Yet another loss
Before Reading’s 2-1 loss to Middlesbrough at the Riverside the Royals had won just one of their last 10 Championship fixtures and earned a measly six points from the last 30 they could have won. Of course, those statistics now make it one win in their last 11 league fixtures and six points from the last 33 available which just increases the bleak feeling amongst Reading fans.
I must admit that it feels like a broken record at this point saying that the next fixture is of massive importance to Reading but with promotion chasers Derby, Sheffield United and Wolves the three games to immediately follow the away fixture at fellow strugglers Nottingham Forest the significance of the Forest fixture is not to be underestimated with so many difficult games to follow.
Obita still a massive loss
Since it was announced that first choice left-back Jordan Obita would be out injured for the rest of the season Royals boss Jaap Stam has used many different players in an attempt to fill the gap left by the 24-year-old with Tyler Blackett, Chris Gunter, Omar Richards and Leandro Bacuna being used on the left side of defence.
Blackett, of course, has been error-prone in his short time as a Reading player and while the 19-year-old Richards has impressed in Obita’s absence, he too has been suffering with an injury and was only available off the bench for the fixture on Saturday after going off injured against Brentford last month.
Gunter is a right-back by trade but has filled in on the other side of defence and been interchanged with Bacuna who had previously played at full-back for previous club Aston Villa despite being signed by Stam to play in midfield.
For the Middlesbrough fixture Bacuna was on the left with Gunter taking his more natural place at right-back and Bacuna struggled to deal with the pace of Boro’s former Barcelona winger Adama Traore who scored both the goals.
Obita has proven to be a very good left-back after dropping back into a more defensive role after coming through the Royals academy as a winger and also would have had the pace to better cope with a lively Traore. The current situation also begs the question as to why Reading did not pursue a left-back in the January transfer window after clearly struggling to find someone to fill Obita’s shoes.
Chris Martin’s first goal
In perhaps the only positive for the Royals, deadline day signing Chris Martin scored his first goal in a Reading shirt in what proved to be nothing more than a consolation for Jaap Stam’s side. Yann Kermorgant was Reading’s top goal scorer last season and was a huge reason for Reading’s play-off final trip last year.
However, the Frenchman suffered an injury at the beginning of this season and despite his return to first team action he has been unable to rediscover his goal scoring form with just the solitary goal from 36-year-old. Summer signing Jon Dadi Bodvarsson has returned five league goals for Reading but has not been the 20-goal-a-season striker fans were hoping Reading would sign.
Martin is a proven Championship striker with spells at Norwich, Fulham and parent club Derby and, if started up front could be the difference between survival and relegation.
Modou Barrow has been perhaps the best of the multitude of summer signings for Reading with the winger’s seven league goals the highest of any Reading player. He was one of the few players who put in a good performance at Millwall last week and was conspicuous by his absence against Middlesbrough.
Jaap Stam confirmed that Barrow was unwell and that was why he missed the fixture, saying that he had a “stomach problem”. Unfortunately for Reading, Barrow was yet another casualty which saw him join club captain Paul McShane, John Swift and recent loanee Tommy Elphick on the side-lines and his absence simply served to hinder Reading’s chances in what was an important match.
It is expected that the Gambian international will be return for the game against Nottingham Forest and he will be a very important player for Stam in what may be a make or break few months for the Dutch manager and Reading.
If Stam goes who is he replaced with?
Of course the fact that the Royals are just four points away from the relegation zone means that the pressure on Stam has increased even more and while it is obvious that Reading cannot continue in the same vein, those calling for Stam’s sacking need to consider who would be appointed as his replacement.
Being brutally honest, what about Reading would be attractive to a potential manager? Reading is not a big club in terms of history or fanbase, does not have a hugely exciting squad or massive amounts of funds to be invested. Personally, if Stam was to go I would have gotten rid of him earlier and appointed Aitor Karanka before Nottingham Forest pounced on the former Middlesbrough boss but if Stam was to be sacked now then who are the candidates to replace him?
A former manager like Brian McDermott who clearly loves the club, someone with lower league experience like Mark Warburton or another manager from the foreign leagues? I honestly do not think there is a natural replacement for Stam which may be a reason why the owners have persisted with him (perhaps the contract extension he signed this summer is also a factor).
If Stam were to go who do you think should replace the Dutchman?