Why boss Steve Clarke is crucial to Reading's chances of promotion

Mike Holden by Mike Holden / 02 December 2015, 10:35

Steve ClarkeMike Holden (@Ratings_Mike) takes a look at why Reading manager Steve Clarke is crucial to the Royals' chances of winning promotion this season, backed up by some nifty shot data.

The doghouse. We've all been there. You're at a wedding when a random guest approaches and urges you to dance. You glance sideways and get the green light from your nearest and dearest. "Go ooon," she says, "Let your hair down. Don't be such a softie." But you've not been together that long, so you don't really know when yes means no. On the way home, silence.

Steve Clarke knows exactly what I'm talking about because that's the position he finds himself in right now, with Reading fans. Fulham approached, Reading said yes, and Clarke did the polite and right-minded thing without any thought for the consequences. He spoke with them, listened to what they had to say, said 'thanks, but no thanks' and went back to the Madejski, thinking everything would carry on as normal. Wrong.

First, the silent treatment. "Strange" was how Clarke described his reception walking to the dugout before the 2-1 home win over Bolton. "But I've got to say the crowd got it quite right," he added, with apologetic diplomacy, probably relieved that the whole thing would soon blow over. Wrong again. Because it's never over until she says it's over.

In the next outing, at Nottingham Forest, the Royals surrender an early lead and lose 3-1. And that's when it all comes out. "You should have gone to Fulham," sing the away end, #ClarkeOut trends on Twitter, fans tweet the official Fulham account offering to drive their man to Craven Cottage, the petrol money's on them. Hell hath no fury, and all that.

Now this is all very amusing but for one thing: Reading fans need to be careful what they wish for. Because they had something good going with Clarke but the next few weeks could determine whether their future is rosy or whether the whole thing turns to shit. If they drive Clarke out of the door, they kiss goodbye to any realistic chance of promotion this season, I'm almost certain of it.

On what basis do I make that assumption? Answer: shot data.

With 18 matches of the Championship season gone, Reading boast a staggering 61.6 per cent shot ratio (see table). The football they play might not be particularly enthralling to watch but no team in the division is more dominant at both ends of the pitch. The Royals might be coming up short in terms of results at the moment but history says their current data is a recipe for success.

Over the past ten seasons, nine teams have reached 18 matches with a shot ratio greater than 60 per cent. All nine finished in the top six, seven were promoted. Yet they weren't all leading from the front at this stage. Four of them were outside the automatic places, two of them, like Reading, were outside the top six. In many cases, it was only during the winter months that such dominance began to pay dividends.

Reading fans might argue Clarke is blessed with a special group of players, that the underlying data has little to do with him, that somebody else could come in and do a better job. I think they're wrong on all counts. If we're talking about this season in isolation, not looking beyond next May, I'd say their chances of finding a better manager are slim to none.

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