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Why Jaap Stam desperately needs an upturn in form at Reading

Calum Pettitt

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Jaap Stam
Photo: Reuters

When Reading fans watched on as Huddersfield Town won in the cruelest of ways at Wembley all the way back in May last year, it sparked what many fans thought would be a time of uncertainty at the club. However, as the majority of the core squad remained and many additions were made, it led to a sense of quiet optimism around the Madejski Stadium.

Jaap Stam had played down the Royal’s chances of promotion, the pundits were predicting a far less glamorous season than the last – but this wasn’t enough to dampen spirits too much. Reading fans were used to seeing their club being underestimated and told that they simply weren’t cut out to go to-to-toe with the Championship elite.

However, perhaps even the biggest of skeptics would not have anticipated that the Royals would find themselves in their current league position at such an advanced point of the season.

At the start of the campaign it felt like the additions that Jaap Stam and his director of football, Brian Tevreden, had acquired were garnering a good deal of praise from Reading fans and, with the majority of the core squad intact, there was certainly cause for optimism as the campaign got underway.

The losses of Ali Al-Habsi and Danny Williams have definitely left a mark on Reading, which is now becoming fully apparent. At times Al-Habsi was producing 2-3 world class saves per game and Danny Williams put together a brilliant season from the heart of the club’s midfield. Currently, their replacements have not done enough to fill the void left by the departed duo.

The 2016/17 campaign was an excellent time to be a Reading fan. The club had a clear philosophy and style under Jaap Stam and were agonisingly close to returning to the Premier League after a four year absence. However, there were definitely some fans that were never convinced of the Dutchman and particularly the style of play that the club employed throughout the season.

At times, the Royals struggled to create goal scoring opportunities and certainly had some defensive frailties. No side had conceded more goals entering the play-offs and the Royals also had the second worst goal difference in the top ten.

It was easy to overlook some of the issues with the team last season as the Royals stormed a fantastic third place finish. However, this time around Jaap Stam’s men have massively underperformed.

Winless runs and a poor home record have left the club in a very difficult position that you feel no fans, playing staff, or management could have foreseen the club being in.

At times, Jaap Stam’s men play at walking pace and have little-to-no adventure going forward, seemingly not knowing the next step once they enter the final third. They have been beaten for quality against the top sides in the division and beaten for desire against fellow relegation candidates.

When going behind in a game, there is no ‘Plan B’ for Jaap Stam and the side often loses shape completely as they chase the game. Frustratingly, they have only recovered three points from losing positions.

Reading have flirted with relegation a couple of times since they were relegated back to the Championship in 2013, but this season has a much more toxic feeling considering the expectation for the club to follow up on the heroics of the last campaign.

This toxic feeling has spread amongst large portions of the support and is damaging the relationship between the players, the manager and the fans. This was perhaps epitomised by the events that occurred after Reading’s uninspiring 0-0 with League Two Stevenage in the FA Cup third round at the start of January.

Club captain Paul McShane made a heat of the moment decision in refusing to thank the travelling Reading faithful after the fans made it perfectly clear how they felt the team had performed during the game, as well as in recent weeks.

It was a flashpoint that had threatened to boil over as a result of Reading fans’ growing frustrations. The Royals are winless in eight and have found the net just twice in their previous seven games. Of course, things could change very quickly with a handful of quick wins, but this is certainly a very worrying period for Jaap Stam and his side.

Obviously, there are two options that the Reading board has to choose from – sack Jaap Stam or keep the Dutchman at the helm.

The case for sacking the former Manchester United man is growing. However, with the club allegedly treading the line with Financial Fair Play, you wonder if the club has the leeway to dismiss the Dutchman.

The January transfer window is nearly at the half way point and if the board were looking to bring in a new manager, the time would have been at the start of the month. For someone new to come in now, they would have a tough time learning the squad and acquiring new players in just a two week period.

If Jaap Stam’s men fail to put in a convincing performance in their FA Cup replay against Stevenage on Tuesday, it could spell absolute disaster for Stam.

The club have invested heavily in new signings; breaking the transfer record twice in the last two seasons with the additions of Tiago Ilori and Sone Aluko – neither of whom have justified the substantial price tags that arrived with them as of yet.

Reports are also circulating that Liam Moore’s time at the club could be limited, as interest in the centre half is growing. Given the situation the club currently finds itself in, you can understand why the 24-year-old could be willing to listen to any offers that come his way.

It has become increasingly common in the Championship that clubs can be on the brink of relegation one year and chasing promotion the next; and vice-versa. Jaap Stam may be a victim of his own success and is always quick to say that the club overachieved massively throughout last season.

Lee Johnson and Bristol City are a shining example of why sticking with your manager can sometimes pay dividends, with the club forced to wait until the penultimate game of last season before securing survival – despite having loan striker Tammy Abraham firing in 26 goals.

Johnson’s men are now flying high in the Championship semi finals of the League Cup with several Premier League scalps to their name.

Nonetheless, it is clear that the Reading faithful’s patience for Jaap Stam’s approach and lack of results are wearing thin. The Dutchman desperately needs an upturn in form if he is to fight off more talk of the sack and the first challenge will be getting a convincing win against Stevenage on Tuesday night, albeit, at the second time of asking.

Calum is a Reading fan and has been a season ticket holder for many years. He is currently studying for a degree in Sport & Exercise Psychology.

Championship

Reading should target ambitious Fernando Llorente and Paul Clement reunion

The Spanish striker worked with the Reading manager at Swansea City.

Mathew Coull

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It is looking fairly likely that Fernando Llorente will be on his way out of Tottenham Hotspur this summer. The Spaniard, who joined from Swansea City in the summer, has not lived up to the billing of being Harry Kane’s back-up option and it seems he could be on his way.

