The Great Stam Debate at Reading FC has moved on. We’re all tired of it and if you haven’t seen reason to change your mind against the Dutchman by now, you probably never will. In its place, we have the Great Relegation Debate.
On Tuesday night, Reading technically went a point closer towards safety, while starving 19th-placed Bolton of a further two points in a game in which the travelling fans might well rue their luck.
The first notable moment came as the line-up was announced. Football Manager regen Tom Holmes, 17, was handed an out-the-blue debut and came into a defence that featured Pelle Clement at right-back and Anssi Jaakola in goal. Six changes in total. What that said for Tiago Ilori and Tyler Blackett, both benched in light of these rotations, is pretty obvious.
In these big games, which this apparently now was, Reading don’t tend to do well. Shirking from the moment and leaving the impetus alone in the vague hope that someone else utilises it is a theme traceable across several generations of Berkshire football and this team is the last one you would trust to shake that off.
Adam Le Fondre was his usual nippy self, the lone man of a rather bumbling Bolton attack, and had the split second advantage over Holmes to create a couple of nervy moments. First he shot from 25 yards to force Jaakola into a high save and soon enough he was laid in by Liam Kelly’s underhit backpass to whack a one-on-one over the bar.
In reply, Reading had Chris Martin break the line to chip a couple of inches too high and little else, until they led against the run of play. Mo Barrow, clearly bored and drifting out of position too often, finally took the ball down the left flank, turned his man, ran at goal, and drilled it low between the keeper’s legs.
Sadly that didn’t deliver a much needed calm over the Reading team, who were bellowing at eachother on a couple of occasions before the opener, and would have been again when Will Buckley was allowed a number of heart-stopping moments to turn and shoot in the six-yard box following a kind offisde call. Fortunately Chris Gunter lunged in before the scores were level.
Naturally, the flimsy backline quickly gave way once the Bolton corner wasn’t cleared and Le Fondre bundled home at the near-post.
Seemingly unable to get worse, the Royals came out after the break and did just that. Bolton dominated the early proceedings and the hosts clearly had no interest in controlling possession, yet they also lacked the direction to launch counters and massive gaps between each man left attempts at a passing game moot.
Jaap Stam, in response, threw his arms up in the air at frustrating moments and pointed vigorously whenever the moment called for it. What he didn’t do was change the formation and he only made two substitutes, a like-for-like striker swap at 73 minutes and the introduction of John Swift five later.
The clock drifted by and tempers continued to flare, Reading evidently frustrated at how the world was turning against them. Barrow almost talked himself into a red card for dissent, the first yellow having been for exubrant celebrations and the second nearly arriving as he protested one of the referee’s numerous curious calls.
Ultimately, it wasn’t until the final five that the home crowd — around eight-and-a-half thousand strong — were rallied and the best chance fell for Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, who shot on the half volley into a crowd and saw it deflected clear.
Against a better team, Reading would have lost this match. From minute one there were nerves and frail tempers. Bolton had chances and couldn’t take them, they were physical and outbattled their opponents like any Championship away team can expect to do these days.
The most dangerous player on the pitch was Le Fondre. Often inaccurate, he ran hard and shot at any opportunity, in return earning constant adoration and chants from the visiting Lancastrians. In the second half, Phil Parkinson brought on a midfielder returning from injury who timed his challenges with perfection, ran hard also, and clearly relished the battle. He got the biggest applause of the night becuase his name was Jem Karacan.
It’s fair to say his type is the perfect player for Bolton’s predicament. Reading don’t really have anyone for their’s.