Paul Clement’s brief reign as Reading boss came to an abrupt end on Thursday morning.
The former Swansea City and Derby County man joined a Royals squad bereft of confidence at the end of March, handed the unenviable task of avoiding relegation into League One.
While Reading were not actually inside the bottom three when Clement arrived, they felt very much like a club sleepwalking towards the third tier for the first time in 16 years having endured a woeful run of just one win in 18 league games as the Jaap Stam era unravelled.
As was his remit when he took over at Swansea, Clement’s first job was clear – avoid relegation.
He galvanised the side and the fans almost immediately, defeating Queens Park Rangers 1-0 at Madejski Stadium in his first game in charge thanks to a stunning Sone Aluko goal and last-gasp Vito Mannone penalty save.
Some would say a new manager bounce was always likely regardless of who was in the hotseat and that is a valid point. But having not won a home match in the Championship for over four months, Clement then oversaw a second straight victory at the Mad Stad, another 1-0, as Mo Barrow netted to defeat Preston North End.
They did not know it then, but that goal essentially secured Reading’s second tier status.
A breathless draw against Sunderland followed but there were still bumps in the road, not least the capitulation to lose 4-0 to a mangerless Ipswich Town in the final home game of the campaign to show there would be plenty of work ahead over the summer.
Mathematically, the fight against relegation went to the wire where the Royals needed a result at Premier League bound Cardiff City and they ground out a 0-0.
From Clement’s perspective, job done. But from there things began to go wrong.
While Ron Gourlay was the man to hand Clement a route back into management, his leadership of the club as chief executive unquestionably made life more difficult.
You only have to look at the amount of staff members who walked away from Reading during Gourlay’s stewardship to see that things were not quite right behind the scenes with Sir John Madejski this week saying that the mood around the club lifted when the Scot departed last month. He also revealed that Gourlay was the first CEO to have an office at the training ground. While he was potentially Clement’s closest ally having worked
with him previously at Chelsea, the toxic atmosphere both inside the club and in the fanbase could not have made Clement’s job any easier.
Broken promises from the top regarding summer window transfer budget meant the Royals had to draft in free transfers to try and improve the overall quality, but failing to move players off the books left Clement with an overly inflated squad. A big part of a manager’s job is to try and garner a good team spirit, something which is increasingly difficult when you have to leave international players and experienced professionals out of a matchday squad on a regular basis.
One thing Clement should be given credit for is his open and honest approach, not only to that situation but also in not shying away from poor performances, something which the fans initially appreciated having become disillusioned with some of the comments towards the end of Stam’s spell in charge, particularly when he began to turn on the supporters on occasion.
He should also be praised for giving a chance to Yakou Meite, who has been a revelation this season, as well as integrating exciting young talents Andy Rinomhota and Danny Loader into first team squad.
But with falling attendances and the slip into the Championship relegation zone, the Chinese owners have begun to take more of an interest and it comes as no coincidence that Clement’s departure follows so soon after Gourlay as they look for a clean slate under new CEO Nigel Howe, to try and reconnect with the fanbase.
Performances had been improving under Clement to an extent, battling back to draw late on against Stoke on Saturday having come so close to taking a point away from Elland Road in midweek.
But the hard facts are that Reading have only won four Championship games this season, are only outside of the relegation zone on goal difference and never won back-to-back matches under Clement.
It is always sad to see a hard-working, open and honest nice guy losing their job. However, as has happened in his previous managerial role at Swansea, after generating an initial boost Clement never really felt like being the man to generate the momentum to lift the club up towards the right end of the Championship table.