A 3-2 win over Preston at Deepdale on Saturday marked Reading’s first victory in over three months, but also saw the end of Veljko Paunovic’s 18-month spell in Berkshire.
The three points ended a miserable run of 12 games without a win – which included an FA Cup exit to non-league Kidderminster Harriers and a 7-0 defeat at the hands of Fulham – and eased the Royals’ relegation fears.
But less than 30 minutes after the final whistle, the Royals had parted company with manager Veljko Paunovic and placed Paul Ince in interim charge – who has since beaten Birmingham City 2-1 in midweek in his first game as temporary boss.
To make things more bizarre, Paunovic was apparently told the Preston game would be his last prior to kick-off, though he did not inform his players of that fact until after the win.
So is this a tactical masterstroke going into the final quarter of the season or a massive gamble that could condemn the Berkshire club to third-tier football for the first time in 20 years?
“I’m just surprised it took so long to happen,” Talk Reading tells FansBet.
“Pauno has been dealt a tough hand this season, nobody can argue that, but once the fans turn on a manager, there is often no way back.
“He himself realised this and, fair play to him, offered his resignation for the good of the club. It was important he got himself out of the spotlight as it was getting nasty. I wish him all the best.”
Paunovic leaves his position after 18 months in charge having been appointed in August 2020.
Despite some early-season optimism among Reading fans back in the summer, the ex-Serbia international had overseen a period of 11 league games without a win prior to his final game in charge as the club slipped to 21st.
“It’s been a truly horrendous run of form with eight straight defeats.
“Losing to non-league Kidderminster and a 7-0 hammering at the hands of Fulham – no manager in football survives that.
“Reading fans have, and rightly so, begun to vent frustrations towards a very silent board that continues to make poor decisions.
“The only action the board can make in the short-term is a change of manager, so that was the initial focus of the protests.
“Hopefully, the new manager bounce with Paul Ince coming in can guide the club to safety.”
Former Real Mallorca and Atletico Madrid midfielder Paunovic succeeded Mark Bowen when he took charge of Reading on the eve of the 2020/21 season.
Initially, he enjoyed an impressive start to his tenure as the Royals were surprise early Championship leaders with an eight-match unbeaten run at the start of the campaign, winning seven and drawing the other.
But they eventually missed out on the play-offs, finishing seven points adrift in seventh.
“I think Pauno is a great guy but ultimately took us as far as he could.
“The fact that, on his first day out of a job, he was down at the academy speaking to parents and kids from all the age groups says a lot about the kind of person Pauno is.
Wow! Love this from Pauno. First day out of the job and he’s in the club tracksuit making time for the parents and kids right down the age groups. #readingfc https://t.co/cF1WpbXk3Z
— Talk Reading (@TalkReading) February 20, 2022
“Saying that, he will also be remembered as the man who was at the helm for the worst run of results in the club’s recent history.
“My fondest memory of the Pauno era is beating Bournemouth 3-1 at home last season.
“That result put Reading right into the race for automatic promotion and we looked unstoppable.
“Unfortunately, that was the peak and in the year that followed, we never reached those heights again.”
Things had gone from bad to worse for Paunovic this season both on and off the field as he’s had to deal with a lengthy injury list, a transfer embargo and a six-point deduction enforced in November for breaking EFL financial rules.
Prior to their home defeat by Coventry on February 12th, a number of supporters staged a protest against the club’s owners in an attempt to overshadow celebrations of the club’s 150th anniversary.
Paunovic’s departure is Reading’s fifth managerial change in less than three years since Jaap Stam was sacked in March 2018 as the club face the very real possibility of playing in League One for the first time since 2002.
So does Talk Reading think that Paul Ince, who has been out of management for eight years, is the man to guide Reading to safety?
“It strikes me as a very convenient option with his son already at the club.
“It’s the sort of appointment that was a done deal just minutes after the initial conversation – and we needed that as we needed an instant impact.
“I think it will suffice until the end of the season and then the club can make a more long-term appointment.
“Going forward, there is so much quality in this Reading team. Lucas João and John Swift are hitting form at the perfect time and we look all the better for it.
“If Paul Ince, like he mentioned in his first interview, can tighten up an incredibly leaky defence, then we should be okay.
“It will go down to the wire, though.”
Follow @Matthewjcrist on Twitter