Llorente has settled nicely into life in the UK however, after a brilliant two-season stint at Swansea City preceding his disappointing Tottenham spell.

One team that should make an ambitious move to keep Llorente in the area is Championship side Reading.

(Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

The Royals were in the Championship play-off final last season under the guidance of Jaap Stam. However, this season has been a struggle. It cost Stam his job and the new manager is Paul Clement. The 46-year-old has won two and drawn one of his five games in charge so far, which has helped them stay clear of the drop-zone so far.

If Reading do stay up, they must address their main problem area, which is scoring goals. The Berkshire club did not do enough to replace the injured Yann Kermogant, who scored 19 goals last season and they have been made to pay.

Llorente, who has 24 caps for the Spanish national team, would certainly bring them that.

But how could Reading lure a former Spain star to the Madejski Stadium?

Firstly, he would not have to up roots considering the location being so close to London.

Then there is the main reason Reading would be an ideal place for him … the manager.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Clement was the man who got the best out Llorente when the manager at Swansea City. Under his guidance, Llorente scored nine goals in 17 games and helped Swansea survive the drop. It included a run of four goals in his final five games for the club.

Reading would love to have Llorente and, at 33-years-old and out of form, Spurs would struggle to fetch a big fee for the player.

The best move for them would be to send him out on loan, which would suit Reading. If they could negotiate some sort of wage-share then Llorente suddenly enters their price range.

It is a long shot, but if Reading stay up something drastic needs to change if they are to get back to promotion hunting. Bringing in Clement’s former star striker would be a start.

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Reading

USA international Andrija Novakovich deserves a call-back to Reading

The 21-year-old has been in fine scoring form over in Holland.

Max Cohen

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Photo: Getty Images

Reading supporters will be forgiven for blank stares when one mentions the name Andrija Novakovich to them. After all, the young American striker has only made two appearances for the Royals.

Nonetheless, Novakovich was rewarded with his first appearance for the United States National Team on Tuesday night, due to his prolific form on-loan in Holland.

The 21-year-old striker deserves a call-back to the Reading first team at the end of the season, as he could provide an answer to their scoring woes.

Novakovich was signed in June 2014, as an 18-year-old US under 20 international, but struggled to find opportunities in Berkshire.

An unsuccessful loan spell to Cheltenham Town followed in 2015/16, until the striker finally found joy at Dutch second-division side Telstar.

The American has netted an incredible 18 goals in 29 appearances this season for Telstar, a remarkable goal tally for a player of his age.

Novakovich stands at an intimidating 6 feet 4 four inches, yet has a deft finishing touch and intelligent skills; a skill set that makes the forward a handful for oppositions defences.

After spells in the Reading academy set-up, next season may finally prove the perfect time for Novakovich to break through into the Royals’ first XI.

The Royals are currently mired in 20th in the Championship, sport the division’s ninth worst scoring record, and recently parted ways with manager Jaap Staam.

This summer will surely lead to a clearing out of the squad, providing opportunities for young talents like Novakovich to emerge.

After his fruitful spell in Holland, the striker should be ready to make the transition to the Football League, and present Reading with a much-needed attacking boost.

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Championship

Jaap Stam dismissal could be too little too late for Reading

Jaap Stam was dismissed by the Royals earlier this week.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

Reading were one penalty shootout away from the Premier League at the end of last season and it was hoped that they would go one step better to clinch promotion during this campaign.

However, it has been a disastrous season for the Royals and they currently find themselves three points above the relegation zone with eight matches to go.

Jaap Stam had retained faith from the board for his overachievement during his first year as manager, but with their position looking more and more precarious, it became untenable.

The club announced his dismissal on Wednesday in an online statement that featured the following:

“Jaap has not wavered in the time, effort and sheer determination he has put in to try to steer the team away from the position we find ourselves in. However, after careful consideration, the decision has been made that a change is now necessary.”

The Dutchman can’t complain that he wasn’t given a fair chance.

There are only eight matches remaining in the season and it has become obvious that he was no longer the right man for the job.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

It was inconceivable at the start of the campaign that Reading would be battling relegation. They were a team with promotion ambitions, but 2018 has been terrible for them.

The Royals have won only one Championship match during this calendar year.

A number of draws have kept the club stuttering along, but now they are only three points above the bottom three, a decision had to be made.

Stam will look back at his time with Reading as a positive one.

He managed to surprise a lot of pundits by taking them to third position in his first season and was unlucky not to be promoted, but there are a lot of people still scratching their head at how the Royals managed to finish as high as they did.

The likes of Fulham, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday were all seen as better teams, but something clicked for Reading and it is difficult to explain what.

Mark Taylor made an observation on Twitter using expected goals. Stam’s team massively overachieved based on that metric, which projected them as finishing 19th.

This season, the model projects them in 17th. In short, this decline in league position was predictable.

Although there are problems with expected goals, it does provide a good explanation for Reading’s decline this season.

Their results have simply returned to the mean and they are now getting the points to match their performance level.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

It isn’t that they have got worse under Stam’s management, but rather that last season was the outlier.

If Reading, as a club, want to be competing for promotion, Stam wasn’t the right manager to deliver that. The underlying numbers throughout his tenure highlight that.

His side scored 112 goals and conceded 121 in the Championship during the Dutchman’s time as manager.

That isn’t a record that suggests he is good enough to lead the club back to the Premier League.

The time for dissecting Stam’s tenure and his failures isn’t now. Reading must concentrate on making the right appointment to secure their place in the Championship.

It would be a huge blow if they were to fall to the third tier for the first time since the 2001/2 season.

With only eight matches left, there is little room for error for any incoming manager. The club must hope that this decision wasn’t too little too late.

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