With the first block of the season done, we’re checking back in on our approval ratings for Paul Ince and Dai Yongge.
Last time we asked for your thoughts, back in June, the manager and owner came out with decent scores. Ince secured a respectable average of 3.00/5, while Dai ticked up slightly from a dire February grade of 1.61/5 to reach 2.45/5.
So how do you feel about them now?
Paul Ince has guided Reading to a far better start to the season than any of us could have hoped for. The Royals went into the international break third in the Championship after six wins from 10 matches, just five off league leaders Sheffield United. We have in fact been in the playoff places for most of the season thus far (the last six matches), and were even top of the table after the 1-0 victory at Millwall.
And it’s not just been a case of luck. Reading have deserved this set of results thanks to a series of committed, organised performances. Those displays been built on a defensive resolve that’s yielded four clean sheets and a further three games in which only one goal has been conceded each time.
This is a side that knows how to stay compact and see out victories despite the opposition piling on pressure. Look to narrow wins over Middlesbrough, Millwall and Wigan Athletic as examples of excellent game management. Given how big a problem the reverse had been for Reading last season, Paul Ince has enacted huge chance in a pretty short period of time.
And off the pitch, the gaffer’s instilled the right culture at the club. It feels like everyone at Reading - players, staff and fans - are pulling in the same direction as part of the siege mentality we need in order to do well this season.
In the context of how widely Ince had been written off, his performance as manager has been hugely impressive. He’s proving people wrong, and long may that continue.
Reading have done very well so far this season but are still far from perfect.
The most obvious problem is the side’s inconsistency; while the Royals have shown an ability to grind out wins, we’ve also developed a tendency to randomly collapse in dramatic fashion. After 4-0 defeats at Rotherham United and Sheffield United, Reading’s perfect home record blew up with a 3-0 thrashing by Sunderland. It’s an issue that Paul Ince needs to get a grip on, otherwise it risks derailing the season.
Additionally, although the defence has generally been solid, the attack hasn’t been all that productive. Reading don’t create a lot of chances - in fact, we’re lowest in the entire division for the average number of shots taken per game (8.5) and joint 16th for total goals scored (10). While this hasn’t yet been a problem due to how good the defence has been, it’s a clear area for improvement.
Fans had been calling out for a better structure and direction behind the scenes at Reading for ages, and Dai Yongge’s finally delivered on that. Following discussions between Paul Ince and Dai at the end of last season, the Royals made some key appointments: Mark Bowen as head of football operations and Brian Carey as director of recruitment.
That facilitated a much better summer than had been feared, with Reading successfully building a competitive squad that should be strong enough to avoid relegation. The level of individual quality recruited was decent, but the real point of success is how coherent the squad make-up now looks.
The Royals also had a strong success rate with retaining out-of-contract players the club wanted to keep. Although John Swift, Josh Laurent and Andy Rinomhota departed, Reading did secure the services of Tom Holmes, Andy Yiadom and Junior Hoilett, among other senior players, in addition to almost every out-of-contract academy player.
Doing all of that against the backdrop of tight EFL restrictions was impressive. While the details are down to Bowen, Carey and co, it’s right to point that the personnel is there in the first place because of Dai. It’s just frustrating we hadn’t seen this structure put in place years earlier.
Furthermore, Dai’s finally made a proper public appearance! Surprising pretty much everyone, he turned up at the Wigan Athletic game, being pictured in an ASDA car park and some local boozers.
Don’t see many other owners taking a photo with fans outside an Asda in Wigan. Sir Dai URZZZ pic.twitter.com/tg87Niuy9c— Deano (@deanocx) September 17, 2022
Given that this year’s TTE April Fool’s piece was a joke about Dai doing Barnsley away, the fact he actually did Wigan away is... bizarre to say the least.
Despite how encouraging this is though, he’s not actually directly engaged with the fanbase at large by way of a written or video statement. While this is less necessary after the appointment of Bowen, who makes for a good point of contact between owner and fans, it’d still be great to hear directly from Dai.
Far more significant was Reading’s loss of category-one status for the academy in mid-July following an audit. It’s the legacy of general long-term mismanagement on Dai’s watch and a significant blow to the club’s reputation for youth development. For all the club’s failings at first-team level in recent years, having a category-one academy was a huge source of pride. While it’s encouraging that Reading quickly confirmed the top status would be reapplied for at the earliest opportunity, we shouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.
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