Being a Reading fan is not much so an obscure past time as a past time filled with obscurity. Following the Royals means being grouped in the bracket of teams dubbed ‘boring’, ‘faceless’ and ‘irrelevant’ by several other viewers of the game.
But the mood before the 2019/20 season was unusual in that it saw supporters yearn for exactly that. To become once again a bog standard, middle of the road Championship team. No fuss, no drama. Just quietly building for a better tomorrow.
Reading’s 1-0 defeat to Bristol City on Tuesday night served to underline why the play-offs have proved beyond the club this season. Mark Bowen’s men have now won two, drawn two and lost two of their last six Championship games. Yes, measure the form table since the start of November and they are elevated to an impressive eighth but run the clock forward to counting 2020’s result alone and the result is 15th place (having played a game more).
The overall standing also has the Royals squarely in mid-table - 10 points off the play-offs and 11 clear of the drop. Given the tumultuous last two campaigns and the fans’ generally realistic short-term ambition, this is exactly where we hoped to be.
Many simply wanted to have a decent, young team that could win games and keep out of trouble.
Sitting here in January, the team is clearly decent; beating high flying Fulham, Preston and Millwall, going unbeaten versus Nottingham Forest, Swansea and West Brom, and earning big wins over Cardiff, Luton and Derby.
It is young, too. Teenagers Michael Olise and the soon-to-be out of contract Danny Loader are getting reasonable first-team chances while Andy Rinomhota, Ovie Ejaria, George Puscas, John Swift, Yakou Meite and plenty others all have time and potential to develop into.
There is a ‘but’ to all this, of course. Fans grow agitated when potential goes unmet. They grow bored when these nice wins don’t actually lead anywhere. Even though mid-table is what was hoped for now, it won’t always be.
Reading must look ahead to next season and picture how to take this side into the top-half. This side has done well to graduate into mid-table obscurity - but this contentment will last only so long before the owners’ lofty ambitions are met by fans.
Is it the simple addition of a fit and firing striker? A continuation of the manager’s tactical development? Or a widespread standards upgrade that pushes the whole squad up a notch? While the fans can enjoy this process while it lasts, they will only accept living in purgatory for so long.