Reading FC fans could be forgiven for not looking much at the Championship table these days, least of all at the upper reaches. But sitting second and buzzing with genuine optimism at a promotion push are Blackburn Rovers.
Come May, it will have been a decade since Blackburn played their last game in the Premier League. Since then they have failed to finish inside the Championship top seven and even experienced a brief spell in the third tier. It is to the team’s credit, in particular manager Tony Mowbray’s, that this season could end that long run. But many fans will rightly feel they have spent far too long away and that their relegation was avoidable in the first place.
Blackburn’s story is relevant to Reading in 2022 because the manager that took them down was one Steve Kean. Kean did an awful job in charge of matters on the pitch and came to embody the serious mismanagement of the club off it by owners Venky’s. Amid furious calls to resign or be sacked, while being backed by people behind the scenes who appeared out of their depth, and with (most important of all) results going down the drain, Kean remained. And they went down. And so will Reading if the club allows the same thing to happen under Veljko Paunovic.
How Reading ended up in this situation has been years in the making, and every fan is well-versed in that regard, but what the club does next will be the difference between the opportunity to start afresh in the Championship in the summer and the calamity of relegation.
It is here where the debate is among fans at the Select Car Leasing Stadium. Do we want Dai Yongge out? Do we want him to lay out his long-term plans for the club? Do we want to sack the board and his associates? Do we want Pauno out? Or do we want all of the above? It is my belief that the only tangible thing the club can do in the coming months to avoid relegation is changing the manager, and therefore the fans’ efforts must be focused on that.
There are fans who want to protest the situation at the Coventry game, and I will leave it up to you as to whether you think using the club’s 150th anniversary game to protest is a bit crass or the perfect moment to emphasise the need to do better. If it were up to me, any sentiment would be focused on changing the manager (in good nature, of course), for the benefit of the club, the players, and indeed Paunovic himself - as Olly has laid out here.
There will be those who believe this is not enough, that only an urgent addressing of the entirety of the club’s issues can save us. One battle at a time. Reading’s short-term future is too important to lose focus on. For now, we have to focus on trying to prevent Reading from repeating Blackburn’s mistakes of a decade ago. We can have the fans’ forums, the long-term visions, and the backroom overhauls in the summer. The only club statement that can push us closer to survival now is one confirming the removal of Veljko Paunovic as manager.