How Reading Have Entered The Promotion Race

After Saturday afternoon’s 2-1 victory over an out-of-sorts Bristol City, Reading stretched their winning run to five Championship games on the bounce. A similar streak took place in 2012 on their way to the league title and the Royals do not look like slowing down any time soon.

How Reading have entered the promotion race

The Berkshire club’s transformation from mid-table stragglers to promotion contenders is nothing short of impressive. Finishing last season in 17th place after a promising start, Reading now find themselves occupying the top three.

With a substantially re-jigged squad after a hectic summer spending spree, just how have Reading turned their fortunes around?

Total football

In his debut season in management, former Manchester United defender Jaap Stam has instilled a possession-based style of play. This approach combined with an abundance of new signings has elevated Reading to a new level.

Back in the Brian McDermott days, the Royals’ preferred tactics had been ‘Route One’, a style where the ball would usually miss out on the midfield in a series of ping-pong lobbed passes between opposite penalty areas. The approach frustrated many, considering the club’s tallest striker in the past five years has been Pavel Pobrebnyak. A breath of fresh air was long overdue for Reading.

The talk of “total football” has been a popular topic for several weeks as the Royals continue to deliver stunning and dominant performances. Reading’s ability to gain an early advantage, with eight of their last 14 goals coming in the first half, has seen them pick up valuable points. Scoring first in all three of their November fixtures thus far has allowed them to control the tempo and slow down play in the second half, frustrating their opponents into making crucial mistakes.

Stam has set up a stout tactical system that the squad looks comfortable operating in. No players look out of their depth or bereft of confidence in their passing ability. It’s not just a possession-based system the former Ajax coach has instilled, he’s brought an identity to the club as well.

‘It’s just like watching Barcelona’ 

When you’re starting to draw comparisons to teams like Barcelona and Manchester City from pundits, the players must be doing something right.

I’ve been down to see them play a few times and they are the closest I’ve seen to a Barcelona or Manchester City type team” said Martin Allen on Football on 5 after Reading trounced Burton Albion 3-0 last Saturday. Certainly a generous comment at the time, but one that heaps much deserved praise on Stam’s men.

Reading’s ability to pass from the back and their ideology of creating a patient, yet potent build-up is something Stam learned from his esteemed upbringing as a youth coach at Ajax. Although, it hasn’t all been plain sailing.

The season started inconsistently for Reading. The players failed to adapt immediately to Stam’s philosophy, with previous tendencies seeping through. But the fans’ patience soon paid off. The players now seem accustomed to their style of play and the attack has evolved with illustriously overwhelming creativity.

The new standard

All good things must come to an end, as they say.

Now it is just the case of when, where and who will end this Reading romp and stop their best winning streak since April of 2012. With a tough December fixture list where they face fellow promotion chasers Fulham (twice), Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday, the answer may be sooner rather than later.

But they have proven that they’re no strangers to tasting the bitter flavour of defeat. Prior to their current run of form, Reading were winless in four. They’ve also suffered a handful of heavy defeats.

But despite the significant dent it must have made in the morales of the players involved, Reading have never looked likely to spiral into turmoil. It is truly a strong quality that sets them apart from the rest.

This must become the new standard at Reading. One defeat can’t define their season like it did last year, where a demoralising 4-2 defeat to Fulham saw them crash out of the playoff places and never return. Despite early comparisons between the start of this and last season, the current campaign is very different. There are many more positives to be heralded and team chemistry looks to be at an all-time high.

Can Reading keep up this good form? No.

With the difficult fixture list ahead of them, it would not be surprising to see the Royals drop points. However, they have displayed the resolve to bounce back time and time again. The mark of a club on the rise once more.

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