We all knew it was on the horizon but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. On Tuesday afternoon, Reading were hit with the confirmation of a further six-point deduction for failing to “comply with the budget restrictions imposed” by the EFL.
Look, we’ll probably never know the true ins and outs (although Mark Bowen’s open letter was a good starting point for that - more on that later), but on the face of things, the club have either messed up horribly and not followed a clear plan that was set, or this six-point deduction was pretty much always going to happen regardless of any progress we made this season.
Weirdly and very stupidly, the gravity of our situation only really hit me on Tuesday afternoon. It’s so, so much worse than last season when we received our deduction in November, with more than enough time to save ourselves - although we only just did that.
This season we’ve got the deduction, which leaves us just a point above the relegation zone, with only seven games to go. The last two of those come against Wigan Athletic and Huddersfield Town - which makes me feel violently sick just thinking about it.
Last season I had this innate superiority complex, probably stemming from the fact that I was three years old when Reading were last a third-tier side, which meant I never truly thought we’d go down. This season that has well and truly evaporated.
We’re playing poor football, with a vastly unpopular manager at the helm and have just seven games to save ourselves. It’s a nightmare situation.
However, although it is a worse situation than last season, there are positive similarities. Not to give ourselves a pat on the back or anything, but last season the supporters played a huge part in Reading staying in this division.
There was a camaraderie among the fans that spurred the team on to some huge results. I remember us going 4-1 down to Swansea City at home and we kept singing, kept going, and the boys managed to somehow rescue a point.
I don’t agree with much that Paul Ince says, I don’t think many of us do, but when he says we need to all stick together in these last seven games, as much as it pains me to say, he’s absolutely spot on. Disconnect, boos and jeers will do no one any favours from here on in.
Look, I’m as anti-Ince as the next man. I very, very rarely want a manager to be sacked, I don’t like seeing people lose their jobs, but now I’m the closest I’ve ever been to that. Ince has worn my, and I’m sure a lot of yours, patience extremely thin with some of his ridiculous tactical decisions and frankly unacceptable post-match comments. But we can't sack him now. More importantly, we won’t sack him now.
Bringing someone else in until the end of the season may well give us a ‘new manager bounce’, but is it really worth risking creating even more turbulence and uncertainty in such a vitally important part of not just this season, but also the future of the club? I don’t reckon Mark Bowen would think so.
With that said, we need to put our opinions on Ince, on how we got into this mess and on how the club’s being run to one side and rally behind the players and the club as one. We have no other choice.
At this stage of the season, supporters can be the difference. I have no doubt that the Wigan, Rotherham United, QPR and Huddersfield fans will be right behind their clubs in the run-in. And I know they haven’t been hit with a six-point deduction, but we need to emulate their backing, it’s as simple as that.
Later on Tuesday, an open letter to all the fans from Bowen was published by the club. I would not blame any of you for not believing a word that was written in that letter - this club doesn’t exactly have a good track record of open and honest communication.
However, for what it’s worth, I truly believe after reading the letter that Bowen has the club’s best interests at heart and has a clear plan of how he wants to take the club forward. It was the kind of transparency we’ve been crying out for for about five years.
We have reapplied for Category One academy status, we have made some astute recruitments behind the scenes, Bowen emphasised his desire for the team to have an identity on the pitch, and he confirmed that this summer will be a lot, lot easier in terms of getting players through the door. It’s promising stuff.
But all of that means diddly squat unless we stay in this league. It’s not going to be fun - the football will stay as it has been for the entire season, and the odds are stacked against us. But we have a chance and we can help make that chance a little bit bigger just by backing the boys every game for 90 minutes, no matter what.
I don’t think I’m being over-dramatic when I say these seven games are the biggest in the club’s history. We need to play our part.