Reading Prem Watch
2006/07: P4 W2 D0 L2 PTS: 6 8th
2007/08: P4 W1 D1 L2 PTS: 4 15th
2012/13: P4 W0 D1 L3 PTS: 1 20th
Reading: McCarthy (8); Shorey (7), Pearce (8), Gorkss (7), Gunter (7); McAnuff (5), Leigertwood (5), Guthrie (6), McCleary (5); Pogrebnyak (5), Le Fondre (6) - Subs: Robson-Kanu (6), Hunt (6)
When you've just spent 10 hours of your day watching Reading conjure up 1 shot on target and lose 1-0 to an off-key West Brom side, you do sit and wonder, is it all worth it? Then you remember the wins at West Ham, Southampton and that magical night against Nottingham Forest and think, yeah it's worth it.
As far as today goes, to put it simply, Reading weren't very good and didn't really deserve to come away from the Midlands with anything. The front line looked blunt and was hardly helped by a lacklustre display from both wingers and Mikele Leigertwood.
On the bright side the defence looked a damn sight sharper than it has done for most of this young season. Alex McCarthy showed exactly why he's been given a chance over Federici, while Alex Pearce showed why he's earned International honours this year.
After the jump, we'll try and pick the positives out of another frustrating day for Reading at the Hawthorns and ponder where we go from here.
Travelling up on the STAR coaches I can't say I had an overwhelmingly positive feeling travelling to a ground where we've hardly enjoyed rampant success in the past. While West Brom's Peter Odemwingie was suspended, there was still the threat of Romelu Lukaku and former Royal Shane Long to deal with and it was quite relieving to hear that Long had been left out of Steve Clarke's starting lineup.
Reading meanwhile responded to the 3-1 defeat at Spurs by dropping Ian Harte for former Baggie Nicky Shorey, while Jem Karacan was sacrificed for Adam Le Fondre as we went back to a more familiar 4-4-2. I don't think Ian Harte can have many complaints after a disappointing start to the season and as Adam Federici has found out, you're only as good as your last couple of games.
Reading actually started this one pretty brightly and while there wasn't too many chances created, it was a game in which we more than matched our hosts across most of the pitch, something that couldn't be said last Sunday against Spurs. Sadly the one area we couldn't match West Brom was in the final third and the Baggies had by far the best chances throughout the game. Thankfully Alex McCarthy was in top top form, as good as he'd been at Goodison Park or throughout his successful spell 18 months ago. The young 'keeper made fine saves in both halves from Kames Morrison and commanding his area very well as Reading largely kept West Brom at bay.
McCarthy was ably assisted by his defence, with Pearce and Gorkss dealing well with the physical presence of Lukaku, or as West Brom fans sang, 'The Fridge from Stamford Bridge'. Chris Gunter had probably his best performance in a Reading shirt while Nicky Shorey showed touches of class and his extra mobility enabled Reading to press West Brom back far more than they've been able to do to other sides this season.
Sadly despite a great performance as a unit, they couldn't keep the clean sheet as Lukaku's shot from just outside the box squeezed through a defender's legs past an unsighted McCarthy to secure the points twenty minutes from time.
I say secure the points because Reading's attacking unit really never looked like threatening Ben Foster and each of them with the possible exceptions of Guthrie and Le Fondre, will once again be wondering if they've actually earned their wages this week.
While his former Forest team-mate Gunter had perhaps his best game for Reading, unfortunately the same can't be said of Garath McCleary who seemed frightened to take on his man and whose delivery from the byline was sub-par. The winger did have our best effort on goal though, with his overhead kick being well struck, but sadly going straight at Foster. On the opposite wing and Jobi McAnuff once again looked a frustrated figure who struggled to influence the game and was given little help by referee Chris Foy. To his credit McAnuff did fizz in a nice cross in the first half and a couple of times cut in well to make surges towards the box, but on each occasion he found himself either upended or blocked by some good defending from the Baggies.
I'm not going to pin too much blame on Jobi because it's obvious that he's trying his heart out but you can understand the growing frustration from the terraces as he just seems to be lacking an edge that's going to beat full-backs at this level. His lack of a consistantly quality left footed delivery doesn't help his cause and I can't help but wonder whether the left wing is an attacking outlet that's being under-utilised by playing McAnuff. His defensive work remains excellent but Jobi isn't scaring anybody and his repertoire of tricks hasn't really fooled anyone in the four league games this season. He deserves plenty of patience and support, not least because I don't think there's anybody who'll really do a better job there right now while he's also a good captain. However, Jimmy Kebe's imminent return is going to pose one of, if not the most serious selection dilemmas of Brian McDermott's tenure.
In the centre and Danny Guthrie was once again a composed presence but he struggled to make a real impact when playing against a five man midfield. His partner for the day Mikele Leigertwood had a poor game and struggled to hang on to the ball. His off the ball work was as good as ever but again the five man midfield from West Brom left him struggling to make an impact while his lack of quality on the ball hardly helped our strikeforce who were feeding off scraps for the entire game. Leigertwood is a good player that's capable of playing at this level but today's performance has once again demonstrated his limitations and he cannot afford to give the ball away so cheaply in this league.
