Reading: McCarthy; Bridge (Kelly), Gorkss, Pearce, Gunter; Drenthe (Blackman), Obita, McAnuff, Robson-Kanu, Le Fondre (Leigertwood), Pogrebnyak
Lets get two things out of the way before we go any further.
1) Bournemouth played very well and would have been a match for any side with a performance like that. On this week's TTE Podcast we looked at the fact that only Leicester had won at Dean Court this year and this performance demonstrated exactly why. Eddie Howe has built a team that has pace and power, blended experience with youthful enthusiasm and above all else, believes in itself.
Reading fans could only drool over the prospect of having someone with Lewis Grabban's pace available to them, while of the two left wingers on display, if you asked an alien to pick which one was playing for Real Madrid 4 years ago and which was playing in League Two, Matt Ritchie should be nailing up his Real Madrid shirt to the wall. So yes, Bournemouth fully deserved a win and even Reading at their best would have struggled tonight.
2) Injuries have been horribly cruel to Reading this season. I don't care if you're QPR, Leicester, Reading or Real Madrid, any team would be struggling if all five of their first choice central midfielders were unavailable to pick from the start of a game. Danny Guthrie, Danny Williams, Hope Akpan, Jem Karacan and Mikele Leigertwood were all unable to start this game and in those circumstances, Nigel's options weren't exactly plentiful. That's not to excuse who he did pick and how they performed but in the cold light of day, Bournemouth just had a better TEAM out there, if not the best individuals.
So with those two key points out of the way, let the roasting commence because this was a pitiful display from a Reading side who looked absolutely lost out there tonight.....
On the selection front, Wayne Bridge was named in the team to make his first start of 2014, with Jordan Obita looking likely to push into the midfield either on the wing or in the centre alongside Danny Guthrie, with Danny Williams ruled out with a knee injury. Unfortunately Guthrie felt a calf injury just 10 minutes before the start, which meant that Hal Robson-Kanu was drafted in to play out wide with Obita partnering McAnuff in the centre and Royson starting wide on the right.
Now, I'm just a humble blogger but if I'm picking a side to play away from home against a team who are in the form of their lives, I don't think I'd ever come up with that four man combination to play in a 4-4-2. The madness of it seems obvious now and I'd like to think it seemed obvious at the time but apparently not because that's what Nigel Adkins went with and predictably it didn't work.
McAnuff and Obita both have some experience in the middle but to ask the two of them to pair up for the first time, away from home, against such a strong side..... well.... I just.... yeah.
But that's not the worst of it. The even more mind boggling decision here was to trust that central duo in a straight four that also includes perhaps the laziest defensive minded winger in the division in Royston Drenthe and behind a front two that included an Adam Le Fondre that contributes zero in terms of holding the ball up or making his presence felt anywhere but the final third.
Some will say 'Well Nigel had no choice' but what about Jake Taylor? Here you have a player who you trusted to play for 60 minutes in a win at Millwall but not away at Bournemouth?! I'm not Taylor's biggest fan but he would have been a massive step up from Jobi McAnuff who had an absolute stinker out there. Likewise there must have been someone within our all-conquering Academy that could have at least made the bench?
Anyway I suppose I should mention what actually happened in the game and I'll make it brief.
Reading actually started this game well and Jordan Obita forced a good save out of Lee Camp within the first five minutes to raise hopes that maybe this misshaped team might actually do ok....
Sadly those dreams were shattered minutes later when a long ball over the top caught Alex Pearce and Chris Gunter ball watching which allowed the pacy Grabban to nip in behind the defence and play in former Swindon man Matt Ritchie who slotted well past McCarthy to give the Cherries the lead.
Reading could have responded almost immediately when Drenthe was set free down the right hand side. All the Dutch winger had to do was square it to a free and open Le Fondre and it would have been 1-1 but instead, the man celebrating his 27th birthday decided to go it alone, only succeeding in hitting the deck and failing to win a penalty.
