Where did it all go wrong for Steve Clarke at Reading?
Football is increasingly becoming a sport of fine margins, and a couple of moments stand out in this regard when you look at Reading’s season so far.
The first of which was Ross McCormack’s turn and finish within a minute of Reading scoring which sparked Fulham’s revival from 2-0 down to win 4-2. The second, a header by Nedum Onuoha which managed to elude Ali Al-Habsi’s grasp and fall into the Royal’s net. Every side will have experienced these little moments which can be seen as turning points in a season, and perhaps some of these little moments are still having knock-on effects now.
However, it was more than just issues on the pitch that will spring to the memory of Reading fans when they think of Steve Clarke’s reign at the Madejski as it comes to an end after just 11 months. Just two weeks after Steve Clarke allegedly rejected the opportunity to join fellow Championship side Fulham; the former Chelsea assistant has been given his marching orders by those in the boardroom at the Madejski Stadium. It is the end of a largely frustrating few weeks in Berkshire that saw Reading have their manager on the cusp of moving to Craven Cottage and a comfortable compensation package – to paying Steve Clarke and his assistant Kevin Keen out of their contracts.
This season so far can be viewed as having a bit of Jekyll and Hyde about it. At the start of the campaign, Reading were absolutely flying. Clarke had huge approval ratings from the fans after getting the green light by the owners to revamp the club from top to bottom and bringing in a number of big name signings. The Royals were playing excellent football and were beating the best sides in the division with ease. However, after the collapse at Fulham, Reading have managed only 1 win in 8 games.
Some of the recent performances have reminded many of the Royals faithful of the previous campaign, with a few very lifeless showings where Reading rarely looked like threatening the opposition and were swept aside. It was a stark reminder of one of the main criticisms of Clarke during his time at the Madejski which was his league form. Clarke won just 13 of his 44 league fixtures in charge of Reading, including just 6 of a possible 25 in the 2014/15 campaign.
There are a couple of reasons why Steve Clarke could consider himself to be slightly unlucky; injuries being one of them. He has seen players such as Quinn and Tshibola, who were integral to the fantastic early season form, spend long periods on the treatment table. However, one thing many pundits and fans were saying about the current Reading side at the start of the season was that it finally had some depth in key areas. It is the opinion of many that Clarke should not be excused for this as the side had the strength in depth to make cover any injuries that occurred.
Clarke has also seen a couple of on-pitch errors which has cost the Royals points this season. The examples of the draw at Huddersfield and the game which proved to be the final straw for Clarke as the ball somehow got through Ali Al-Habsi, who had only 2 hours previously been named the player of the month by the Reading fans.
It was clear that Steve Clarke’s time in Berkshire was limited as soon as he met with the owners at Fulham in November. Although Clarke insisted that the meeting was purely speculative and that he decided to remain at Reading, it was widely reported that Clarke was in the brink of joining and it was also rumoured that the breakdown in talks only arose when monetary terms could not be agreed. As a result many of the Reading faithful felt betrayed and from this moment on Clarke had a target on his back which unfortunately meant that as soon as the team slipped up on the pitch, the pressure would be growing off it.
As Steve Clarke’s reign at the Madejski ends, he leaves with the second worst win percentage out of their past 6 managers – only beaten to this undesirable title by Brendan Rodgers. For many, Clarke’s tenure in Berkshire will be seen as a job which was never finished and what many thought would be a long-term project, cut short. Steve Clarke had big ambitions for Reading football club and had instilled a belief in the fans that had been lacking in recent seasons.
This is the primary reason for many as to why it was so frustrating for many Reading fans – there was finally a buzz around a Reading side that had lacked one for what felt like a lifetime and to see the belief that they had instilled in the team not replicated by the manager was a tough pill to swallow for many of the Reading faithful. However, Clarke is only the second manager in Reading’s history to take them to a FA Cup semi-final and has left behind a very talented squad that many feel still has the capacity to make a real run for promotion this season. All that is left now as this saga comes to an end is for the owners in Berkshire to make the decision as to who should lead the club from here-on-in.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Dan Westwell