The Wokingham Paper

INTERVIEW (part one): Chief exec Ron Gourlay on what went wrong at Reading FC this season

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Ron Gourlay (right) says Reading invested as much as they could over the summer

Reading chief executive Ron Gourlay insists the club will put things right this summer after a miserable 2017/18 campaign came to an end on Sunday.

The Royals went from reaching the Championship play-off final under Jaap Stam to battling to avoid relegation to League One under Paul Clement in less than 12 months, eventually finishing 20th.

And Gourlay, who joined the club in July 2017, admits the last campaign was unacceptable.

“It’s not what the owners wanted it to be, it’s not what the fans wanted it to be and it’s certainly not what I wanted it to be,” he said.

“There’s a number of reasons for that, but it was undoubtedly a very difficult season for everybody who touches on the football club.

“But we’ve got to take responsibility for that.

Jaap Stam left Reading in March after a dismal run of results

“There’s accountability and we’ve got to make sure that we don’t find ourselves in a similar situation again and from what we’ve learnt, we put it right in the next couple of months.”

He continued: “I think you’ve got to take a step back and have a wider look at the situation.

“We have a lot of quality players at this football club but you’ve got to reach your level and I think it’s fair to say we underperformed to the quality that we have across the piece.

“It’s not about targeting individuals, it’s a team sport and you need the team to play together.

“We didn’t reach the levels that we had to reach and that were expected to be reached.

“We know that, the players, backroom staff, everyone knows that it’s not an acceptable position for this club to be in.”

PODCAST: Final episode of the season as Reading clinch their Championship safety

The questions have been raised all season as to why Reading found themselves in this situation.

And Gourlay believes many factors conspired against the Royals, with the problems beginning way back in June.

“I think if you look back at the pre-season, we had lots of players arriving at different times,” he said.

“Some new signings and other players did not join first team training until very late, just a week or two before the season started.

“I think that definitely had an impact.

“I don’t think either Jaap (Stam) or Paul (Clement) were ever able to play their strongest side.

“We had a number of key injuries to key players, players that performed very well for the club last year, notably (Yann) Kermorgant who played a lot of games and scored a lot of goals and (Jordan) Obita, who played a huge percentage of the games. He gave us good balance in the side and we lost him very, very early.

“We lost other key players through the spine of the team that meant playing players out of position and we didn’t really establish ourselves early enough in the season to gain the momentum.

“When I first came into the football club, it was very worrying when I kept hearing that Reading are never good starters in the season. These are the sort of things you can’t look at that way.

Reading won just five home league matches all season

“You’ve got to get off to a good, strong start to the season because it sets us up and we didn’t get that.”

He continued: “From the off the loss to Queens Park Rangers was a bad start for us. We picked some points up against Villa but we went into some very early physical games against physical sides who adapted differently from the way they potentially played us last season.

“They got success by stopping our way of playing and other teams saw that.

“You watch every game and you would’ve seen how teams reacted differently to how they played us here and how they played us away.

“That had a big impact, especially when key players were out.”

As Reading’s form continued to dip, a run of just one win in 18 games left the Royals tumbling towards the relegation zone.

That led to big change with just eight games to go as Stam was replaced by Clement to try and stave of falling into the bottom three, despite Gourlay stating in January that Stam was here to stay.

But he says the situation got too perilous to carry on with the Dutchman in charge.

“The owner, and I understand why, wanted to give the manager every opportunity to put things right,” explained Gourlay.

“Given the fact we had a lot of injuries, the style of play, the possession play, that was the way we liked.

“The problem came when the teams were adapting differently to how they played against us and we weren’t getting football results.

“There is never a right time to make a change.

“If I’m honest, people are always thinking about should there be a change but the view was very much no, we’ve got the quality, we can raise our game, we get some key players back and we can take care of this situation.

“But unfortunately that didn’t happen.

Gourlay brought Clement in with eight games to go

“I think the fans probably were not expecting us to make a change come the last eight games if I’m honest and that was kind of what I was sensing.

“But the decision was taken that to give ourselves an opportunity then the change had to come and that’s when we decided mutually that now was the chance to make that change.”

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Falling attendances and an at times toxic atmosphere inside Madejski Stadium continued to build up as the side struggled to pick up results.

And Gourlay admits the supporters’ annoyance was completely justified.

“I sit, I listen and I hear the frustrations,” he said.

“They have every right to be disappointed. They have a voice.

“I think the expectation at the start of the season was pointing towards a far better performance than what we performed at.

“It’s always a danger, the expectation after finishing where we did last season and how close it was.

“I think the expectations of everybody was that we would not find ourselves in the situation that we did, but it was evident that the fans weren’t happy about it, but we weren’t happy about it.”

He added: “I’m not going to make any excuses. Last season on the field was not where we wanted to be but at the same time, we’ve got to take some responsibility there and put it right next season.

“I’m very confident that we will do that.

“I think it’s been a difficult season for the fans. We tried, the effort that went into the club was very, very high.

“But it wasn’t turning itself into the results that we needed and it’s difficult to sit there.

“I sat there with them and I think we will put it right this summer.

“They’ll give Paul a chance, I know they will, and I think they’ll be back in their numbers again.”

Stay close to wokingham.today over the coming days for more from Gourlay on the owners, transfer budget, Bearwood latest and much more.

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