The 2016/17 season began as period of transition for Reading who had parted ways with iconic two-time manager Brian McDermott at the start of the summer after a less than spectacular return to the Madejski Stadium.
Jaap Stam arrived nearly a year ago and what a year it has been to be a member of the Reading faithful. What started as a season of uncertainty under a novice manager became a memorable campaign, which ultimately fell short at the final hurdle – as the Royals lost on penalties at Wembley to Huddersfield Town.
Despite this play-off final loss, their 4th since 1995, and 6th failure in the play-offs overall, Stam’s men can now, once again, consider themselves to be real promotion contenders in the Championship after flirting with relegation for two seasons prior.
Failing to gain promotion to the Premier League has allowed a number of challenges to arise for Reading. One of which is whether the club will be able to hold on to Jaap Stam ahead of the 2017/18 Championship campaign.
The Dutchman arrived with a big reputation, but mostly for his exploits as a player – not as a manager. Despite only having one year of experience in English football as a head coach, it is likely that a few clubs will be looking at the possibility of bringing him into their set-ups.
While the former Manchester United man has committed his future to Reading, there is always the possibility that a Premier League club could try and poach him away from the Madejski Stadium.
If Stam was to depart, there is a chance that many of the players would follow. The playing staff at Reading have bought in to Stam’s ideas and his departure could leave many of the players looking elsewhere.
It would be a massive set-back for Reading and would most likely undo a great deal of the progress that has been made over the last year.
The Dutchman has brought in his own coaching staff, his own footballing philosophy and the players to match it. The club would have to try and rediscover their identity and there are no guarantees that it would be as successful next season as it was the last.
One of the other main issues that is facing Reading is the fact that there will be plenty of speculation surrounding their star players. The likes of Liam Moore and Liam Kelly have already started to attract some interest from Premier League clubs as they look to strengthen their sides.
Moore has rejuvenated his career in Berkshire and has become a solid and reliable centre half and a fan favourite for his passionate attitude. Meanwhile, youngster Liam Kelly has also really caught the eye of Jaap Stam and his coaching staff and has shone under the spotlight.
The midfielder may look small in stature, but plays a massive role in games as he sits in midfield and dictates play as he sees fit – it is a role that is often associated with much more experienced players but the 21-year-old looks more than comfortable in the Royals side.
One player, who perhaps could prove to be the biggest loss, if his performances throughout the play-offs are anything to go by, is Danny Williams. The American international has enjoyed a terrific season in the heart of the Reading midfield. His tireless and committed nature has won the hearts of many a Royals fan, but there are fears that he could move on since the club failed to reach the Premier League.
Losing any of these three players would be a blow to Reading and would spark the need to find replacements, which would of course call on the new Chinese owners to splash the cash and put some faith in Jaap Stam and Brian Tevreden to find some deals over the summer.
Reading have invested very wisely over the past couple of years, bringing in some high quality players for little to no money during the transfer periods. Ali Al-Habsi and Yann Kermorgant who were perhaps the stars of this season were signed for free and for a small fee, respectively.
The loans of Reece Oxford, Jordon Mutch and Lewis Grabban ending has left a number of holes waiting to be filled in the Reading squad and, with their pre-season starting in just six short weeks, there is no doubt that the Royals will be hoping to pick up a few new players, whilst keeping hold of their star men.
This summer could really go one of two ways for Reading. If they keep hold of Jaap Stam then they will finally have the stability that the club has been looking for, following relegation from the Premier League in 2013.
Even if a few players were to leave Reading, you have to feel that, with Stam at the helm, Reading would still be confident heading into the new campaign in August. However, if the Dutchman was to depart the Madejski Stadium, the uncertainty would start once again; much like at the start of the previous campaign.
While it turned out to be a really great year for the Royals, there is no guarantee that a new manager could repeat the same trick.
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What’s in store for Reading in the Championship run-in?
After a brief period of optimism following Reading’s victory over Burton Albion last month, the Royals have slumped back into poor form and have failed to gain a single point since their visit to the Pirelli Stadium.
As a result, the negativity and frustration among the Reading fanbase has not subsided.
Back-to-back defeats, including yet another home defeat under Jaap Stam, who only a season ago had turned the Madejski Stadium into a fortress, have only served to increase the hostile atmosphere around the club.
The grievance was clear on both sides after the Millwall defeat. The Dutchman remarked that he doesn’t pay any notice to the fans and that even during the success of last season, negativity ruled over positivity.
The former Manchester United man’s comments were partly truthful and, while they don’t go as far as blaming the fans entirely, the actions of certain members of the Reading faithful have not been helping the on-pitch situation.
Indeed, there were sections of the support that were not best pleased with the possession driven style that Stam implemented. However, painting the fans in even a slightly negative light is not going to end well.
Despite the fact it is felt by many that booing and jeering your own team is the worst possible way to show your displeasure, the form currently on display is always going to encourage a negative presence from the stands, and it is up to the management and playing staff to figure out how to stop the unfavourable behaviours.
Too often this season Reading have looked slow, lifeless and disorganised.
New signings have flopped and even with record transfer investments, no overwhelming impact has been made on the field.
The Madejski currently has the scent of tactical staleness and a manager reluctant to stray too far from his template, leading to a stagnated club that seems willing to repeat the same mistakes time and time again.
However, there is hope, Reading have not conceded more than two goals in a single Championship game this season, indicating, at least on paper, that the club may not be too far from turning things around.
