The word unprecedented has been banded around rather a lot these days, but few Royals fans would have thought it would start being used in relation to the start Veljko Paunovic’s side have had. Yet here we are, and yes, four wins in four is unprecedented and you probably don’t need reminding that it’s Reading’s best start to a season since 1986.
This piece will not be a comparison of older Reading teams with this one. Instead it will look at how other Championship teams have done, or more accurately, gone on to finish after starting the season, like Reading (and Bristol City) with 12 points from their first four matches.
It’s worth pointing out that this is a rarer feat than you may think, demonstrating just how competitive this league really is. In the past seven seasons alone, only two teams have won their opening four games and, just like in 2020/21, those two teams competed in the same season; in 2017/18, both Cardiff and Ipswich Town won their opening four games.
As the Second Tier Podcast posted on Twitter this week, Cardiff went on to make it five from five and subsequently became the only team since the formation of the Championship in 2004 to do just that. Contrast that with the Premier League, where for six of the past seven seasons including this one, at least one team has won their opening four matches of the season.
After the 2017/18 campaign of two teams achieving 100% starts after four games, you have to go further back to find the next clubs: Derby and Southampton achieved the feat - again, coincidentally in the same season as one another, in 2011/12. Then after Derby and Southampton? Well, there aren’t any more teams in the Championship era, which goes back to 2004/05 and to be honest is as far back as I’m willing to go at this stage.
That puts Reading’s (and Bristol City’s he types reluctantly) achievement at this premature stage into some perspective. This is the 15th season of the Championship as we know it, so 360 sides in total have played their opening four games of the season during that time and Reading are one of just six teams to win those four. If you take that stat on its own and isolate it, it does sound pretty good doesn’t it? One in every 60 teams have won their opening four games since the Championship was founded and this plucky, underdog Reading side which appointed a man none of us had heard of two months ago are one of them.
But what does that really mean when you expand the picture? What happened to Cardiff, Ipswich, Southampton and Derby after their 100% starts? It’s relatively recent history, so most of you will remember Southampton finished second behind ‘yours truly’, as did Cardiff in 2017/18, where they secured promotion on the final day thanks to a 0-0 with ‘yours truly’. It was less emphatic for Ipswich and Derby come May, but still led to respectable finishes of 12th and 12th (again) respectively. So, that means with definitive proof based on history that one of Bristol City and Reading will finish second and the other 12th…
OK, I know that those past two season were just coincidences, if albeit pretty weird coincidences. So, that’s why, if you really want to know what Reading’s relative success will be this season based on our first four games, we need to open it up to how the top two teams after four games fared in the overall season. Just how good a metric is a really good start to the season? Well I’ve compiled the below table of the top two teams (sometimes three based on joint points) and highlighted them green for automatic promotion, yellow for playoffs, red for relegation and no colour for a 7th-21st finish.
What do you notice straight away? There’s a lot of green isn’t there? That’s 18 teams who have been promoted either automatically or by the playoffs just by being in the top two (or three on joint points) just four games into the season. In total there are 38 teams here, 23 of which then achieved a top-six finish by the end of the season. So when people ask, ‘how important is a good start to the season in the Championship?’, the answer is right here in front of you. The rest is up to Pauno and the team.