The Championship is famed all across the world for its unpredictable excitement and rollercoaster-like seasons, but this year, in my opinion, this league will take these two things to new heights.
I don't even think it's an opinion at this point - we’ve seen already what kind of season we’ve got in store. It’s going to be topsy-turvy, full of ups and downs and the games will come thicker and faster than ever before. It’s going to be an absolute whirlwind.
Teams that we’d expect to be galloping ahead at this stage - the likes of Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich City - are all firmly locked in with the rest of the pack, in true Championship style.
On paper, the three relegated teams have the quality in their teams to bounce straight back to the Premier League. In my opinion, only Bournemouth can stop themselves from going back up - the amount of Premier League class in their squad is just an absolute joke. Unfortunately though, the Championship isn’t played on paper.
In the same way we all thought those three teams would be running away with the league at this point of the season, who on earth thought that we’d be where we are now? Fifth in the league, level on points with Watford and ahead of last season’s play-off runners-up Brentford. It’s so much more than any of us could’ve expected.
The start to the season was one of the most enjoyable times supporting this club that I can remember. However, because of how unbelievably good that start was, the subsequent four-game losing streak really hit me hard. Those losses seemed to stay with me longer than losses in recent seasons had done, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in that horrible boat.
They stayed with me longer because Pauno and the players have proved they are a team worth caring about, and, as with anything you care about, it can toy with your emotions.
This isn’t to say I haven’t cared about the club in the last few years (I wouldn’t have continued to drag myself up and down the country to watch them if that was the case) but I think it’s fair to say that Paunovic has ignited a different kind of fire among us fans this season.
It was after the Sheffield Wednesday game when my admiration for Pauno went to a whole new level. That game was a game that, earlier on in the season, would’ve left me absolutely fuming and in a pretty awful mood for the rest of the week.
However, after watching the manager’s post-match interview, one that radiated class, calmness and maturity, I decided I was going to make a conscious effort to do as Pauno does: don’t dwell on the bad results and don’t over-celebrate the good ones.
It’s something that he seems to have instilled into the squad and, after scrolling through the Reading FC hashtag for my Fans Verdict piece after the Blues game on Wednesday night, he seems to have started the process of instilling that mindset into the fanbase too, which is a pretty impressive feat.
There’s been a lot of times since I started doing the Fans Verdict pieces where we’ve played a lot better than we did against Birmingham City and the reaction of the fans has been a lot worse than it was on Wednesday night. This is a sign of a real cultural change.
It’s a cultural change that will, hopefully, stand this team in good stead for what is to come. We need to accept that this team is going to lose games we *should* win and win games that we *should* lose.
That happens in a regular Championship season (if there is such thing) anyway, but in a Championship campaign when the games feel like they’re coming every other day and the presence and impact of fans is so inconsistent, it's going to happen even more.
Pauno and his staff will understand this, as will the players. But it’s also something we need to understand as fans, which I know is a difficult thing to do. Ultimately, we’re going to be upset when we lose and happy when we win. And it’s very difficult to keep emotions in check when you’re as deeply connected to something as we are with this club.
But making that mindset change, which Pauno already seems to be doing, will help this side. This is a young team which is evolving and learning on the job. The last thing they need is for us to heavily criticise them and get on their back after every loss.
What I'm ultimately trying to say with all of this is this: keep the faith and trust the process. Paunovic is building something here and we have to get behind him and the team just as much when we lose as when we win.
We’ve seen already that this season is going to be unpredictable, it’s going to throw a few curve balls and sometimes the players are going to have games where they just don’t turn up to the races. But what it’s also shown is that we’re 17 games in and we’re still there or thereabouts in the play-off positions.
Nobody knows what the remaining 29 games are going to have in store. It’s going to be a long old season that will be nice to you one week, but won’t hesitate to stab you in the back the next. With this in mind, we as fans have a duty to give the team the best possible chance of being successful, but we also need to understand that no road to success in this league is smooth.
The foundations are there for this to be a very exciting season for us, so let’s enjoy the ride.