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If Anything, Reading's Win In Wales Is Just More Of The Same

Paunovic has been under increasing pressure in recent weeks. Last Tuesday he received criticism from all quarters after a dire midweek defeat to Sheffield United, where he changed the shape of the team to nullify the opposition threat. Although there were some interesting takes by those who didn't seem to fully appreciate the formation, it was clear that it wasn't just the opposition's attacking threat that the manager put the mockers on.

And yet, one win seems to redeem all.

My personal view on The Gaffer is that, given the injuries in the squad, he's doing as well as could reasonably be expected. Obviously he's made errors, but he's also been handicapped by off field matters. The six-point deduction has made the gap to relegation closer than it ought to be, but the team are clearly good enough to comfortably pull clear over the course of the season and, indeed, have been achieving if Reading had started on minus 6. 

So my issue isn't with him, but with the ridiculously reactionary nature of football fandom. 

Reading have won eight games this season but, aside from a 3-1 victory over Peterborough, they've all been by single goal margins - as it was at The Swansea.com Stadium (I realise we're in no position to be taking the mickey about stadium names any more). The Royals are not putting opponents to the sword and, while matches often feel relatively comfortable, Luke Southwood has routinely been called into match-winning saves. He has shown himself to be an incredibly competent goalkeeper this season, but he shouldn't have to shoulder the burden of keeping the team's points safe week in, week out.

And even without Liam Moore, this was the tenth time this season that Reading have conceded at least twice in a match. The only difference being that Reading actually managed to score thrice. Moore has not played well this season, encapsulated by that horrible back pass against Birmingham, but the side were cut open too easily within the first five minutes... again. Holmes was a little too eager to press and Drinkwater lazily attempted to pass responsibility for Patterson, who wandered in to score the opener.

One of the things that has defined Paunovic's reign is clinicality (that's a thing right?) and flair - at least in the FM, doing something unexpected, sense of the word. I think it's reasonable to say that Reading have, on the whole, built a team with excellent finishing for this level. Lucas Joao can find the corner out of nothing, John Swift and Yakou Meite you would always back in front of goal, and even Hoilett and Ovie have won games this season where they've scored the only real chances afforded to them.

Hopefully, Andy Carroll continues the trend of strikers (barring the obvious) not needing many chances to find the net. Watching his goal on Saturday probably encapsulates where he is as a footballer. An intelligent run, a frankly unbelievable touch, and the composure to finish. But it was also a man whose legs clearly aren't there any more, and the cut inside was hardly like watching Joao's silky feet. At the end of the day, a goal is a goal, but I'm not sure a ball over the top was why he's been brought to The SCL to begin with.

Basically, this game is an absolutely typical Paunovic performance. If your opinion on him has changed based on it, maybe you never hated him to begin with.

I realise that getting carried away positively isn't really the issue. Sure, you can hope we'll make the play-offs this season if you like; it is, after all, nice to enjoy football. People are talking about Reading, and that doesn't often happen outside of the bimonthly They Call Us The Royals tweets. The problem comes when the results flip round without performances really changing. All of a sudden that inability to create consistently becomes a drawback and, likewise, good defensive displays end up soured by lucky bounces or unfortunate slips.

There's some misattributed Marilyn Monroe quote about this...

The next 18 months are going to be difficult. If Reading are playing Championship football going into 2023/24 that'll be an achievement in itself. Paunovic is meeting expectations, don't weigh him down being unreasonable.

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