The defeat to Blackburn Rovers seemed like deja vu for a lot of reasons: failing to breakdown an organised defence, a lack of inventiveness, and conceding soft, sloppy goals. However, what really struck me as I walked back from the Madejski Stadium was that - for the third successive season - we’ve started with another lacklustre home record.
For the third straight campaign we’ve taken five or fewer points from our opening four matches in Berkshire. In 2018 Reading lost all four of their opening four games before winning their fifth and in 2017 we gained just five points from the opening five matches. Even if we manage to beat Fulham this Tuesday, the total number of points gained from each of the first five games of the last three seasons will equal a combined total of just 14 - at an average of 4.7 points a season.
To put this into perspective, the three seasons that came before this run (2014-2016) saw Reading pick up a combined total of 29 points - an average of 9.7 points a season. This is a decline of over half - concerning indeed.
In fact, if you look at each of the opening five games that Reading have played in the Championship at the Madejski Stadium, you’ll see on only two previous occasions out of 12 did Reading pick up six points or fewer - in 2009 under Brendan Rogers and in 2002, the first year back in the second tier after promotion with Alan Pardew. Even those seasons were seven years apart, so to now get three in a row demonstrates a worrying trend.
Opening five home games in the second tier since moving to the Mad Stad
2016 - 11pts
2015 - 8pts
2014 - 10pts
2013 - 11pts
2011 - 7pts
2010 - 10pts
2009 - 3pts
2008 - 15pts
2005 - 12pts
2004 - 15pts
2003 - 11pts
2002 - 6pts
So, from an average of 10 points in Reading’s opening five matches between 2013 and 2016, the average points gained in Reading’s first five home games has now dropped to an average of just 4.6 points between 2017 and 2019. And that’s in a ‘best-case scenario’. In that average I’ve just worked out, I’ve included a win against Fulham in the Royals’ next home match.
If we draw or even lose that game, then the average for the last three seasons slips to approximately 3.5 points. This is alarming not only because of the obvious drop in points gained, but because the last two poor home starts set us up for the two worst Championship finishes that Reading have had since they were relegated from the second tier in 1998.
Now let’s compare Reading with other Championship sides. Only twelve other teams in the league this season have played the previous two in the second tier, just as Reading have. It’s these twelve that I have decided to compare with Reading to get a fair barometer, and by examining the start of this season and the previous two. At the time of writing, all teams in the list had played a nice even four home games each this season, so I decided to combine with the first four games in 2018 and 2017. The obvious analysis from this data is that Reading are a long way behind at the bottom of the list.
- Middlesbrough - 29 points (9.6 average)
- Preston North End - 27 points (9 average)
- Leeds United - 26 points (8.6 average)
- Queens Park Rangers - 23 points (7.6 average)
- Sheffield Wednesday - 23 points (7.6 average)
- Nottingham Forest - 21 points (7 average)
- Bristol City - 20 points (6.6 average)
- Brentford - 20 points (6.6 average)
- Millwall - 19 points (6.3 average)
- Birmingham City - 18 points (6 average)
- Derby County - 17 points (5.6 average)
- Hull City - 15 points (5 average)
- Reading - 11 points (3.6 average)
Reading are also the only team in this group to have not won any more than five points in their opening four home games in each of the last three seasons. Obviously you have sides like Huddersfield Town and Stoke City who this season have even worse home records than us, having failed to win any of their opening matches, but taking Reading in isolation over the past three years and a worrying trend is clearly starting to develop - especially as it contrasts so drastically from previous seasons.
The reason I find this all so concerning is that a poor start at home sets a team up for a bad season, creating a spiral of negativity. It’s harder to keep fans on side if wins aren’t coming - and you can already see this increasing negativity towards Gomes and his players in the space of just a month. His early popularity was no doubt helped by the fact that we lost just two home games last season after he took the reins, but beating that amount in just the first four games at the Madejski has meant the tide of discontent has surged suddenly against him from some corners of the stadium.
After all, five points from five away games is hardly alarming, in fact we’re a solid 13th in the away form standings. What matters most of all is winning at least two of the next three home games if this team is going to build some sort of momentum this season, which means three points against a very good Fulham side is going to be even more important to the fans than just the 2017 playoff rivalry.