Reading Football Club successfully avoided relegation to League One after their Championship status was secured at the weekend. It effectively brings the curtain down on what had been a difficult season for the Royals with performances not being delivered on the pitch, huge discontent between the fans and attendances dropping at an alarming rate - although that all changed later on.
Here’s a detailed look at why and how the Royals got themselves out of a right mess and put smiles back on the Reading faithful.
Getting results when it mattered
For too long, Reading were not getting the results needed to push themselves up the league table. With just four wins all season, relegation had looked a certainty at Christmas, with the team conceding far too many goals and failing to take points off the teams around them.
However, all that change when Jose Gomes came in. The Portuguese installed a mentality that Reading fans haven’t seen for too long: passion, desire and fighting for the shirt. The 2-1 away win at Ipswich Town was arguably the turning point in the season not only because of how big a victory it was, but it also showed that Reading could get results despite the flow of the match going against them.
Another example of this was when Reading beat Wigan Athletic 3-2 in one of the games of season at the Madejski Stadium. It looked like the Royals would suffer a frustrating defeat having not played at their best, but goals from Modou Barrow on 88 minutes and Yakou Meite’s header in the last kick of the game secured all three points.
After this, the Royals would only lose three more games - against Leeds United, Hull City and most recently Middlesbrough.
The sacking of Ron Gourlay
It is without doubt that Ron Gourlay will not be welcomed back to the Madejski Stadium anytime soon. The former Chelsea chief executive was appointed ahead of the 2017 summer transfer window, keen to take Reading to the next level off the pitch.
However, rather than doing that, Gourlay arguably put the club in a downhill spiral. His decision-making reportedly led to the departure of technical director Brian Tevreden, along with academy manager Lee Herron who left to join Arsenal.
The club lost its entire marketing department following the resignation of Dara Thomas, as well as key officials in charge of recruitment. Youth coaches also left as they too were believed to be growing frustrated with how the club was being run. To many, Gourlay was responsible for the souring relationship between the fans and the players.
Speaking to BBC Radio Berkshire, former chairman Sir John Madejski said:
“The chief executive came in from large enterprises and he didn’t get the culture of Reading. Reading is largely a parochial club; it’s deeply set in the hearts and minds of community.”
Realising this, Reading’s Chinese owners got rid of Gourlay and ultimately replaced him with Nigel Howe, who had previously spent 21 years in the same position. He’s since tried to fix the mess left behind by Gourlay and helped bring back the feel-good factor by restoring the club off the pitch.
Without Gourlay’s dismissal, Reading’s overall decline may well have continued and could have resulted in the club’s relegation.
Paul Clement’s dismissal/Jose Gomes’ appointment
Paul Clement arrived at the club full of optimism following the sacking of Jaap Stam, and successfully guided to the club to safety during the 2017/18 season, picking up two wins to help them avoid relegation.
However, Clement picked up just five more wins in his 30 games in charge. His tactics and the way Reading were conceding goals - especially so soon after half-time - exasperated the Reading faithful.
He was dismissed on December 6 2018 after winning seven, drawing eight and losing 15 games, with a win percentage of 23%. That statistically made Clement one of the worse managers in Reading’s history.
Jose Gomes’ appointment before Christmas sparked bewilderment with some Reading fans unhappy about the appointment. However, few could have imagined the impact the Portuguese has made since taking over.
Gomes has done wonders with the players, getting the best of out of Yakou Meite and Mo Barrow in particular. He has got the team playing good football and built a connection with fans. Plus, without his determination to do well, Reading may well have come up short in the battle to survive.
The work done in the January transfer window
The January transfer window was arguably the most important in Reading’s history, and five players arrived on loan: Nelson Oliveira, Lewis Baker, Ovie Ejaria, Matt Miazga and Emi Martinez. All of them have played their part in Reading’s remarkable turnaround, from Martinez’ sensational saves game after game to Oliveira’s 85th-minute winner against Blackburn Rovers.
Plus, Miazga has been a rock at the back, developing a solid partnership with Liam Moore. The American wins an impressive number of aerial duels per game - 4.9 - meaning Reading have been able to deal with crosses far better than earlier in the season. Ejaria is also a fantastic player to watch with his dribbling, technique and close ball control, while Baker has been unplayable at times and has come on leaps and bounds since joining.
It’s certainly fair to say the loanees’ influence has been enormous and without doubt Reading have been a much better side with them playing.
The impact of Club 1871
“This [Club] 1871 that has been created really get behind the team. I can’t tell you the amount of clubs that have commented to me about how good our supporters are and long may it last.”
That was the message from chief executive Nigel Howe, speaking on BBC Radio Berkshire on the impact of Club 1871. For those who don’t know, Club 1871 was an initiative set up at the back end of last season aimed at improving the atmosphere.
It’s had its ups and downs but, overall, it’s been fantastic - especially in recent weeks, and players have commented on how the efforts of the supporters have helped them get results over the line. Seeing over 1,000 fans in Club 1871 against West Brom on Easter Monday was fantastic and long may it continue.
Having been in the South Stand for a few games this season I have seen firsthand how good this initiative is. The organisers who have helped get it off the ground are one of the reasons as to why Reading avoided relegation.