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Now What? Shifting Expectations For The Season

With Reading’s hot start catching their own fans out (let alone the national press!), the boys now have a fantastic seven-day stretch in which they should show us exactly where our expectations should actually be set this season.

Reading v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Editor’s note: At time of publication, Reading are due to play all three games before the next international break as scheduled. However, after the sad passing of Queen Elizabeth II and the start of a 10-day period of national mourning, some or all of these matches could be postponed.

After yet another victory to extend Reading’s 100% start to the season at Fortress SCL, Tom Ince defiantly told the TV cameras that “we just want to keep proving people wrong”. And indeed, so far, both Inces have proved a lot of Royals fans (including myself) wrong.

After eight matches, Reading sit third in the Championship table and have looked remarkably defensively solid outside of the two 4-0 results on the road. The Royals have conceded just three goals in the other six matches they’ve played to give themselves a real chance at the three points every weekend.

Reading v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

For a club that’s been under a paid-transfer embargo for the better part of three years, and enduring the EFL’s business plan across the last two seasons, it’s a remarkable achievement from Paul Ince to have the side knocking boots with the big spenders of the division.

It’s great to hear Ince Jr be so bullish about the Royals’ chances this season. Obviously though, it’s early. We all remember how the Pauno reign started with eight unbeaten matches, and yet that fizzled out slowly over the course of the season.

While Paul Ince has been happy with the start, and clamoured for more recognition for our performances, he certainly isn’t getting carried away. After the Sheffield United match (which started with Reading top of the league), he commented: “All this talk about top of the table rubbish… we need to make sure our levels are always right if we’re going to stay in this league.”

That’s a great attitude to have, but it also shows that inside the club, the focus is very much still on avoiding relegation.

All of that leaves fans with the question though of just where should our expectations for the season be set now. It’s difficult to parse. On top of getting good results, Reading’s performances in games have been impressive. They staunched the bleeding of their leaky defence from last season and have multiple viable attacking options. On the flipside though, Paul Ince hasn’t worked out how to get his side purring on the road yet, and our paper-thin squad depth and ongoing injury crisis (which is honestly starting to feel more like status quo) will no doubt mean us dropping winnable points throughout the year.

Handily though, we have a really interesting week ahead of us, and one that should give us a much better idea of our level in 2022/23.

It will start to a tough trip to Vicarage Road. Watford’s stadium hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for the Royals in the past, and memories of Ismaela Sarr’s last performance against us there might give the impression we’re on our way to another 4-0 hiding on the road.

Watford v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

But Reading have shown they can up their performance against good sides this season, beating pre-season favorites Middlesbrough and demolishing a rolling Blackburn Rovers team. Why then should the boys be afraid? With a week of rest since the Stoke City match and confidence sky high, it should be a great way to show just how competitive this side can be with the top teams in the division.

That match will be a good test for this confident team, but then the real key comes in the next two games against Wigan Athletic and Sunderland. Despite their status and Premier League histories, both of those sides came up from League One in the summer, and Reading will have been expecting to compete closer to their level than that of Watford and Sheffield United.

Reading v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Regardless of what the hopes for the season were, home to Sunderland in midweek is a match that Reading should be looking to win. Then, against Wigan on the road, Reading may have the better starting XI on paper for the first time this season. One would hope that result looks a little closer to the Millwall result than the 4-0 away drubbings.

If Reading can come out of this next seven days with four to six points, then expectations may be in a position to be raised. Reading will have won six or seven matches already, and likely need to win just six or seven more the entire season to stay up. If Reading falter though, taking just a point or none from these three matches, then expectations may start to fall back to their pre-season levels over the international break.

The start to this season has been a fantastic and unexpected wave of positivity, but also feels like just deserts for Reading given the smart way they went about recruiting in the summer. So what should our expectations be this season then? In truth, I have absolutely no idea anymore, but we certainly should know much better after a hopefully telling upcoming seven days.