On the way to this game, I looked at the odds on-line, and liked the look of odds of 40-1 one either team to win on penalties. My rationale was that this game was likely to be a tight one – Peterborough are going well at the top of League One, whilst Reading of course were a Premier League team only a few months ago and have kept most of their key players as well as making a few additions.
That was probably one of the worst bets I’ve ever made! This game wasn’t a tight one – it wasn’t even remotely close. It was one of the most one-sided I’ve ever seen, because Peterborough didn’t just beat Reading – they utterly humiliated a gutless and spineless Reading team which offered nothing.
Nigel Adkins made nine changes to the team beaten at Blackpool on Saturday, but this wasn’t a team of rookies, as the only player without extensive first-team experience was Jordan Obita. But despite the wealth of experience they had, this team looked way out of their depth as Peterborough ripped them to shreds at will.
I don’t want to devalue the Peterborough performance here – they were good throughout, and very good at times. But they were never outstanding, and any team with a competent defence would have kept them out. And that was one of the big problems – Reading didn’t have a competent defence, or anything even vaguely approaching it. There’s the old football joke that a team’s defenders look as though they’ve only been introduced to each other 5 minutes before the game. Reading’s defenders today not only looked like they’d not been introduced to each other, they looked like they’d grown up on different planets in different solar systems and only today had been brought to Earth and introduced to the concept of football, let alone each other.
And the best way to illustrate this is by a brief description of each goal.
First goal – Peterborough player cut inside, completely fooling Mariappa, and shot into the gap between Federici and his near post.
Second goal – Ball given away in midfield, passed around and Peterborough striker in acres of space outside the box shoots past Federici .
Third goal – Peterborough break, with a single striker bearing down on three Reading defenders. He beats them and scores. I’ll repeat that again just in case anyone missed it - that’s ONE striker running at THREE defenders and beating them with ease.
Fourth goal – Penalty. I’m not actually sure who whether it was Cummings or Obita who committed the foul to concede the penalty, as there was a large metal post holding the stand up in line of sight. But I think if Nigel Adkins had put a Reading shirt onto that large metal post and told it to play full-back today it would have been just as effective out there.
Fifth goal – Another penalty. This one was definitely committed by Cummings.
Sixth goal – Long range shot along the ground that went just inside Federici’s far post.
But it wasn’t just the defence who were abject today. The central midfield was completely ineffective, with so many passes going astray that I lost count. With minimal pace and no apparent commitment, they allowed a Peterborough midfield that looked faster, stronger and more motivated to win virtually every loose ball.
The same was repeated up front, where Le Fondre and Pogrebnyak had a few good interchanges in the first 15 minutes that came to nothing, but after that huffed and puffed a lot to absolutely zero effect. Out wide, Obita and Robson-Kanu produced nothing of any note – in fact, like the rest of the team I have nothing positive I can say about them.
So with defenders who couldn’t defend, strikers who couldn’t strike, and a midfield that couldn’t win or keep the ball, this was setup for Peterborough to eviscerate Reading, and that’s precisely what they did. But, as I say, they weren’t outstanding, and didn’t need any great trickery or flashes of brilliance to score six today. They just did the simple things, and they did them consistently well.
Reading, on the other hand, looked completely out of their depth. What they reminded me of more than anything was the worst facets of one of Brendan Rodger’s Reading teams – not a team doing simple things and doing them well, but a team being asked to play a system that was totally alien to them, which they had no confidence in and weren’t good enough to play even if they did understand it or have confidence in it.
This was simply embarrassing, and many of the players knew it - the spirit on the field was as bad as I’ve seen if for many years, with some players’ body-language clearly showing the disdain they had for team-mates when moves broke down. And this wasn’t just at the end, when the match was long-since lost. Right from the early stages of this match there was very poor team spirit and no leadership – this looked like 11 players cast together onto a football pitch and told to get on with it, and nothing like an actual team.
Many of the players also didn’t look particularly fit, although it was difficult to tell the difference between lack of fitness and lack of motivation. But I do worry that this Reading squad looks nowhere near as fit as those from the past couple of years – again, I’m reminded of Brendan Rodgers’s tenure here, when he switched the emphasis of training away from fitness training and it showed in his team.
People will say that this was a meaningless cup match, and that these players haven’t played together before or played for a while, and no doubt all manner of other excuses. To that I’ll respond with two questions, which I’d love Nigel Adkins to answer : If this match was unimportant, why didn’t you let the supporters know so they didn’t spend their valuable time and money on it? And if it was an important match, why did you put out a team that would turn in a performance like tonight’s?
Because either way, this performance was an insult to those Reading fans who made the effort to support their team, and it’s possibly significant that the loudest chant tonight was one of "We want our money back" – I wonder if Anton Zingarevich is thinking the same.
I don’t normally do player ratings in these match reports, as I hate to be too critical of individual players. But tonight I think there’s no way I can avoid this, because I think this match may well be a watershed moment in this season, for Nigel Adkins’s tenure and for the futures of many of these players. So if you want to check them out, head here