Up front and you can't help but feel a bit sorry for Pavel Pogrebnyak who could well be thinking 'what have I signed up for?'. The Russian was given virtually no service on the deck, instead being eft to try and win headers and come deep for the ball to try and get into the game. Lukaku showed that if you give a good player the ball on the edge of the area he's capable of crafting something and you can't help but wish that Reading's midfielders would try and play a few more balls up to his feet rather than forcing him to try and win everything in the air. Adam Le Fondre is a player a bit more used to the direct style and his movement was again excellent, even if his touches were minimal. Alfie can actually consider himself unlucky not to have been 1-on-1 with Foster when he burst through on to a bouncing ball in the second half only to get a boot in the face from the West Brom defender. Unsurprisingly no foul was given by Chris Foy who kept his whistle blowing to a minimum and let the majority of strong challenges go unpunished.
With the team a goal down, McDermott threw on Robson-Kanu for Gunter, and Hunt for Pogrenyak and while both were full of energy, neither looked overly threatening. Robson-Kanu did have a good headed chance but could only steer his effort over the bar.
The lack of quality on the subs bench was quite alarming and with the greatest respects to Shaun Cummings, Karacan, Churchy and Adrian Mariappa, none of them were ever likely to change a game in the same way that West Brom's first sub, Shane Long, could have done. With that in mind, Reading fans' attention has grown ever more on the treatment room and news of the fitness of Jimmy Kebe and Jason Roberts. Both played vital roles in our promotion and both are match winners, something that's lacking in the XI right now. Kebe in particular has a spark that none of our other wing options seem to posses, while Roberts has been around this level long enough to know where the goal is and help bring others a bit more in to the game. Kebe featured for 60 minutes yesterday in a friendly match so could be ready to be in the squad for Newcastle next week. Roberts is a bit further away, but said on BBC Berks last weekend that he hopes to be back in training in 2 weeks, meaning a return after the international break at Liverpool would seem a realistic target.
A word or two for West Brom who demonstrated the sort of level of performance that Reading need to be working towards if they've going to operate on a similar budget. West Brom don't have the superstars that are going to ensure top quality performances every week, but they've got enough ability and options in their squad to create chances and make sure they pick up points in games like this one. Most Baggies fans will admit that they hardly dominated this game and the home crowd was pretty quiet in a game that hardly set pulses racing amongst either set of supporters. Shane Long got a good reception from the travelling fans and took the time to shake hands and give out hugs to many of his former teammates at the final whistle. Lukaku looks a real talent and while he didn't look that sharp, you could see the quality and given a run of games he'll be a great asset for them this season. It's just a shame that he'll doubtless head back to Chelsea in the summer and once again you have to ask yourself why teams like West Brom have to resort to developing players for a team in the same divison... but still that's an issue for another day.
So is it time to panic?
No not really but there's a few reasons to be concerned. If you took these results in isolation you'd probably say we've dropped two points to Stoke and maybe should have taken a point at the Hawthorns. You can't expect results against Chelsea and Tottenham and considering West Brom have taken 7 points from Spurs, Liverpool and Everton, even the Baggies are out of our 'mini-league'. Realistically we haven't dropped anything from our big big six-pointers and as our last relegation season showed, taking a point at Old Trafford is meaningless if you give 6 points away to teams who will be around you come the end of the season.
The growing confidence in the back 5 is also something to be positive about. Alex McCarthy looked every inch a Premier League goalkeeper while the four in front of him looked a good unit that was capable of largely shutting down a side that had scored five goals against the two Merseyside clubs to start the year. Danny Guthrie continues to look a wise purchase and while he had an off-day, McCleary has shown he's got something about him as well.
It's impossible to deny that question marks over some of the old guard. Leigertwood and McAnuff have both proved over and over again that they are top Championship players but both have to prove themselves again at this level and neither has made a convincing case to start the year. They've still got positive credit based on their previous form for this football club, but neither is guaranteed a spot going forward based on their current performance levels. Pog and Alfie are also a work in progress but I can't really say too much good or bad given their very, very limited service levels.
Reading now find themselves bottom of the league but hey, it's FOUR GAMES INTO THE SEASON. Last season we were one off the bottom of the Championship after dire performances against Hull and Watford but slowly began to grind out results before romping to the title. I don't think Manchester City have much to be worried about but it's certainly possible to see a Reading side with Kebe and Roberts, slowly picking up momentum and heading back up the table.
Anyway, that's me done and if you've made it this far perhaps you're prepared to go a little further and avoid feeling too down-hearted about things over the next week. Bring on Newcastle and hopefully, a first win.
PS. There's also some big, big changes coming to this website very soon, so stay tuned for that, I promise it'll be worth it.