The Wokingham Paper

FROM THE TILEHURST END: Do fans just want to be entertained?

What do you watch football for? Perhaps it is for social interaction or to see your favourite players, or, like for many, it is simply to be entertained.

After all, football in its purest ilk is a form of entertainment. It is there to be enjoyed as a spectacle. Unfortunately, this is where Reading and Mark Bowen have come unstuck in recent weeks.

Supporters are being left increasingly bored and uninspired by matches as the season peters out.

The precedent was set in the dull 0-0 draw against Huddersfield last week, although the team had also been criticised of sitting back and creating little against Stoke a few weeks previously.

The 1-0 win over Charlton was secured by a goal in the third minute, as Reading would have just one more shot on target all afternoon – Yakou Meite’s weak header from a corner – and no shots at all after the 28th minute.

The side that finished the match included three centre-backs, three left-backs and one right back, emphasising Bowen’s overwhelmingly negative approach.

Against Middlesbrough on Tuesday evening it was not much different, although this time there was no clean sheet and Reading lost the game. The Royals had just one shot on target in the game, and only one shot after the 70th minute.

Creativity has been at a minimum lately, which means that games haven’t exactly been great to watch. This heavily defensive set-up is perhaps not surprising that Bowen himself was a left-back and former centre-back John O’Shea is also on the coaching staff.

‘Entertainment’ was often a buzz word during Jaap Stam’s time in charge too. The Dutchman’s possession-based philosophy that involved Reading passing the ball around in their own half for much of the game took a while for supporters to get used to, and did have its critics. The Royals rarely blew teams away and you certainly didn’t go to games expecting free-flowing, fast attacking football.

Yet it got results. Reading won 26 out of 46 league games, lost just two home matches and finished third. The majority of the fanbase were well and truly behind Stam’s ‘Dutch Revolution’, and even held an ‘Orange day’ to honour him for the final game of the regular season against Burton. When the Royals lost the play-off final, keeping hold of Stam was seen as vital if the club were to push for promotion again the following season.

The former Manchester United defender did stick around, but things went downhill rapidly and he was sacked in March 2018. His style or approach had not changed, but one vital thing had – results.

Reading were on a run of one win in 18 league games, and many supporters turned against him as the atmosphere turned toxic.

Simply put, people seem willing to forgive ‘boring’ football if it gets wins, but if they stop arriving, then it’s a recipe for disaster. Getting that balance right

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