Veljko Paunovic: a man not many in Royal Berkshire would have heard of previous to his appointment this summer. As the Serbian embarked on a new experience in English football and the unforgiving Championship, he replaced Mark Bowen as head coach just two weeks before our campaign began. Naturally, many questions and doubts were voiced in regards to this decision and there was a definitive divide between Reading fans.
However, this relatively unknown entity of Paunovic and his staff have led the Royals to seven wins and six clean sheets from eight games, six points clear at the summit of the Sky Bet Championship. Yet here we are and, after Tuesday’s latest win against Blackburn Rovers, the Royals’ ascent shows no sign of coming to a halt.
As a Reading fan myself, this resurgence of not only results and performances but a feel-good factor that has been absent for too long, excites me and I’m sure every Reading fan will be looking forward to where this season could take us.
Paunovic arrived and embarked on a quest to pick this team back up off the canvas after the disappointment of previous seasons. The club’s financial turmoil and uncertainty was definitely a cause for concern for us Reading fans, especially when a dozen or so out-of-contract players left Berkshire after not having their contracts renewed.
The permanent signing of fans’ favourite Ovie Ejaria from Liverpool was a relief to us all and, alongside him, Josh Laurent bolstered the midfield on a free from Shrewsbury Town. Lewis Gibson, a young centre back from Everton, joined on a season-long loan deal hoping to develop himself and gain first-team football with Alfa Semedo and Tomas Esteves.
Esteves was a deadline-day signing that excited us all: a young right back who had been rumoured with Europe’s giants and had been nominated for the Golden Boy award. Despite this, somehow we managed to land a loan deal and I can’t wait to see this prospect showcase himself in blue and white hoops.
Reading fans haven’t been used to not conceding, so to see a defence with such determination and organisation to keep the opposition from gaining entry into our box - let alone keeping the ball out of the back of the net while putting their bodies on the line - is so pleasing to see. This alone stands us in good stead because if you concede you can’t lose games!
The best thing about this team is that we look like we know how to win ugly and, in a league where the challenges thrown at the team week in week out are so adverse, being able to adapt and overcome this and find a way to win at any costs is impressive.
Results have been almost faultless, and Paunovic has also created a team spirit and unity that is captivating the Serbian to supporters. “We still have to develop, but we definitely forged a fantastic spirit and the culture of the team is very clear and transparent,” Paunovic told The Times. This warrior mentality shows throughout matches - Paunovic and his staff are extremely animated and aren’t afraid to show signs of frustration in the team, but this is what we want: a manager whose passion spills out and won’t be satisfied until every minute aspect of his team’s performance is immaculate.
Not only has the spirit on the pitch improved but all around the club it seems. Social media posts of players dancing and integrating new players into the changing room, while players show clear bonds and friendships that will be hard to break, never fails to put a smile on mine and many Reading fans’ faces. It shows on the pitch. A real sense of togetherness and solidarity will only gain us more points in the future.
The feel-good factor is back; from the players to the fans there’s no doubt in that.
In Lucas Joao we have possibly one the best strikers in the league. He has it all, from being able to hold it up and bring others into play or running in behind. His goals and presence alone have been a huge contributor to our great start and if we keep him fit he’s going to be an irreplaceable asset to the team. He’s alongside Yakou Meite who might not be the most technical and elegant player to watch, but comes up with important goals whenever we need him. These two could be a force to be reckoned with this year.
It just seems the balance of this team is perfect. We’ve got free-flowing attackers with unlimited flare who constantly provide moments of magic, and two deep-lying midfielders who do the dirty work and move the ball on while creating a barricade in front of the back four. Also we mustn’t forget the importance of our shot stopper organising them all and producing Brazilian brilliance week in week out.
Can we stay the distance and complete this marathon of a season? Who knows. The Championship is a rollercoaster ride of emotions and one of which Reading fans are currently not wanting to end. We just wish we were there to witness this and to me it makes me reminisce of ‘that’ 2011/12 season, and this can only be a good sign!
The dismissal of Mark Bowen now seems a masterful decision and, despite the questionable decision of appointing Paunovic, it seems we’ve uncovered a diamond. The feel-good factor is back Royals fans, and let’s hope this tremendous start continues until we can return to the Mad Stad and be able to first-handedly watch this team that has made weekends so much more enjoyable already. Up The Royals!