Reading are in a right Royal mess and could need a change

Nathan Spafford

There is a split at Reading between those who want manager Veljko Paunovic out and others who feel he deserves more of a chance in Berkshire.


While points deductions for football clubs often see the heat taken away from a manager and focused on the hierarchy who created the mess, Reading boss Veljko Paunovic is feeling the heat this winter.

Having spent the opening couple of months of the season around the top six despite an impending deduction hanging over their heads for what would have felt like an eternity, the six points which were taken away in November came in the middle of a run of form from which the Royals are yet to climb out.

Despite having almost a full XI made up of injured players in recent months and the club’s financial problems hanging over first-team matters since before the current season began, Reading’s tenuous position above the Championship relegation zone has led to mass doubts over Paunovic.

There is a clear division in the fanbase. There are those who feel the club is heading in one direction only and others who see the reasons behind it and refuse to lay the blame at Paunovic’s door. There is, of course, a third option: Paunovic can be both the man not to blame but also someone Reading should look to change to turn their fortunes around, on the pitch at least.

Unlike most struggling clubs, Reading have not found themselves near the foot of the table thanks to an awful run of form. A combination of the half a dozen points stricken off, coupled with being consistently inconsistent, has done for the Royals as their slip down the Championship has continued since the start of October.

Terrible runs of form can be overcome by managerial changes or a kickstart from a lucky win, but Reading now appear to be at their level as one of the lesser teams in the division. Paunovic is almost under pressure as a result of his own brilliance during the behind-closed-doors days of 2020/21. His Reading side occupied a top two and top-six place for three quarters of the campaign before succumbing to a late-season slide which has continued this term.

The key players in recent months have largely been veterans in the guise of Scott Dann and Andy Carroll – impressing at either end of the pitch – but with the talented youngsters littered through the squad, that suggests their growth is being stunted by tactical naivety.

There have been enough wins to keep Reading heads above water, so it is not so much the defeats alone that are causing upset in the stands and on social media, but more so the way they are suffered. Too often this campaign – and it was visible in Paunovic’s debut campaign in Berkshire also – Reading have been seen to surrender games before they are over.

Attendances have dipped at the Select Car Leasing Stadium, and the crowds are very much not by royal appointment currently. With this weekend’s fixture against Luton Town postponed due to the ongoing Covid crisis which once again threatens to derail the EFL season, there is a chance for Reading to move one week closer to having a barrage of key operators closer to fitness.

Their top two scorers from last season’s ultimately unsuccessful promotion charge, Yakou Meite and Lucas Joao, have been unavailable for the majority of the campaign. They are on an injury list that has stretched into the double figures for large swathes of this season.

Reading forward Lucas Joao

With their fixture against the Hatters now off, there is a chance that Reading could find themselves in the bottom three come the end of the weekend; a Peterborough victory would take the Posh above the Royals in a rather regal tussle against relegation.

In essence, there seems to be one relegation spot realistically left open to the third tier this campaign. Derby need a miracle and Barnsley are the worst team in the division – on the pitch at least – by quite some distance.

Without their deduction, Reading would be level on points with Birmingham, Swansea, Blackpool and Bristol City – four teams who have had either disappointing campaigns or are on bad runs of form. Given the highs Paunovic achieved for much of his first 12 months at the helm, such frustrations with regular defeats, a poor style of play, too much acceptance and meekness to defeats and that 21st place are all telling and very real contributions to such disappointment.

But it is also important to consider that Reading were a club largely standing still prior to Paunovic’s appointment in the summer of 2020. He invigorated the team with a fresh dynamism which may have proved ultimately unsuccessful in attaining promotion, but made everyone sit up and take notice of the Berkshire side once more.

There is still much belief in the manager from certain sections of the fanbase, and talk of a dismissal or change of manager is very much a sore point to bring up. Neither party is right or wrong; there are plenty of arguments for and against Paunovic remaining in his role.

It could be that with Reading out of action, a decision could be made on his future without him managing another game. Or it could be that one more win could kickstart their season and his tenure once more. Any potential change should not be a punishment, but borne from a genuine belief that another man in the dugout could avoid what would be a damaging relegation to League One.

There are no easy answers, but the current situation is not making for easy reading for all connected to Reading.