Reading sit 17th in the Sky Bet Championship as we exit the final international break of 2019 and are in the midst of a four-game unbeaten streak. How have things gone at the Madejski Stadium so far?
It was a slow start under Jose Gomes and he was dismissed after two wins in the first 11 games. There was a week in August when they beat Cardiff 3-0, beat Huddersfield 2-0 and drew with West Brom and fans thought that was the point it was going to click and it would be a successful season. But they went back to square one with a few bad results after that and things never really picked up so the decision was made to part company with Gomes before the international break in October, which gave them time to have a look for a new manager and Mark Bowen was brought in. It’s been a slow start, but, thankfully, things are starting to pick up.
Mark Bowen’s appointment last month caused a commotion among fans, didn’t it? How has the mood changed after the three wins and a draw that have followed?
He didn’t really have too much leeway, certainly from the fans, to begin with. There was a very hostile reaction and I would say that a large majority of the fanbase were unhappy with how it came about more than anything. He was sporting director and was in charge of looking for a new manager and, from what he said, he spoke to a few people, they didn’t want the job and then he was offered the job himself and asked: “Why would I turn it down?” In that sense, he had to get results quickly and he’s done exactly that - you can’t argue with three wins from four games. He’s saying the right things, making things simple and giving each player tasks, which they are performing. They are working collectively as well, which, unfortunately, Gomes didn’t really manage during his time at Reading. Most importantly he’s getting results on the pitch and that has generated a much better atmosphere around the club.
With the last two seasons having resulted in extremely precarious 20th place finishes and the start of this season not perhaps going quite to plan, how much has his appointment improved the general mood of the fans?
It has lifted the fans, but as I said, it’s all about results. If they lose three or four out of the next five games, then I’m sure the mood will quickly change. It’s like with any club, really, where things can change every few weeks, but certainly right now, things are looking very positive. The fans have seen the individual ability of players - not just this season, but last season too – but for whatever reason, they weren’t gelling as a group or picking up results despite there often being spells in games where Reading looked really good. A lot of players would, arguably, get into a lot of Championship teams, but until now, they haven’t been turning it on as a collective bunch.
Judging by social media, fans seem to rave about Liverpool loanee Ovie Ejaria on a weekly basis. Has he been the most impressive player in the squad this term?
Yes, I would say so, along with John Swift. Ejaria was signed on loan in January and took a few weeks to get up to speed, but when he did, you could see very quickly why he was a Liverpool player. They did everything they could to get him back in the summer and, eventually, they did in the last few minutes of the transfer window. He’s been an absolutely brilliant signing and his skills are just absolutely mesmerising; when he’s on the ball, he’s very difficult for Championship defenders to deal with and, I would imagine, Premier League defenders, too. He’s the one who’s got all the trickery, gets fans off their feet and has opposition managers worried and now he’s adding goals and assists to his game, that’s taking him up another level. With him it’s about consistency and if he can keep that level up then Reading fans have got to make the most of seeing him in a blue and white shirt because he won’t be here for long if he continues to produce that level of display week after week.
What system has Mark Bowen been employing in his first few weeks as Royals boss?
He hasn’t actually made too many changes, to be honest. He’s stuck with the 3-5-2 formation that Gomes settled on eventually. There are three centre-backs, two wing-backs, two defensive midfielders, Ejaria as the No. 10 and then two strikers up front. He’s certainly not revolutionised the tactics or anything; he’s basically using the same formation, just getting the ball forward a bit quicker with less of the lethargic nature of passing it around at the back. He’s making them more of a cohesive unit and it’s not just lumping the ball long, but certainly speeding things up and making sure players like Swift and Ejaria are on the ball as much as possible.
What’s your score prediction for the game?
These games are always entertaining but they always seem to end in draws. I’ll go for 2-2 as I think a draw would be a good starting point for a busy festive period.
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