It's been a testing few weeks for Royals fans. Most of us are scratching our heads trying to figure out just what's gone wrong and in this vein Mike Terry has given his views on our recent woes and ponders what we need to do to turn around our fortunes.
Fried Food & Fizzy Drinks
Well, that tried and trusted combination is what helps me get over my hangovers and that combination, or at least the football equivalent, is what the Reading players need to help them get over theirs.
Yep, it’s not that the players aren’t trying or aren’t fit or aren’t very good – they’re suffering from a play-off hangover that has obliterated their confidence. They feel that they gave everything to reach the play-off final and that 8 game winning streak and famous victory at Cardiff does little to dispel that idea. So having given everything and ‘failed’, whenever there’s a misplaced pass or a perceived refereeing injustice, a collective sigh goes up and everyone shrugs their shoulders.
That’s not to say that the effort stops, but each player’s belief in himself and his team mates dissipates. All of a sudden, they can’t play that first time pass or take a snap shot at goal. The extra touch draws the opposition nearer, passes go astray and the crowd gets frustrated. Sighs, groans and (dare I say it?) boos ring out around the ground*. As we know, confidence breeds confidence, but it also works the other way. The quicker the players and fans get frustrated, the more frustrated each gets. It’s inevitable and it would be a futile endeavour to tell you to stop groaning.
*I’m a firm believer in the freedom of speech and I’ll vehemently defend your right to boo, even if I think you’re bloody daft for doing it!
So what has to happen to for us to get up from our footballing sofa and turn off Ninja Warrior? In my limited life experience, common sense and simple solutions are often the way forward. My sense (and I hope it’s common!) tells me that we need to play to our strengths. Those strengths are hitting the wings and playing into the channels. I’m not going to bang on about team selections, formations and the like, but we’re at our best when the ball’s out wide and getting whipped in at pace. Okay, we’re not the strongest aerially (and at 3’5”, perhaps Adam Le Fondre isn’t the target man here) but if we keep banging in the crosses and tickle the famed corridor of uncertainty, then the law of averages starts becoming our friend.
Of course, watching Reading take on Watford on Saturday, you’d wonder if our wingers knew what running was, let alone a whipped-in cross. Sadly, Kebe and MacAnuff epitomised the aforementioned frustration and lack of belief. To stretch and strain my metaphor a little more, dear Jimmy needs a bottle of Coke and a pack of Mentos up his derriere. Or fried egg dangling just out of reach like an old nag’s carrot.
Er, have I stretched that too far?
Anyway, he needs to be told that running = good and standing = bad. He’s one of the fastest players in football in a straight line so he has to knock it round his man and leg it, just like he did last year! Okay, he’s not going to get it in first time every time (and that predictability wouldn’t do us any good anyway) but if he keeps bangin’ those crosses in then our attackers are going to start getting on the end of them. Simple.
Now, rarely being a sack-the-manager type, I don’t wish to criticise Brian McDermott, but I feel that perhaps he’s tried to flower things up in training too much over the summer, slightly over-complicated things. It’s marginally reminiscent of the first few games under Brendan Rodgers, where the team didn’t quite seem aware of what was required of them. Maybe there isn’t a suitable squad replacement for the “give it to Gylfi” and “give it to Shane” game plans we’ve had in recent seasons and maybe the players are out of their comfort zones trying new and unfamiliar tactics…I don’t know. I’m not versed enough in the minutiae of football dynamics and sports psychology to offer much more on this subject. My basic understanding just draws me back, time and again, to the wings/channels style referred to above. It’s what we’re good at and we know it’s effective so let’s stick to it.
Of course, the players and staff at Reading FC aren’t the only ones suffering a play-off hangover. The fans are on a big come down and they don’t like it. Certainly the run of games since the Leicester win has seemed like the cold turkey nightmares in Trainspotting.
But don’t think this is patronising, because I’m right in there with you. I realise that this may not be a popular view, but I’m of the opinion that the current Reading FC crop is a mid-table team who over-achieved in the last two seasons under McDermott. The Champagne & Skittles days are over and we're facing a 're-adjustment', a 'results-recession', that is probably a season over-due. Like the whole banking crisis shenanigans, we've been living on success credit for the last 6 or 7 years and now the debt is being recalled.
So now is a time for consolidation of our expectations. Let’s appreciate that we’ve been blessed in recent years and take heart from the signing of some potentially decent players. Gorkks and Mills the Younger have certainly both made a good first impression and Le Fondre brings a good goal-scoring record with him. I truly believe that things will settle down and any complicated rubbish they've tried to work on over the summer to make them more creative or multi-dimensional will get shrugged off. We know what our strengths are and a back-to-basics approach will almost certainly re-ignite the players' passions and get us back on track. Once the confidence builds from the simple stuff, then all the trickery and creative spark will follow naturally. Well, I hope so!
To stretch my metaphor one last time, let’s suck it up, take a deep breath and get our heads down. A few simple and sensible steps will have us out on the play-off and promotion lash before you can say “fried food and fizzy drinks”.
Thanks to Mike and you can follow him on twitter @mikerzr