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Millwall 2-1 Reading. Stam.

29 May 2017, 17:49 - Liam Kelly hammers a penalty into the roof of the net in front of the Huddersfield end of Wembley to put Reading 3-1 up, and on the verge of the Premier League. Stam's side had been brushed off as promotion contenders for most of the year, but after a third place finish - made all the more remarkable by three successive managerial failures, and finishes of 17th and 19th in the two previous seasons - it seemed they would, like John Cena, overcome the odds once more to reach the promised land.

Of course, it wasn't to work out like that, but Stam instilled a new feeling of genuine hope that hadn't been at the Madejski since, arguably, McDermott guided the team to the Championship title half a decade prior. Just four months down the line and there are some calling for his head.
Of the team that started the final Williams and Al Habsi have left, Swift and Kermorgant injured, and Grabban's loan expired. Then Obita, an integral part of the squad last year, is set for another period on the sidelines.

I understand that, especially with Kermorgant and Mendes out - and even more so as Barrow's unavailable too, we should have brought in 'the' striker. Bodvarsson doesn't fit that for many people. Seen in many ways as another Mendes, who didn't show his ability until late on last year, he's not someone who scores goals. The Icelander's finish against Hull was certainly reminiscent of his team mate's strike away at Villa at the very least.

But this is a new look side, who aren't being given time to bed in. The same criticisms from last year - boring football, not getting the ball forward immediately - are combined with the frustration to not play a recognised central striker. Irrelevant of the fact that our best performance so far came against an, admittedly mediocre, Aston Villa team where Clement lead the line. Our main period of historical success came from getting the ball forward quickly down the wings, but this team aren't necessarily built for that. Beerens in particular isn't quick enough to break with pace but often finds himself furthest forward.

I dispute that the lack of a striker should even count against Stam. We know how this club works - Brian Tevreden controls the purse strings while Stam works along side him. And that system has worked well up to this point, with some gems brought in (Moore, Swift). Tevreden is saying that there was nobody available at a reasonable price, and knowing the current state of the transfer market, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

There are reasons to be critical. Last night I thought the team selection was okay at the start of the game - JVDB brought impetus on Saturday and made sense to come in, and McCleary struggled up front but was moved out wider where he, hypothetically, should be more comfortable. It was obvious though that McCleary just isn't clicking at the moment, and we don't have that link between phases that Danny Williams so often brought last year. When the defence have the ball the midfield are too static, often hiding behind their men, and the same with the attack when we get the ball further forward. The notable exception was Clement when he came on. The decision to keep Popa on the bench also seems harsh, especially late on when Beerens so often seems like he needs a rest and Popa's game is almost perfectly built to harass tired defences. We could be slightly more direct, but being mindlessly direct is no more helpful.

Stam, to be fair, is trying to adapt to teams sitting deeper, you can see that by tactical tweaks during the games, but he just hasn't worked it out yet. I am confident he will. People need to be patient, both during matches - passing the ball around, looking for an opening shouldn't bring boos from the stands - and toward the manager himself.

I'd love to know who the Stam out brigade would like to replace him. I suppose 'Arry is available. And they are wilfully ignoring the fact that this is a side with Stam clearly at the heart of it. Normally tearing out the heart is not the best way to resuscitate a team.

When the team click I think they've shown potential to be even better than last year, I for one would really like to get to see that.


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