Steve Clarke is in the doghouse with Reading fans - unfairly so, in my opinion - but it’s an issue that can only be resolved by winning football matches. Now the visit of QPR presents the former West Brom boss with an ideal opportunity to start repairing the damage caused by his decision to open talks with Fulham and get back to doing what he does best.
If the Royals can recapture anything like the standards they set prior to the October international break, then the 11/10 available on the home win represents value. Based on shot data, the Berkshire club should be odds-on here, despite a sticky period over the past six weeks, during which time they’ve dropped 15 points in seven matches and slipped from second to ninth.
Truth be told, that run is why Reading fans are so vexed. Clarke gave them what they now regard as false hope with six quickfire victories, then raised fears he was about to jump ship the moment things started to turn sour. The alternative view argues that the slump is nothing serious, Clarke was keeping his mind open to all options and Reading fans should be encouraged by his decision to stick with the original hand he was dealt.
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He might not be particularly sentimental, but Clarke’s reaction to the interest from Craven Cottage was no different to his attitude in the video editing suite. He gathers all the available information, then takes the option most likely to deliver the best outcome. Football clubs or football players, they’re all just objects with individual strengths and weaknesses. Like salt and pepper pots.
< And it’s that mindset that can make all the difference here. The pursuit of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has been a sideshow to the visitors’ preparations and though, ordinarily, you would expect players to respond positively to the watchful gaze of a new gaffer, QPR might find themselves with a mountain to climb before they even have chance to settle.
Given Clarke’s record for identifying opposition weaknesses and exposing them with deft precision, the 5/2 available on the Reading/Reading half-time/full-time outcome is probably the best course of action here. It’s a method that has accounted for six out of the Royals’ seven victories so far this season and 11 out of 15 overall since he arrived in the role last December.
Rangers have made themselves tougher to beat in recent weeks, through sheer endeavour more than anything, but one assumes there was an underlying tactical pattern to the lapses in concentration that were costing them dearly earlier in the campaign when conceding two goals per game over the first 11 matches. If so, you can bank on Clarke to crack that particular code.
As if to emphasise the point, those who fancy something a bit more extravagant might also wish to take some of the 11/1 available on Reading to be winning 2-0 at half-time. It’s a bet they have landed seven times in 52 matches during Clarke’s tenure, a record that implies odds of 13/2.