The last few months have, on the whole, been inconsistent but positive overall for Mark Bowen. Since we last asked you to grade his efforts as Reading manager - during the international break in late November - the Royals have built up a healthy gap between themselves and the bottom three. That gap was just five points after the comfortable 3-0 home win over Luton Town, but now stands at 11 points.
That’s come about due to a very solid run of form that would put Reading 10th in the Championship if the season had started at that point. From the 18 games since the international break, the Royals have won six, drawn six and lost six:
Wins: Wigan Athletic away, Derby County home, QPR home, Preston North End away, Fulham away, Sheffield Wednesday away
Draws: Barnsley away, Stoke City away, Nottingham Forest home and away, Cardiff City away, Hull City home
Losses: Brentford away, Leeds United home, Birmingham City home, Millwall away, Bristol City home, West Bromwich Albion home
Although it looked for a little while in late December and early January that Reading could push for the play-offs this season, the injury to Lucas Joao - and subsequent drop in form - seemed to rule out those chances. It’ll be a tall order to make the top six, but the Royals are still comfortably wedged in mid-table, which I’m sure we’d all be content with after the last few seasons.
Reading’s limited progress in moving up the Championship can probably be explained by their contrasting home/away form. The Royals have only won twice at the Mad Stad since late November, with another two draws and four defeats - although two of those losses have been one-goal reverses to top two West Bromwich Albion and Leeds United.
On the other hand though, the form on the road is very good. Reading’s only losses were to playoff-chasing Brentford and Millwall, but they’ve racked up impressive wins including those at Preston North End and Fulham, while grinding out solid draws such as the ones at Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City.
Tactically, there have been questions over Bowen’s style of play, particularly since the injury to Joao. Having played 4-2-3-1 for a few weeks with the summer signing as a target man, the Royals have since tried a few different systems under Bowen to turn their fortunes around, including 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, 4-4-2 and 3-5-2. It would appear that, as with predecessor Jose Gomes, Bowen doesn’t necessarily have an effective plan B when plan A goes pear-shaped.
Bowen’s not really had much to do in terms of acclimatising new players or reacting to the loss of any key talent, although Felipe Araruna and Ayub Timbe Masika have both been given their debuts by Bowen so far.
On the cup front, Bowen’s strategy of essentially picking a ‘B side’ for the FA Cup - so that the first team could concentrate on the Championship - didn’t backfire. That side got past League One Blackpool in a replay at Bloomfield Road, fought to a draw against Cardiff City at the Madejski Stadium, and eventually knocked the Bluebirds out on penalties in South Wales. It should be said though that there were a number of first-team players in that matchday squad.
Off the pitch, Bowen’s impressive start was rewarded with a 12-month extension to his initial contract - that had been due to expire at the end of the current campaign. That decision was a little controversial however, with some fans questioning the timing of the contract rather than how much Bowen deserved it. Jordan Cottle articulated those concerns well here.
So, with all that in mind, how good a job is Mark Bowen doing as Reading manager? Last time out, you gave him an impressive score of 4.45/5 - second only to Jaap Stam’s 4.59/5 in the wake of defeat at Wembley to Huddersfield Town.
As ever, we want you to grade his performance from 1-5, which you can do in the poll below. If it doesn’t display on your device, go through this link.