A new week, a new manager. That went down well didn’t it? Keeping away from the politics around the new man in the dugout, stats can be a breath of fresh air, where opinions are meaningless and only cold, hard facts count.
The stand-out stat of the week surrounds one of the most boring scorelines in football, 1-0, and it will be something that Mark Bowen might have to face come Saturday. That’s because the last five managers have started their first game in charge of Reading with a 1-0 scoreline.
Jose Gomes lost 1-0 at the New Den, Paul Clement beat QPR 1-0 at the Madejski Stadium, as did Jaap Stam to Preston North End back in August of 2016. Brian McDermott also triumphed over Blackburn Rovers in 2015 by, you guessed it, a 1-0 scoreline. Before him (getting a bit tedious now isn’t it?) Steve Clarke lost 1-0 at home to Watford.
You’ll be pleased to hear that Nigel Adkins’ Reading were beaten 3-1 by Arsenal in his first game in charge way back when the Royals were a struggling Premier League side in March 2013. But then the manager before him, Brian McDermott, in his first game as actual manager (after his caretaker spell) beat Barnsley 1-0 courtesy of a Shane Long goal.
Obviously this stat is, overall, completely useless, unhelpful and irrelevant in the context of Saturday’s crunch game against Preston. However, it’s interesting nevertheless to consider the sheer oddness and improbability that every new manager since we were relegated from the Premier League started with a 1-0 of some sort.
If Bowen can follow in McDermott, Clement and Stam’s footsteps and be on the right side of that scoreline, then that would be a start. But if he were to pull off such a feat it would be the first time Reading have won 1-0 since the days of Paul Clement - in just his third game in charge - back when he had a win ratio of two wins from three after a solitary Mo Barrow goal sank... dun dun dur….. PRESTON! There’s a lot of symmetry here and to be honest it would be just great if Reading were to win on Saturday for that fact alone.
The thing is that Reading’s inability to win 1-0 under Jose Gomes said a lot about the Portuguese manager’s side. Sometimes you need to be able to win a game 1-0, grittily and without glamour, much the same way both Middlesbrough and Bristol City overcame the Royals in recent weeks. The fact that Reading drew six games 0-0 last season does demonstrate this real inability to squeeze out the opposition in 50/50 games.
There was a lot to like about the way Jose Gomes’ Reading side played, but also a lot that frustrated and didn’t work - as much his personality and ability to connect with the fanbase and create a positive atmosphere about the club were appreciated. Tenacity, unfortunately, wasn’t a defining characteristic and that really did the team no favours in the run of one point in six games that led to Gomes’ sacking.
But is Jose Gomes squarely to blame for this particular feature of this Reading side? Paul Clement may have won two of his first three games 1-0 but that was it. The last 1-0 win before that was almost two years to the day when a Vito Mannone penalty save helped us to a 1-0 away win against Leeds United. Three 1-0 wins in two years for a side is pretty astonishing; it’s one of the most common scorelines in football and is the hallmark of any good team.
Just look at Reading under Stam in 2016/17: eight league wins by a 1-0 scoreline, nine if you include the playoff semi-final second leg. Then there’s our last promotion season in 2011/12 under Brian McDermott, where there were nine 1-0 wins there too. Last season in the Championship, winners Norwich won seven matches 1-0, runners-up Sheffield United had six 1-0 wins, while Aston Villa’s final 1-0 win count was a bit less on four - but still one more than Reading have achieved in over two years.
1-0 may be a scoreline that doesn’t elicit much delight - even if your team is on the right side of the scoreline. However, it is the backbone of almost all good sides. It illustrates doggedness, a winning mentality and self-belief. These are three things which have gone starkly missing since that ill-fated penalty shootout at Wembley an eternity ago. But if Mark Bowen can start with a couple of 1-0 wins, hopefully fans will realise that he has already instilled some key characteristics back into this sorry-looking Reading team - no matter what your opinion is of him.