Reading have finally sacked Paul Ince.
The Royals released a statement on Tuesday morning, the day after a late 2-1 defeat to Preston North End, saying Ince’s contract had been terminated with immediate effect. Assistant manager Alex Rae has also left the club.
It’s less a surprise that Ince has been sacked, more that it’s taken this long. Reading have won just two games in 2023 - home matches against relegation-faced Blackpool and Rotherham United. In that period, the Royals have slid from mid-table to the relegation spots.
Performances haven’t been any better. Reading have lacked proper tactical coherence for most of the season, so often struggling to cause the opposition any significant danger in open play. Goals have generally come from set pieces and long shots. Defensively, the Royals are the joint-third-worst side in the division, having conceded 62 goals in 41 games.
Really, Ince should have gone during the international break. Reading had the opportunity to replace him with a fortnight of preparation time for his replacement ahead of games against Bristol City, Birmingham City and Preston. Those games - all winnable for a side trying to stay up - yielded just two points.
His replacement? Noel Hunt. The fan-favourite and member of the 2011/12 promotion-winning side had been managing the Royals’ under-21 side, having joined Reading’s youth set-up the day after Paul Ince was appointed interim manager last season, funnily enough.
He’ll be supported by two other figures who’ve been involved at the club already this season: Eddie Niedzwiecki as assistant manager (moving from director of player development, at least temporarily) and first-team coach James Oliver-Pearce. The former has quite the record behind the scenes at Reading, having held two interim managerial stints himself, in addition to operating as a coach for both Mark Bowen and Veljko Paunovic.
“I would like to thank Paul and Alex for their efforts throughout what has admittedly been a frustrating and exceptionally challenging season so far. We would like to wish them well in their future endeavours.
“The board will work diligently to identify the manager who is the best fit for this football club going forward - a candidate capable of driving it towards a healthier, brighter future.
“However, for the next five games, our only focus is on doing everything we can to survive this season. Put simply, that means everyone – from myself, to the staff, to the supporters - lending all their support to Noel, Eddie, James and the first team players as we go into five crucially important games at the end of our 2022-23 campaign.”
With just five games to go now, including three tough games on the horizon against Burnley, Luton Town and Coventry City, it’s a tall order for Reading to stay in the division. It’s probably a case of ‘too little, too late’ for Hunt and co, but better than never at least. Best of luck to them in their efforts to keep this side up - we’re all with you.