Jose Gomes’ first full season as Reading manager ended in a wholly disappointing 3-1 defeat at home to managerless Sheffield Wednesday, in what was an unconvincing and tame performance from the Royals. Their effort contrasted heavily with the brave showing put on by a very young Reading side which managed to put three past Europa League holders Chelsea just six days earlier.
Expectations among the fanbase were high going into the match, owing in part to some of Sheffield Wednesday’s own issues off the pitch, including still being without a manager following the departure of Steve Bruce to Newcastle in July, and having been under a soft transfer embargo imposed by the EFL during the summer.
That said, Wednesday’s squad proved to be much the better side; the gulf of quality between Reading and a side that is likely to finish in the lower half of the table should come as a big warning sign to Gomes. While not completely disastrous, it is safe to say the result has sobered the mood around the club and served to remind fans that despite the owners’ bold ambitions, Reading are nowhere near being able to challenge for promotion.
Reading are no strangers to kicking off a campaign with a defeat - indeed, it’s the third season in a row that Reading have lost their Championship opener - but this loss felt even more frustrating than the late 2-1 defeat at home to Derby County at the beginning of the 2018/19 season, where Reading were actually impressive for the most part of the game.
The same cannot be said for this match. In fact, in terms of the narrative of the game, there is something incredibly Paul Clement-esque about conceding right after getting an equaliser (a throwback to Norwich City at home last September), and conceding a third right as Reading attempt to throw everything at their opponents in the dying minutes. It felt as though the team were not comfortable with the possession-based philosophy that we have become accustomed to under Gomes’ leadership.
Granted, this is to be expected with a patchwork squad of youth and experience that is still gelling as a team. And it still remains far from certain which players will regularly feature. Reading’s fairly low-key summer transfer saga looks set for an exciting dénouement as a new goalkeeper, striker and midfielder are all expected to be brought in by the club in the closing days of the window. After any new players join, even more time should be allowed for the squad to adapt and find its feet.
In essence, as fans we are going to need to be patient. The Gomes project is still a work in progress as the transfer staff do their utmost to bring in more players that fit his system, within the evident financial constraints. But Saturday’s home capitulation was far from the quick start that Reading urgently need so as to not fall far behind the rest of the pack, especially with tricky upcoming fixtures against Cardiff City (H), West Bromwich Albion (A) and Huddersfield Town (A).
Once again, Reading are heavily favoured to be flirting with relegation. Momentum needs to be built up quickly so as to prove the pundits wrong - hopefully much earlier in the season this time.