Reading’s biggest win in their recent history came against Bolton Wanderers, almost five years ago, on January 18 2014. It’s a testament to just how dire things have been in the half-decade since that the 7-1 demolition of the Trotters seems like an eternity ago. It’s also a bitter reminder of how we used to sweep teams aside every once in a while. Since that game there have been just six league matches from a possible 238 when Reading have scored four or more goals.
The fact you can count these games on one hand speaks for itself; 5-1 v Blackpool just a couple of weeks after the Bolton romp, 4-2 v Leeds away (March 2014), 5-1 v Ipswich Town (September 2015), 4-3 at Charlton (March 2016), 4-2 at Burton Albion (May 2017) and 4-2 at Derby last season if you’re interested in knowing the opposition.
Furthermore, as those results show, since the 2014/15 season campaign kicked off, there’s been just one occasion where the Royals have beaten their opponents by four or more goals. So why am I seemingly obsessed this week with writing about Reading thrashing teams (or lack thereof) when we’re in a relegation scrap? Surely we should just be content with scraping 1-0 wins courtesy of own goals, never mind winning by four goals or more?
Well, if anything, it’s more an indication of just how Reading have gradually, seemingly in slow motion, become a team that can no longer intimidate opposition defenders. So much so that by now we’re used to being a toothless team.
If there’s one stat that illustrates this long, drawn-out decline it’s that in Reading’s last seven matches against Bolton (that have taken place since the 7-1 thrashing) we’ve scored just seven goals against them. Seven the magic number in January 2014 maybe, but not in the half decade since.
To put things in perspective, since that 7-1 thrashing Reading have averaged just one game where they’ve scored four goals or more every 40 league matches - across a total of 238 combined. However, between the first game of the 2008/09 season, and up to and including the 7-1 win against Bolton, the Reading teams of that era averaged one such result every 17 league matches - out of a total of 250 matches. That’s quite the drop-off then, and again highlights this decline in Reading’s potency in front of goal. But can it be revived?
The January 2010 revival
To give a sort of answer I’ll point you toward 2009/10. Now that season saw four matches where Reading scored four goals or more – an average of once every 11.5 games. There are a few other remarkable things of note from that season though...
2009/10 saw Reading score just 25 goals in their first 23 games. Now that’s the worst goal-scoring start to a season in Reading’s recent second-tier history. The only other season where Reading failed to reach thirty goals by the turn of the year is... dun dunn dun dunnn... this one! We managed just 27 goals in comparison. It’s also hardly surprising that in no other recent Championship campaign has relegation seemed such a threat at this stage since 2009/10.
So what about those four big victories that season? Well they all came after January: 5-0 v Sheffield Wednesday, 4-1 v Derby County, 6-0 v Peterborough and 4-1 v Preston North End. They also came after tweaks were made to the team in the transfer window, and changing an unpopular, short-lived manager to a much more likeable character.
2009/10 arguably saw the biggest turnaround in the club’s fortunes in Reading’s recent history in such a short space of time. I know that in 2011/12 the Royals were in the relegation zone in September, but by November we were mid/top half of the table and the turnaround took place over the full course of the season rather than in the last third.
More than anything, this comparison goes to show that quick turnarounds are more than possible, and should we win against Bolton why not dare to believe something similar could happen nine years on? Between January 30 and March 27 2010 Reading picked up an astonishing 29 points from a possible 36 available in 12 games. In their 26 matches before then, they’d picked up just 23 points. It’s important to look back to that season and the stats behind it for hope and inspiration - if we’re going to turn around our fortunes this time. Let’s hope Tuesday night is the catalyst.