Mark Bowen couldn’t have asked for much of a better start, could he? Reading have won three of his first four league games, drawing the other, giving him an almost perfect beginning to life in management.
In fact, he’s hit a target that’s often referred to as how to get a team into contention for promotion: winning at home and drawing away. The Royals have taken maximum points at the Madejski Stadium from Preston North End, Millwall and Luton, and got a creditable draw away to playoff-chasing Queens Park Rangers.
That form is no mean feat, and speaks volumes about the short-term impact Bowen’s had at Reading. It’s also – rightly – earned him widespread praise from fans and pundits alike, with Mick Gooding going so far as to say that the last four games have “turned the season”.
On the face of it, that’s all fair comment. However you regarded Jose Gomes (I was one of his bigger supporters and believed he deserved more time), results since the managerial change speak for themselves. They’re results that Gomes simply wasn’t getting.
But we – and certainly Bowen too – shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. Teams often go through some degree of a ‘new manager bounce’ after a switch in the dugout, and that’s the next big challenge for the current gaffer.
He’s rightly emphasised the increased work rate and aggression since his arrival, which was evident as far back as his introductory game against Preston. The players have clearly been running harder and covering more ground recently, and those are the factors that pay off in the long run.
The thing is though, work rate needs to be maintained. It’s all well and good seeing an upturn in the first few weeks after the dismissal of a manager that didn’t seem to be on the same wavelength as his players, and indeed also throughout an impressive unbeaten run.
But keeping it up when the team starts to find it harder to pick up points, and starts having those frustrating matches where nothing seems to fall for them, is another challenge entirely. It’s also a challenge that rookie manager Bowen has never been responsible for in his career.
Of course, he’ll have seen at close quarters how other managers have dealt with such a situation, not least long-term co-worker Mark Hughes, for whom Bowen was an assistant at Stoke City, Southampton, QPR and elsewhere.
Translating that second-hand experience into his own approach won’t be easy. It will though be crucial in extending what has – so far – been an impressive start to life at the Mad Stad for Mark Bowen.