is what makes this window so exciting.
I broadly agree that with recent developments expectations will rise, and so they should.
Paying £7.2m (transfermarkt) is a big statement, even in this mad age. However, I still think to say we should definitely finish in the top two, or even six, is overstating it based on the competition, though we should definitely be there or thereabouts. More practically though, Stam has added strong options around the park, with the utility of Bacuna and Edwards adding to the pace of Barrow and Aluko, and the presence of Böðvarsson. Vito Mannone has proved so far to be a capable replacement and Clement has shown flashes of real potential.
It's a much leaner squad, and it's all pretty exciting if you ask me - A-.
Well, first of all... Jaap stayed, and the start of the summer, there seemed to be real fear of losing him. He appears a bit stubborn in some of his substitions, and this perceived lack of plan B, but there's certainly positive signs. He speaks very well, and still very much has the respect of those at the club.
You stick with us, big man - B+.
Off the pitch
Nigel Howe's departure was not expected and seemed synonymous with the end of an era, but it's great that he's moving on to bigger things, his sheer longevity at the club is remarkable. The recruitment of Ron Gourlay appears to be something of a coup, but time will tell. Brian Tevreden remains an engaging figure, and his working relationship with Stam is a great positive for club. The most exciting bit of work, however, was Gourlay's swift move to secure core players to long-term deals, putting down a framework for the future, something which certainly offers confidence going forward.
While these contracts and big fees are welcome, I do hope this is being provided for in a sustainable manner. If that caveat is catered for though, then new owners have clearly set their stall out, and we're heading in the right direction. The refurbishment of the Mad Stad pitch was also a welcome development.
They've certainly hit the ground running - A.
Frustrating might be a word worth getting used to for this season, but those poorer performances are only frustrating as we know there's bigger gears in this team. If they can keep travelling on this upward trajectory, then we're sure to cause other teams problems. There's greater depth to the squad as well, which will help when the injuries eventually take their... Oh wait.
To sum up the start of the season, I would say uninspiring, but developments off the pitch, and little spells on it, lead me to cautious optimism that there will be more excitement in the near future.