Big thanks to Simeon Pickup (BucksRoyal) over at the Reading FC blog The Tilehurst End for answers a few questions about Reading, Jaap Stam, and how they see the match against Leeds United going this weekend.
1. Reading hasn't had the kind of success so far this year as last year. How impatient is the fanbase with the results so far this season?
It’s the pre-season expectations that have really been getting Reading fans down so far. On the surface, the start to this campaign isn’t much different to what we saw a year ago, with the Royals keeping the ball well, but struggling to turn that into points. However, 2016/17’s over-achievement, combined with the highest-spending summer transfer window in the club’s history, meant that supporters had been expecting to see the team competing for promotion again.
2. Just how hot of a seat does Jaap Stam have at Reading?
The Dutchman is under a lot of pressure at the moment, due to the team’s worst start to a campaign in a long time, but last season’s success means he’s in a strong position. Although, as I said previously, reaching the Play Off final has pushed up expectations, that achievement has bought Jaap Stam time.
After all, he’s already shown that he’s capable of leading a possession-based side to within a penalty kick of promotion. Despite the frustration that supporters are feeling, there’s still a sense that the gaffer can turn things around if he’s given time.
Also, it’s worth remembering that this squad is very much his. Over the last two seasons, he’s moulded the playing staff according to how he wants his team to play, so the owner and fans would be loath to see all of that hard work undone by giving him the sack.
3. In your opinion, what has gone wrong?
Although the football was pretty dull for large periods last season, it was effective, with Jaap Stam finding the right formula to grind out wins every other week by a one goal margin. To a large extent, that relied on Reading having a gritty, determined team that scrapped for every point.
Unfortunately, the spine of that XI has gone - Ali Al-Habsi (probably the best goalkeeper in the league last season) departed for Al-Ahli in Saudi Arabia, Danny Williams was pinched by Huddersfield Town, and top goalscorer Yann Kermorgant has been sidelined through injury since the summer. Although new recruits have come in, they’re not up to the same standard of that trio, with Reading particularly missing a goalscorer to replace Kermorgant.
Essentially, because of that, we’re having to start again from scratch. Jaap Stam is again looking for the right formula, and isn’t really finding it. Reading play slow, aimless possession football too often - Stam needs to make the team’s attacks far more purposeful.
That’s not been helped by not bringing in a first team forward. Although Jon Dadi Bodvarsson came in from Wolves, Stam has typically preferred to play no striker at all than the Icelandic international. Although it’s a decision that’s bemused Reading fans, it could potentially come good with enough practice. In truth though, we’re all still waiting for Yann Kermorgant to come back to full fitness.
4. The international break came at a great time for Leeds, as the club has lost two in a row for the first time all season after being on top of the table and lots of premature talk about how "Leeds are back." How did the international break go for Reading?
It probably came at the perfect time, to be honest. Reading had an ok start to the season and won their last game before the first international break, but couldn’t build any moment when they came back. Instead, the second portion of the season was pretty horrible for us: we’ve struggled for goals, confidence and tactical direction, so a rest and reassessment of where we stand was vital.
Having that two week break has, hopefully, given Jaap Stam time to recharge his batteries and go back to the drawing board, possibly even to work on some new things in training.
On the international scene, it was very mixed news for our players. Chris Gunter is a key part of the Wales side that missed out to Ireland in Cardiff, but Jon Dadi Bodvarsson helped Iceland to secure their first ever World Cup appearance, which we’re chuffed about.
They’ll probably knock England out again.
5. Predict the score.
Leeds 3-1 Reading. Reading to make a deceptively strong start and take the lead, but to then collapse embarrassingly afterwards, with the hosts running out comfortable winners - Lasogga will probably score.
Jaap Stam to have another pop at the Elland Road crowd after the game.