Cast your mind back to the Saturday before last. Reading had just held on to an dogged, determined but deserved three points against Preston North End and, as the fans were departing the their seats and making their way back into the concourse, Veljko Paunovic made his way to the centre circle.
What happened next was one of the most poignant and powerful moments I can remember in recent memory as a Reading fan. In the first home league game with fans back in the stadium (properly) in around 17 months, Paunovic stood there and worshipped the Loyal Royals, which was reciprocated to an even greater level.
Yes, the majority of the fans who had been at the game were not there to witness it, but it was a moment that demonstrated confidence and support from the supporters towards the manager in abundance.
Fast forward seven days and two more losses, and Pauno is now the subject of some heavy criticism from sections of the Reading fanbase. Some of that criticism, I’ll admit, is deserved. But, in my opinion, a large chunk of it is completely undeserved. He is having to deal with a long, long list of things that are completely out of his control, and are bound to have an effect on performances and results.
Firstly, and most importantly, you have to look at the cards that Paunovic has been dealt. The Serbian has now been in charge at the SCL stadium for 360 days. Five days ago he made his first permanent signing, and only his fifth signing in total.
Paunovic walked into a mess of a club, let’s be honest. And the biggest factor for that mess was erratic spending (to be polite) by the powers that be, previous to when he joined. The dark cloud that spending created is still hovering over us to this day, and perhaps even darker than ever. And that is completely out of Paunovic’s control. How can we expect him to do his job to the best of his capabilities when he struggles to bring in players?
If anybody reading this has ever been a manager within their own occupation, or within any position of authority, you will understand that you need good people around you, in your team, to be able to do your job as best you can, and get the best results you can. Paunovic just hasn’t had that privilege often enough, and definitely doesn’t have it at the moment.
Secondly, before a ball was even kicked this season, Pauno lost Olise to his rightful place in the Premier League and then had to deal with the news that one of our biggest players, Yakou Meite, had suffered an injury that will keep him out for the rest of the calendar year at least.
And just for good measure, talisman Lucas Joao is now out until January too with a hip injury. Those three players either assisted or scored 52 of our 62 goals last season. Yes, you read that correctly. FIFTY TWO of our SIXTY TWO goals. And Paunovic hasn't been able to replace them yet (if that’s even possible) due to the restrictions we all know about.
Throw in the fact we’ve lost arguably the best left back in the league, thus having to play McIntyre out of position, which in turn unbalances the defence, and I think it’s fair to say that Pauno hasn’t really been dealt the best hand recently.
Look, like I said before, I know he’s made mistakes. The tactics most recently against Coventry, particularly in the second half, were a bit baffling. And then for him to come out and say he thought everything ‘went well until the last second’ is also a tad dubious to say the least (although, I hand on heart believe he only said that to protect his players).
I’m not sitting here and saying Paunovic is perfect, but I am sitting here saying we shouldn’t expect him to be. He will make mistakes, the players will make mistakes, in the same way you and me make mistakes in our jobs. It happens, it just does.
We all knew what we were getting in for when this season started. The first four to six weeks, at least up until the first international break, were always going to be tough. Our squad is thin, perhaps the thinnest in the league now Derby have been able to make some signings - and we can’t really do anything about it at the moment.
We cannot start calling for Paunovic’s head now that tough start has realised itself. We knew it was going to happen, so we shouldn’t be so surprised that it’s now happening. Hopefully, the skies are clearing a bit in terms of what we can and can’t do with our transfers. The rumours are that the Royals are hoping to bring in three players this week alone.
Don’t have any new names for you, but I’m hearing that the club are hoping to get three players through the door over the next week. Still works in progress but that’s the aim. Busy few days coming up. #readingfc— Matt Joy (@MattJoy96) August 21, 2021
If this can be done, and Paunovic finally starts getting some more players in, then I have complete confidence the Serb will turn our fortunes around - complete confidence. He has proven before he can get the absolute best out of this group of players, so there is no reason he can’t do that again.
His hard work, and the commitment he’s shown to our football club in the time he’s been here - let’s be honest, he would’ve been well within his rights to jump ship as the EFL uncertainty dragged on - don’t deserve to be met with calls for him to be sacked four games into the new season.
Some people may argue that the problems Paunovic has had stretch back further than just the start of this season and into the latter stages of last season. That’s true, but the situation in the club has got worse over the summer and we actually have fewer players in the squad now than we did against Huddersfield on the last day of the season - and the quality of those players is also lower, so how can we expect Paunovic to produce better results?
Let me tell you now, the first four games of any season, particularly a 46-game Championship one, does not predetermine where you are going to finish however many months down the line. We still have 42 games to go.
Please, let’s stick behind the manager. I genuinely believe the picture will be a much brighter one in the next month or so when we can finally get some decent quality players in. A bit of support from us fans is the least Paunovic deserves. Trust the process.