It’s tricky to write a match report after a game where people care actually very little about what happened and more about the consequences of it, but here goes.
For what it’s worth (really not very much at all), Reading started promisingly against a well-backed Birmingham City side buoyant off the back of beating Leeds at the weekend. Mo Barrow was released down the left hand side and did well to force David Stockdale into a save from a relatively tight angle, before a rare Chris Gunter shot also stung the palms of the former Brighton keeper on the right hand side of the box. It became clear throughout the evening that much like Vito Mannone, Stockdale is not at fault for his side’s lowly league position.
The visitors were growing into the game though, which Paul McShane seemed to take a disliking to more than most, with the captain becoming worryingly agitated at the tiniest of things. It was therefore unsurprising that he gave away a free-kick just outside the box for a foul on Sam Gallagher mid-way through the half. What happened next is a phrase used far too often this season - inexplicable defending. Both McShane and Yann Kermorgant failed in what seemed to be the simple task of clearing Craig Gardner’s delivery, allowing Jacques Maghoma to smash home the loose ball past a helpless, and then hugely frustrated, Mannone.
Any momentum and confidence that Reading had gained in the opening 20 minutes was effectively killed, and they reverted to a side devoid of all self-belief. In a system that relies on players passing and moving, it will always be fundamentally flawed when no one even wants the ball. John Swift and Leandro Bacuna were two players who at least looked like they wanted to get the ball forward, but struggled simply because none of their teammates provided an option. Had Birmingham sussed us out? Unlikely. Is this a confidence issue? Most likely. Was this the players signalling to Stam that they don’t want to play his system? Quite possibly.
There was at least some promise to end half, as Stockdale was required to make a save from Sone Aluko who had done well to create space for himself after a good move involving full-backs Bacuna and Gunter.
Yet this promise did not carry over into the second 45, despite Stam replacing Joey van den Berg with Tyler Blackett, allowing the energetic Bacuna to push up into midfield.
With Birmingham more than happy to soak up the pressure as Reading continued to be uninspiring, the game looked as though it may turn into another Madejski snore-fest. Indeed, we had to wait until the hour mark for the first real opportunity of the second half, as Yann Kermorgant’s audacious acrobatic effort bounced just wide of the post.
It was not a chance the hosts could build on, instead they proceeded to infuriatingly concede a second. Chelsea loanee Jeremie Boga, who had been causing the Royals defence problems all evening with his pace and trickery, played through an un-tracked Gallagher who made no mistake on this occasion as he finished from just inside the box.
There may have been over 20 minutes to play, but everyone in the ground knew that it was game over. Only once under Jaap Stam have Reading come back to win from two goals down (ironically a year to the day), and only once have they come back to draw. Pelle Clement would draw a save from Stockdale and Kermorgant would hit the bar before the ninety was up, but ultimately it mattered little. It was six games without a win for the Royals.
As the full-time whistle blew, my emotions were very different from 10 days ago against Burton. After that defeat I was angry, fuming in fact. Tonight I could only be bothered to simply feel deflated and flat. I even felt a tinge of sadness, because if this is the end for Stam (and based on results I cannot see how it can't be), then his tenure has not been without it's highs.
The sheer joy and jubilation I felt after wins against Bristol City, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and then Fulham in the play-offs last season. The feeling that something truly special was happening again at my football club. Because, let's be fair here, Stam achieved what three managers before him at this level could not in getting us to within touching distance of the Premier League.
No one needs reminding of what happened at Wembley, but in truth, we have never really recovered from that afternoon in May. Watching Huddersfield more than compete in the top flight, we’re still left with the feeling of what might have been, what we might have been able to achieve. This season hasn't gone to plan, and we're now staring down the barrel at something that seemed impossible six months ago. If this is goodbye Jaap, then thank you, and I'm so sorry that it hasn't worked out as we all had hoped. Genuinely.
If this isn’t goodbye, then I can only think that the club’s financial position/restrictions is what is holding back the P45 being brought out. There’s no hiding away from the facts. We haven’t won in six games, three of which were against sides battling relegation. We have just given one of those sides their first away win of the campaign. Finally, we are now battling relegation ourselves in 18th place and four points above the drop zone.
CEO Ron Gourlay spoke to BBC Radio Berkshire before the game claiming that Stam's job was not in danger whatsoever. The big questions are a) was he was telling the truth or trying to quash rumours? and b) if he was telling the truth, has last night's result changed things?
The next few days could either be very interesting or a big anti-climax...