Due to the ongoing participation of Sheffield United in the FA Cup, ten days will have passed since the previous Royals match when Tuesday comes.
This provides opportune time for the slate to be wiped clean and a trip to Spain for five days of intense training in a bid to turn around their woeful form, with a third of the season remaining.
Tuesday night offered an opportunity for Reading to showcase their new and refreshed mindset as they travelled to fellow strugglers Nottingham Forest, where they picked up a 1-1 draw.
A win could have given new life to Jaap Stam’s men before the visit of high-flying Derby County on the weekend, but it was not to be.
While it seems somewhat inevitable that Matej Vydra, the Championship’s top scorer – who thoroughly underwhelmed during his time in Berkshire – will find the net, it would be a pleasant surprise if the Royals could buck the trend of home defeats and collect their first win on a Saturday at the Madejski Stadium this season.
The traditional benchmark for Championship survival is 50 points and Reading currently sit on 33 points with 14 games to go.
If that points total is to be taken as gospel, the Royals are just six wins away from ensuring their Championship status for another season.
However, when you have only won a single game in the previous 12, those 18 crucial points seem like a huge hurdle.
The hope for Jaap Stam will be that the time spent in Spain will enable the squad to bond and refresh their minds before, what is surely going to be, a busy end to the season.
The relationship between the supporters and the players is at a significantly low point.
It is more important now, than ever, that the management, playing staff and most crucially the fans, remember that everyone is fighting for the same thing – Championship survival and the continued success of Reading Football Club.
How will Reading’s transfer window impact the rest of the season?
Two January arrivals at Reading could prove enough to lift the spirits among Jaap Stam’s side and provide a springboard for the rest of the season, writes Calum Pettitt.
When Reading entered January it was fair to say that there was a great deal of pressure of Jaap Stam and his scouting team to deliver some big changes to the playing staff.
It has been a difficult season so far for the Royals and they have found themselves in the lower reaches of the Championship table.
The Reading faithful were looking to January as an opportunity to put right some of the issues surrounding the club, but with limited funds and an increasingly frustrated set of fans; Jaap Stam has no choice but to deliver.
The Dutchman has managed to add two new faces to the club in what was by and large a quiet transfer window for the Royals. However, Reading have signed what on paper look like pretty solid acquisitions.
The first to arrive was Tommy Elphick from Aston Villa. The former Bournemouth man looked calm and comfortable during his debut in the desperately needed midweek victory over Burton Albion and adds experience to what at times this season has looked like a ropey defence.
Reading have at fielded a slightly makeshift back line at times this season and will be pleased to have acquired a player that can operate on the left, the right, or in the centre.
The second and final player Reading added was a name the fans had been crying out for. Indeed, Chris Martin arrived from fellow Championship side Derby County, with a reputation for scoring goals and plenty of them.
The Scot has experienced some difficulties in the final third this term, but has a proven track record in the second tier and could prove to be the focal point that Reading have been looking for since the decline in the form of Yann Kermorgant.
However, with a maximum of 16 games available to Martin to turn around his own form, it remains to be seen whether that will be enough for the former Fulham man to make a serious impact in Berkshire.
The two main departures of the transfer window were Roy Beerens and Adi Popa, who left for Vitesse Arnhem and Al-Taawoun, respectively.
Beerens, brought into the team by Stam, was a regular in the Royals line-up. However, some quiet performances had left question marks over the the midfielder’s commitment to the club.
There is no doubt that the one time Dutch international is a talented player and was a consistent performer in the promotion push of last season, but often struggled with the physical side of the game.
Popa has departed on loan, but his Royal’s future seems to be in doubt. The Romanian international was never really given an extended run in the first team. Perhaps not as technically gifted as some of his colleagues, the winger possesses an excellent work rate and often looked bright and lively in his infrequent appearances under Jaap Stam.
The Romanian’s move to Saudi Arabia has frustrated some Reading fans, who feel that, with the likes of Sone Aluko and Garath McClearly struggling for form, the decision to reduce the club’s wide options, and not bring in any replacements, could add to the Berkshire side’s woes.
One player that Reading fans will be delighted to not see departing the club is Liam Moore. There was rumoured to be a great deal of interest in the imposing centre half and Jaap Stam will be delighted to have kept hold of the former Leicester man.
If Reading are to turn around their form, Moore will be crucial. He was a key man in the promotion charge last season and always plays with a great deal of passion and commitment, which has endeared him to the club faithful.
It is fair to say that Reading have not enjoyed the best of seasons. The win against Burton was massive. It was a long overdue result and many were calling for Jaap Stam to leave the club.
However, the club are now operating within a tight financial situation and it is thought that the cost of sacking Stam and hiring a replacement could be beyond them at this time, which leaves the Reading faithful with little option but to back the Dutchman and his current team.
Sometimes in football, supporters are quick to demand a complete overhaul of the team and management when a club is going through a rough couple of seasons. However, this is often not the best possible solution.
If Stam was going to be moved on, it would have happened earlier in the campaign and it is fair to say that Reading do still have a talented squad full of Premier League experience and current internationals.
While the club have only added two new players to the fold, this may just be enough to lift the spirits around the club.
If they can deliver a victory against Millwall on the weekend, it could be a springboard for the rest of the season.
Why Jaap Stam desperately needs an upturn in form at Reading
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.
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