With the 2018/19 fixtures being released on Thursday morning, and the news we’ll be kicking off not only our season but the Football League overall with a mouth-watering match against Derby County, I’m here to take a look at some key stats from past opening day weekends.
Who’s the new guy?
The headline-grabber was that this will be Frank Lampard’s debut in management, hence the Sky cameras’ sudden interest in a match at the Mad Stad, although this will not be the first time an ex-England international has made his managerial bow on an opening weekend in Reading.
Rewind to August 19 2006 and Reading’s first ever top-flight match. Gareth Southgate must have been thinking he couldn’t have asked for a better first match as Middlesbrough manager after a surprise summer appointment following Steve McLaren’s even more surprising departure to the England hot seat. Fast-forward to 21 minutes in and he must have been thinking the same thing after Stewart Downing and Yakubu put Boro 2-0 up. I probably don’t need to tell you or Gareth what happened next, mind.
Cue Leroy Lita et al.
Still on their holidays
That 3-2 comeback win against Middlesbrough may be one of the most iconic matches in our history and paint a picture of opening day successes. However, since then we’ve won just twice on the opening day - a 1-0 win against Preston in 2016 and a 2-1 victory over Ipswich Town in 2013.
Recent history at least shows that the anticipation felt by fans before the first match of the season normally ends up diminished rather quickly.
Surprisingly, despite that last stat, Reading have only lost twice in eleven opening day matches at the Madejski Stadium, the last one coming in 2010 - a shock 2-1 reverse to Scunthorpe which saw Gylfi Sigurdsson score his last ever goal in front of a Royals home crowd.
The only occasion before that was 2-1 to Plymouth Argyle in 2005, which went on to be our only defeat at home in all competitions that season.
Derby on the opening day
The last time we played the Rams on the opening day of a season was also the only time we’ve ever played each other at this stage of a league season. On August 10 2002, Alan Pardew’s men were welcomed back to the second tier by George Burley’s side, themselves fresh from Premier League relegation, with a 3-0 thumping at Pride Park.
Goals from Rob Lee, Fabrizio Ravanelli and Malcolm Christie helped start a run of three defeats from our opening four matches, although the Royals would go on to have a far stronger season than our counterparts. We finished fourth while the Rams languished in 18th.
On the box
This is going to be our first televised opening day game since 2008, a 0-0 draw with Nottingham Forest. We were even on TV the season before that too, a 0-0 draw with Manchester United.
You can see where this is going…
Derby are no strangers to the telly either, featuring in the opening Friday night game last season away to Sunderland and drawing 1-1.
Goals, goals, goals (or lack thereof)
Our top scorer on opening day games in recent history since 2000 is a horrible mess. I was hoping to provide you all with a single player but actually it’s a five-way tie between Nicky Forster, Steve Sidwell, Dave Kitson, Mathieu Manset and Adam Le Fondre - all with two each.
This could be because, generally, Reading have been rather goal shy in recent opening games, averaging just 0.9 goals per opening game since 2000. And let us forget that dreadful period between 2007 and 2009 when three opening matches in a row finished 0-0 - two of them against Nottingham Forest.
Drawing to a close
The last three times Reading have been relegated - in 1998, 2008 and 2013 - all have one thing in common: we drew our opening match of the season. That’s 1-1 away to Bury, 0-0 against Manchester United at Old Trafford and 1-1 at home to Stoke City.