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The Next Set Of Games Will Be A Huge Test Of Our Mental Resilience

Football is a mental game after all - but can the Royals overcome these hurdles to continue this scintillating form?

Reading v Watford - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

It’s safe to say our first four games could not have gone any better. Four wins, three clean sheets, just one goal conceded, Lucas Joao’s on fire and Sone Aluko has stepped up to the plate.

However, this is just the start. Veljko Paunovic succeeded against all odds to do so well with the first team after being in quarantine so close to the start of the season - now it’s time to do it all over again.

But why?

Well, when I look at these set of games before the next international break, they are rather tricky. Of course there’s no easy game in the Championship (cliché klaxon) - but the mental resilience the Royals need to show, if we are to continue this fine run of form, is going to be huge.

The first stop after the break is Middlesbrough, managed by the marmite figure of Neil Warnock. It doesn’t matter who you are, coming up against a side managed by the 71-year-old is always going to be a challenge. Eight promotions on his CV reinforces that.

Mentally, we need to be up for the fight - and an added factor is the long journey we have to make to Teeside - 266 miles to be precise. It’s certainly not the game we would’ve wanted to come back to after the break (and after a great run of form) - but we have to tackle it at some point so there’s no time like the present.

The lack of home fans at the Riverside will be countered by the high expectations created from the first four games though, something Paunovic will have to deal with before kick off as we look to build even more momentum.

Win that game - and the fanbase will be buzzing yet again.

And why not? After the last few seasons, the supporters deserve to get over-excited. Winning at the Riverside is no mean feat - something we haven’t achieved since August 2014 when Simon Cox grabbed an unlikely winner. In fact, our last victory against the Teeside club came back in October 2015 when we had that mini-spell under Steve Clarke.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Reading v Middlesbrough - Madejski Stadium
Midfielder Danny Williams scored in the October 2015 win
Getty Images

Since then, we have lost our last seven games against this weekend’s opponents. One thing is clear: we need to make our mark on Saturday.

Our last meeting with Warnock was in the latter stages of last season, after picking up seven points out of a possible nine against Luton Town (5-0 away win), Huddersfield Town (0-0 home draw) and Charlton Athletic (1-0 away win). The vast majority of the players in the squad will know how Boro came to Berkshire to spoil that record in July - and we can only hope it provides the motivation for us to go on and get something out of Saturday’s game.

A win would be impressive - and we certainly seem to have the team spirit and togetherness to be able to do it.

At a risk of being captain obvious, the clash against Boro will not be our only challenge though. The next two games after are against Wycombe Wanderers and Rotherham United - both at the Madejski Stadium.

Now, these are games we expect to win - but our mentality will determine whether we take all six points on offer or not. Wycombe will be desperate to pick up their first point(s) of the season if they don’t manage to do it against Millwall at the weekend - and Rotherham United have started reasonably well, currently sitting 12th in the table. These factors alone should be a sufficient warning - well, we can only hope it is.

Our result against Middlesbrough could also play a part and this is what makes football such a fascinating spectacle. Although it’s a physical game (especially when coming up against Colin), it’s just as much of a mental game too. Sone Aluko is living proof of that - and hopefully he’s managed to overcome any mental obstacles to push on and do well this season.

In terms of the whole team, generating a great team spirit like Brian McDermott did during his first spell paid dividends in 2011/12. I hope Paunovic can replicate this because it could make a huge difference. Even though many things have changed in the Championship with huge spending and big names, team spirit and togetherness will continue to shine through regardless - and it’s great to see Yakou Meite boosting team morale over the past couple of weeks.

He will need to keep doing this with a busy schedule until mid-November.

Let’s strap ourselves in for another rollercoaster ride over the next month - and I leave you with the upcoming fixtures, as well as a wholesome clip with new signing Tomas Esteves.

Upcoming fixtures

Saturday October 17: Middlesbrough (A)

Tuesday October 20: Wycombe Wanderers (H)

Saturday October 24: Rotherham United (H)

Tuesday October 27: Blackburn Rovers (A)

Saturday October 31: Coventry City (A)

Wednesday November 4: Preston North End (H)

Saturday November 7: Stoke City (H)