Five Things: Reading - Bournemouth

Charlie Crowhurst

The dust has settled on our defeat at home to Bournemouth on Saturday - here are our five takeaways from the match.

1. Fortress Madejski is being breached far too easily

Two home matches in a week, against bottom-half opposition, should have on paper yielded six points and confidence heading into the Christmas period. But instead they were two lackluster performances which have only gone to worry the Reading faithful. The way Charlton attacked and worried the Royals on Tuesday night (albeit without an end product) was magnified by a clinical Bournemouth side who recorded their first win in 8 games, and their first away from home since August.

It seemed to be a bit of a throw-back to the McDermott era of soaking up pressure and grabbing a knockout goal. Except Reading couldn't get it done, either in grabbing another to fully assert against Charlton, or getting their heads in front against the Cherries. Next up at the Mad Stad is another relegated side, Wigan, who are under-performing themselves this season. The Madejski used to be a notoriously difficult trip for away sides, but recently Reading have been far too complacent.

2. How will Reading cope without Danny Guthrie?

Guthrie picked up a yellow card on Saturday which rules him out of this week's trip to Huddersfield. The former Newcastle man won our Player of the Month polls for both August and September after some performances which showed him to be the key cog in our system.

But just recently, his effectiveness seems to have been dampened by opposition tactics. Way back in October against Millwall, Steve Lomas recognised that shutting him down would stifle our play, and Nadjim Abdou stuck to Guthrie all game. Sure enough, we drew - even against ten men, for the last ten minutes.

There's even a question of whether Guthrie tries to do too much himself, whether by Adkins' design or by his own belief in his ability. Many times we've seen him drop between the two centre-backs to try and start attacks from his own back line, or try the Hollywood 50-yarders across the field. But he doesn't particularly add steel or tough tackling to a midfield which has looked lightweight in recent weeks.

Questions for Adkins as to who to start in his place - Mikele Leigertwood is probably not fit, Jobi McAnuff can't dominate the middle of the park either, and Hope Akpan has looked less than impressive recently. A timely return for Leigertwood or Chris Baird would be just perfect, but whoever gets the call, it'll be interesting to see how the tactics change. Whilst I'm a big fan of Guthrie, I've a feeling that more directness could show the Royals in a better light.

3. Adkins the tinkerman

As many of you will know, I try to write match previews before every Reading game, and have a go at predicting the Royals' lineup. Out of about 15 previews this season, I've nailed exactly... one. It's a far cry from the days of Coppell and McDermott when you knew the XI every game, and players were generally only dropped because of injury.

Of course, there are reasons for this. I don't need to remind you of the injuries which have ravaged the squad, whilst unpredictability can also be an advantage over the opposition, who don't know your lineup until the handover of team sheets an hour or so before the match. It also speaks of the squad depth we (generally) have at the club, where a striker or winger can be called upon to make a contribution.

But on Tuesday night, one of the players you'd have thought a certainty to start, Pavel Pogrebnyak was named only on the bench. Hal Robson-Kanu started, but failed to convince on the wing after equally underperforming when given the chance up top a few times this season. And going in behind at the break forced Adkins into two changes at half-time, another early substitution which has become characteristic of his tenure so far.

Whilst it's good that Nigel isn't afraid to change things up if it's not going how he planned, it's worrying in equal measure that our manager seems to acknowledge getting it wrong so often. I even heard on BBC Berkshire in his post-match interview that he discussed tactics with Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe before the game, and even after that chat, managed to be outthought.

Squad depth is important, but so is familiarity. It might be difficult with injury and suspension hitting the side hard, but consistent selection and tactics have worked so well in the past for Reading.

4. Return of Royston the Royal

As seems to be the norm around the club these days, conspiracy abounded regarding the situation with Royston Drenthe, but he showed what he was made of in half an hour against Bournemouth - so much so that at the time of writing, he's leading our Man of the Match poll.

He declared himself fully fit in his own post-match interview, but whether Adkins thinks the same is a different matter. Royston might be the most similar player we have right now to former Reading hero Jimmy Kebe - mercurial, a tad lazy, but has that spark to ignite and excite the Royals fans.

There's no doubting he has the talent, as seen by his spells with other clubs, and as long as he can keep putting in a good contribution (either starting for 60-70 or being the new super-sub for 30), he can be the man to propel us up the table.

5. We're still in the playoffs...

We may be clinging on by goal difference, but we are still in the top six, even after so many bad results recently. Nine points from seven games might not be the best return, especially having dropped points to sides like Bournemouth, Sheffield Wednesday and Millwall, but the other teams around us seem to be doing us a favour ever week.

Of course we all want consistency, and of course we all want that five game winning streak. And nobody wants us to slam a team 5-0 more than me (I've said it about too many games this year on the podcast!). We don't want to rely on results around us, but it seems we can to a certain extent, as no team has shown themselves to be the runaway promotion candidates so far.

Burnley had a good start but have been pegged back by QPR and Leicester at the summit. Derby have been galvanized under Steve McClaren and now sit 4th in the table. Three points separate 5th and 10th in the League. We're in there fighting.

And how about this? Ever since we entered the top two divisions at the start of the 2002/03 season, we've never finished lower than 9th. Ten years of consistency and whilst there's a real chance we might not make the playoffs this campaign, we're certainly a top-30 side - something which not too many teams could claim over the past decade.

In one of the early podcasts this season, Wimb asked whether we'd prefer a season of consolidation or whether it's all or nothing to go back up this season. I took the former, and I've no reason to doubt that we won't look a better side in a couple of months, and certainly next campaign.

What were your biggest talking points from Bournemouth? Agree or disagree with any of the points above? Let us know below?

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