Why Reading are no better off for sacking Jose Gomes

Reading sacked manager Jose Gomes on Wednesday, after 33 league games at the helm.

The decision was on paper understandable, with the Portuguese boss’ win ratio at 24% and the team in the relegation zone after some heavy spending.

There are, however, a lot of reasons why the Royals are no better off for the dismissal, as Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) discusses.

It lets misbehaving players off

There have been reports that certain senior players nicknamed Gomes “car salesman” because “he talked a good game”, which is incredibly disrespectful.

Some of those players might not always agree with Gomes’ tactics or certain aspects of his management, but by calling him names and insulting him behind his back, they are creating a culture of division which betrays the supporters who pay their wages.

By sacking the 49-year-old, Nigel Howe, Mark Bowen and the board are indirectly vindicating the petulance of those players.

One or two of them have reportedly been left out in the cold and, rather than be reflective of themselves and consider what they can do to get back in the team, they may have been looking for somebody else on whom to apportion blame.

Reading can change the manager, but the real task for them is to change the culture at the club; and they would have had a better chance of doing that by giving the existing manager time and authority.

The xG data was solid

Gomes’ critics would say, with some validity, that because so many things were wrong during the previous regime – over-corporatisation, disconnect between fans and club, the absence of a clear playing identity – that small things the new manager got right last season were magnified and exaggerated.

The former Rio Aves boss did re-organise the Royals, did show pragmatism, did buy into the club on an emotional level – but the shot data was not hugely convincing.

Their Expected Goals Ratio (xGR) for their final eight games of the previous campaign was 43.05% and without the fortuitous, narrow victories over fellow strugglers Ipswich and Wigan, they would not have stayed up so comfortably.

By the same token, though, Gomes has come under a lot more pressure this season – and the shot data has in fact been stronger at 50.49% xGR.

Pușcaș has been wasteful

The difference is that wasteful finishing from George Pușcaș, on whom the club spent £9 million to be clinical in front of goal, has been pivotal in games like the 2-0 home loss to Charlton and the 1-0 defeat at Bristol City among others.

In fact, Pușcaș has taken 25 shots from inside the penalty box this season – the third-most out of all the strikers in the Championship – and only scored once from the 18-yard area.

We can analyse systems and tactics to the nth degree, but the one thing the manager cannot affect is whether the team’s big money centre-forward converts his chances – apart from that goal in the 3-0 win over Cardiff, Pușcaș has not been converting his.

Does 3-1-4-2 work?

Gomes has not been without his faults.

The 3-1-4-2 system has not always worked brilliantly because, with wing-backs Andy Yiadom and Omar Richards so high up, they have found it difficult to play through the press.

With a limited holding midfielder in Pele as well as three centre-backs – Miazga, Michael Morrison and Liam Moore – there has been a lack of quality on the ball from deep and they can sometimes be caught out for that.

The problem is, nobody other than Pele can anchor a midfield effectively, so by picking three centre-backs, Gomes must compromise arguably the strongest area of his squad and only pick two more advanced midfielders out of three credible options.

John Swift has been Reading’s most creative player this season, Ovie Ejaria is too much of an all-rounder to be dropped and of course, the energetic Andy Rinomhota was a stand-out performer in 2018-19.

The manager has looked for alternatives to 3-1-4-2 and dabbled with 4-3-3, 4-4-2 diamond, 4-4-1-1 and 4-2-3-1 but none for more than one match, so the Royals have been unable to develop another solution to the quandary.

Late recruitment

Equally, the Royals had only made four additions by the time they started August – of those, Matt Miazga was a returning loanee, Charlie Adam has only played 53 minutes of league action and Joao Virginia has not featured domestically since week two.

Six of their nine senior additions arrived after the EFL season officially kicked off, so one could argue the early stages of the season have been almost like an extended pre-season.

For that reason, it may be unfair to criticize Gomes based on the money spent – because the manager has had to integrate a lot of new players in a very short space of time.

Maybe a new manager – Mark Hughes is the current 5/4 favourite due to his links with Bowen – will get a reaction out of the players short-term, but he could be left with the same problems.

Gomes deserved an opportunity to turn results around.