Saturday’s performance at Portman Road provided Reading FC with another away victory against a side pushing for promotion. The 1-0 victory, courtesy of a Jamie Mackie goal, meant that Reading extended their unbeaten away run to five matches. The match also saw the side keep a clean sheet, something that will surely boost spirits after recent defensive performances. Following two poor home displays against lesser opposition in the form of Leeds United and Wigan Athletic, there were many positives to be taken from Reading’s latest victory.
What is becoming an increasing concern is Reading’s home form. Reading have won just two of their last five games at home. Looking further back, it is only four of the last ten. Admittedly, some of those matches were against some tough opposition in the form of Watford and Middlesbrough, but the 2-1 victory against Norwich back in December demonstrated exactly what Reading were capable of, especially with a new manager at the helm. The concern is the performances at home against weaker opposition. Leeds and Wigan most recently, and earlier teams such as Bolton and Charlton have all taken points off Reading at the Madejski due to often underwhelming performances at home.
“You see us here at the Madejski Stadium and it’s a team that is going to fight relegation.”- Steve Clarke
So what exactly is to blame for the inability to continue the away form back at home?
The Madejski Stadium has a capacity of over twenty-four thousand, but match day attendances recently have been around the fifteen thousand mark (not including away fans). When things are going well at the Madejski those fifteen thousand fans prove exactly why they are Reading’s number 13; Having such a presence must be beneficial for the team. When things are going badly, however, the atmosphere is flat other than the occasional drum beat, groan or angry rant at the referee . Prior to kick-off, the players all walk out to a standing ovation from the fans in support, willing them to do well and get a positive result. As soon as the game starts, silence descends on the stands as people wait in anticipation for something to happen. If Reading don’t make an impact quickly, then the atmosphere just gets worse no matter how hard the fans in Y25 try to get chants going. Admittedly, the match performance and the home support goes hand in hand. The fans need the players to give a performance worth cheering and the players need the support from the fans in order to give them an extra boost. Playing at home is meant to be an advantage, but only when the home support is actually on your side.
Having been to away matches, the atmosphere created at other stadiums by Reading fans is completely different. Fans are constantly cheering on the team regardless of the score. While players will be concentrating on the job in hand, the atmosphere in a stadium must make an impact. Playing in a stadium where your fans are cheering you on must be a vastly more positive experience than one filled with either silence or booing. Fans on social media are becoming increasingly aware and critical of the lack of home support, and it appears to be the prime explanation behind the lack of home form. It does raise the question, however, if fans are aware there is a problem why not do something about it? With Reading’s next home game against Nottingham Forest on Saturday, the fans will play a part in making the Madejski a fortress from now on.
Having seen the pitch at the last home game against Wigan, it can be said that it has seen better days. Being home to both Reading FC and London Irish, the Madejski sees plenty of action. The pitch, as a result, has been blamed by some, including Steve Clarke in part, for the poor performances. This cannot be used an excuse however. Both teams have to play on the same pitch and if anything Reading should be used to it by now. The pitch at Portman Road for Saturday’s match was also apparently poor and did not prevent Reading from winning the game.
The starting lineup cannot be to blame for all poor results at home, but on some occasions it certainly wouldn’t have helped matters. Take the home match against Leeds, for example. Clarke chose to field Pavel Pogrebnyak up front by himself with a central midfield three in the form of Danny Williams, Nathaniel Chalobah and Oliver Norwood. Playing with the sole striker is a tactic that just doesn’t seem to be effective where Reading are concerned. Against Wigan, Pogrebnyak was rejoined by Simon Cox up front, but Nathaniel Chalobah was forced to drop back into defence, his weaker position. When Reading deploy their players in a 4-4-2 formation in their best positions, then they have their best chance of performing at home. The 2-0 victory against Sheffield Wednesday, 0-0 against Middlesborough, and 2-1 victory against Norwich all being prime examples more recently of when this has been the case.
Of course it can’t be completely generalised. Simply putting out the strongest players available in our most effective formation will not automatically result in an effective performance or positive result. Steve Clarke’s first home match in charge against Watford, for example, ended with a 1-0 defeat having played a strong starting lineup in a 4-4-2 formation. Sometimes there will just be teams that play better on the day. Away to Fulham, Reading also played 4-4-2 and despite dominating the match lost 2-1. Reading have also beaten teams such as Derby and Ipswich while playing the same formation. Playing in that formation, home or away, does not guarantee victory. What can be said is that if Steve Clarke puts out a strong squad in positions which enable them to make an impact on the game, it is not a bad place to start. From then on it is down to the players to go out and give a performance worthy of the shirt.
The next home matches are as follows:
Reading V Nottingham Forest (Saturday 28 February)
Reading V Brighton (Tuesday 10 March)
Reading V Birmingham (Tuesday 17 March)
Reading V Cardiff (Saturday 4 April)
Reading V Blackburn (Saturday 11 April)
After the results against Leeds and Wigan, it is difficult to know which Reading will turn up against these sides, especially with so many fixtures to be played. It must be said, however, that there are some very winnable fixtures here.
While fans have no control over the team that is chosen at home, nor how it plays, one thing they can do is support the team and make home advantage count. As the saying goes, it’s time to back the boys and make some noise!