Bearing in mind this is a Reading team that has won just once when going behind all season so it's safe to say things were already looking bleak, but their task was made even harder when another weak defensive display let Ritchie make it 2-0. This time it was Gorkss who lost a physical battle with Grabban and after a blocked effort and some pinging around the box, the ball came out to Ritchie who again slotted past McCarthy and sent the home fans wild.
If you expected Reading to respond and really put up a fight, well you've not seen the team much this year have you? No instead we got what we always do when we're behind, a series of pointless long hoofs up to our 5'9" striker and his Russian partner who despite being a big f**king Russian, still wins less headers than Noel Hunt did for half the money.
Reading could have been 3-0 down when Grabban missed when put clean through after easily turning Pearce & Gorkss but it was a mere stay of execution as the Royals first-half misery was completed just before the break. McAnuff gave the ball away just outside the box, allowing Bournemouth to spread it wide, whip in a cross and give Yann Kermorgant an easy header to make it 3-0.
If ever you needed evidence of how dire our ownership situation is, and of the comically bad management from the TSI regime to be shown for what it is, consider that Bournemouth went out and signed Kermogant in January. A team in their first Championship season with a ground that can hold less than 12,000 outspent Reading, a team who will receive around £60m in parachute payments and who sold some 14,000+ season tickets..... oh well, at least we've got 4 goalkeepers of real quality and enough wingers to fill a midfield and half our subs bench......
Reading did improve in the second half but Bournemouth still created the better of the chances and in truth our only real moments to be happy about were seeing Mikele Leigertwood make a return after a year out and seeing consolation goal specialist Hal Robson-Kanu scoring a good goal with 20 minutes left.
The sad thing was just seeing how little passion or quality was out there in a team where 10 of the starting 11 had Premier League experience and nine of whom had played at International level. Week after week we're getting not only outfought but outplayed by teams with far less investment in them and while money isn't everything (see QPR), Reading's players are running out of excuses fast.
The final whistle saw huge celebrations from a packed home crowd but boos from a large number of the Reading fans who'd remained to see the final dying moments. It was a humbling experience and one I hope sticks with some of these players who may already be thinking about their next move after their time at the Madejski Stadium.
A quick word on the ref, who for me was pretty poor. He was overly reluctant to get the book out and made some baffling calls when it came to pushing and holding players. On top of that he always seemed to have to go to talk to a player after every foul, what's the point?
On the other hand I can only praise Bournemouth as a club who have created a stadium with a bit of character that's one of the more welcoming grounds I've been too in recent years, £1 parking was certainly refreshing. Their crowd were pretty decent if not the loudest I've ever heard but then they didn't need to be.
So what do we take away from this one?
Well in terms of our play-off fate, it's still very much in Reading's hands even if results below us didn't really go to plan for once. Five wins from five and we're in and with all of our games against teams that should have little to play for, we're unlikely to face a tougher test than a trip to Bournemouth (that sentence still doesn't sound right to me...).
Team selection wise and certain individuals will know they are very much on borrowed time but how much time is left is going to depend on the news coming out of the treatment room over the next days and weeks. You can read my player ratings elsewhere but it's safe to say Kaspars Gorkss, Jobi McAnuff, Royston Drenthe and Adam Le Fondre will all be looking nervously over their shoulders in the next six days while even Alex McCarthy is still on shaky ground for me after another performance where he just looked devoid of confidence and lacked any sort of bond with his defenders.
Hopefully this game marks the low point of the run-in and much like our 3-1 defeat to Peterborough in our 2012 countdown, we bounce back from it and come back stronger.
Sadly unless we get at least two of our first choice five central midfielders back fit and ready, there's just no way I can see this season having a happy ending. Even then we've got a front two that between them haven't scored in open play since February 1st and a back five that's now kept just four clean sheets dating back to mid December.
Overall this was a perfect storm of bad luck, bad tactical decisions, bad individual errors and bad overall performances from players who should have done a lot, lot better. When all of those things combine in a game when you're facing a team in form, it's never going to end well.
This was one of our worst days at the office in a long while and it's either going to be the beginning of the end, or the line in the sand we draw ahead of a play-off push.