A few weeks ago Reading’s official twitter account recalled a 3-0 win over Manchester City that occurred on 24 February 1998. It’s easy to see why they might have thought it worth sharing given where the two clubs now are.
However, anyone who remembers that season will recall that win was a big reason why Terry Bullivant’s disastrous spell in charge was curtailed too late, which left The Royals facing almost certain relegation.
A good win over relegation rivals meant John Madejski would let Bullivant lose another five straight games before sacking him. Bullivant won just two of his last 14 games in all competitions, but crucially drew just two as well.
Jaap Stam is going through a similar terrible run. His team have now won just twice in 19 games in all competitions. Unlike Bullivant though, his team are still picking up points through draws.
It might be slim pickings, but Reading are unbeaten in March and have now lost just once in five games. The team is clearly short of confidence, but they have not downed tools.
Leeds of 2018 are very similar to the Man City of 1998. Despite years of being considered bit of a joke they remain one of the biggest clubs in the country. As they always do, they rolled into the Madejski Stadium with a loud and packed away end behind them. They also came into the game in almost as bad form as the home side, one win in 12 games.
Two out of form teams did not promise a game of high quality and the body language of the Reading players, in particular, showed the amount the last few months has taken out of them. Little mistakes saw the players hide and almost look apologetic. Others showed frustration, especially when Leeds too easily created half chances from simple errors.
Despite that, the work ethic meant they fought themselves into the game. Jón Daði Böðvarsson ably led the line, using his strength to hold the ball up, whilst his good movement into the wings brought Reading into the attack.
Pelle Clement was the player closest to Böðvarsson and had possibly his best game yet in a Reading shirt. It would be the much maligned Sone Aluko though, who would make the first decisive move.
Good interplay from Liam Kelly and Clement found Aluko on the halfway line, who played the sort of ball you would expect from a player rumoured to cost £7.5 million. The lively Böðvarsson made his run and finish to perfection.
After looking bereft of confidence suddenly Reading had a spring in their step. Böðvarsson, George Evans and Barrow were all denied by the impressive Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
Reading were looking dangerous with every attack and could have been out of sight. It was almost inevitable then that they would rue those misses.
Just two minutes before half time Pontus Jansson stabbed home a cross after Leandro Bacuna failed to track the run of Adam Forshaw. A good first half performance had been wasted.
It could have been worse when Samuel Sáiz danced through the Reading defence and past Anssi Jaakkola only to hit the post. It was alarming to see how quickly the Reading players had lost any confidence they had gained from a good 30-40 minutes.
With the momentum behind them, and with some help from some sloppy play from Kelly, Leeds soon took the lead after the break through Pablo Hernández.
At that point it was hard not to expect the worst. Thankfully it was Leeds’ turn to remind everyone of their own dire form.
Another turnover after poor play saw Aluko play in Bacuna, whose driven cross was diverted into his own net, under pressure from Böðvarsson, by Eunan O’Kane. It is was to Reading’s credit that they responded so quickly and a sign that the team still has a fight in it.
Leeds would come closest to win through Sáiz and an almost comical goal by Pierre-Michel Lasogga.
In the end a draw was a fair result. On the basis of the first half Reading would have been deserved winners, but they didn’t take their chances nor did enough in the second half.
The good spell before the break gives hope. Böðvarsson continues to make a mockery of Stam’s strange decision to drop him in the autumn and is playing with confidence.
Aluko and Clement put in much improved performances, whilst Mo Barrow once again showed why he’s the most exciting player currently on display at the Madejski Stadium.
Reading worked hard and their more direct style not only mixed things up, but created chances. There have been plenty of games under Jaap Stam that have been a bore to watch. If all you want from football is entertainment then you would have gone home satisfied from this game.
However, doubts remain. As promising as the first half was, it has to be remembered that it was against a team on a terrible run.
To give Stam a stay of execution on the basis of this game would be a mistake. But equally it should be recognised that he and the team have stopped the flow of defeats, even if that elusive win is still beyond them at the moment.
Continuing to pick up points in the next month through draws would not be a disaster given the teams we are facing. Reading went down in 1998 because they couldn’t stop losing.
We’re not at that stage yet, but no one knows Reading need a win more than Stam.
Reading: Jaakkola; Bacuna, Ilori, Moore, Gunter; Evans (Edwards 63), Kelly; Aluko, Clement (Swift 63), Barrow; Böðvarsson. Subs not used: Mannone, Blackett, Smith, Loader, Holmes.
Leeds: Peacock-Farrell; Berardi, Jansson, Pennington, De Bock; O’Kane, Forshaw; Alioski, Sáiz, Hernández (Dallas 85); Ekuban (Lasogga 77). Subs not used: Anita, Wiedwald, Phillips, Vieira, Pearce.
Referee: Scott Duncan