Let’s face it, it was inevitable in the end - Paul Ince leaving his role as manager of Reading FC by whatever means after a horrendous run of form and virtually no idea how to arrest the slide. I have a small degree of sympathy with him as he didn’t cause the six-point deduction this season, but then again, the results, the downward slide, the inability to reconnect with the fanbase, the constant berating of his players and ultimately a total refusal to look facts in the face did for him.
And so we have Noel Hunt in charge until the end of the season. Good luck to him, a hardworking striker in the Steve Coppell mould (like it or not, Steve Coppell will forever have an influence on the contemporary fanbase), Irish spirit that everyone at Reading FC connects with.
One of the Coppell and, latterly, Brian McDermott mantras was to never be outworked by the opposition. McDermott went on record after our 2-0 home defeat to Watford in 2011 stating that the squad had had a frank heart-to-heart and, having been given the simple running data, agreed to never be outrun by the opposition again. Noel Hunt was a key part of that squad, particularly in the second half of the season, his eight goals in 41 appearances belying his importance to the team.
There is absolutely no doubt Hunt will have sought the counsel of numerous parties from the past. I daresay Coppell and McDermott may be among them, but the simple fact is that if Hunt can instil some of that work-horse quality in the Reading team that he displayed as a player, he’ll go some way to ensuring the fans remain onside.
All told, it is a free hit for him: five games to turn around awful form and performances which, on the face of it, a squad of our quality should never be putting in. But then, if you stick eight players on the edge of your own box and only allow them to push up the park if the ball is held up by your lone striker, who then is unable to effectively keep hold of the ball… you do the maths.
Hunt has limited experience of management, having been assistant to Richie Wellens at Swindon Town, with a month of caretakership in November 2020 - his eight matches including two wins (1-0 v Bristol Rovers, 2-1 v Oxford United), one draw (3-3 v Shrewsbury Town) and three defeats in the league ((0-3 v Accrington Stanley, 0-1 v Lincoln City, 2-4 v Crewe Alexandra), while he oversaw a 2-1 FA Cup first-round defeat to Darlington and a 1-0 EFL Trophy win at Forest Green.
Hardly inspiring, but that Swindon team was in the midst of turmoil under Lee Power, so he has some experience of firefighting. That will at least stand him in good stead.
This group of fans will respond to attacking football, but what it needs first and foremost is hard work and quality. We have, over the last few seasons, shown we don’t keep many clean sheets (just 12 in the last two seasons). That puts pressure on the attack, but we have good, experienced strikers in Andy Carroll and Lucas Joao who know how to put the ball in the back of the net. We have the players to create chances, so putting the onus more on attack and creating those chances is the obvious way to go.
How Hunt goes about that is up to him, but we all want to see him succeed. The main imperative though is the workrate. If that is shown against Burnley on Saturday, nobody will care too much about the result. Forget all thought of the record right now; Championship survival is the ultimate aim. We’re all behind you Hunty.