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Are Reading, lacking pedigree, missing passion or is it simply too soon to panic?

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Oh Reading you do tease... it's been the very definition of a roller-coaster so far as Royals fans deal with the highs of beating Derby and Leeds before the humiliations witnessed at Peterborough and Sheffield Wednesday. With the team currently fifth it's perhaps a bit premature to panic but given recent performances you'll be hard pressed to find a Reading fan who doesn't believe we've under performed this season, here we try and find out why.

Ben Hoskins

Lacking leadership on the pitch?

In the past Reading could turn to some players with proven experience at this level, warriors who'd seen it all and could rally the team. You think of Phil Parkinson, Ady Williams, Graeme Murty, Ivar Ingimarsson and perhaps even Jobi McAnuff have been able to drag their teams back from poor positions in the recent past.

This season there's been precious few signs that we have the players capable of keeping the squad calm and guiding us through tough spells. We've been leaking late goals and blowing early leads with Watford, Blackpool, Barnsley and Millwall all netting in the final 10 minutes of games. Perhaps more worryingly we've now seen two games where the team's morale has utterly collapsed altogether at Peterborough and Sheffield Wednesday.

On paper there are some experienced heads at the club, but most are on the injury list or unfancied and none of those on the pitch seem to have the hard won respect or the passion needed to rally the side when their heads go down.

Wayne Bridge is experienced but has always been a quiet type and with the full-back oft-injured and new at the club he doesn't quite fit the mould of a leader.

Club captain Jobi McAnuff has a history of success but isn't guaranteed his place anymore, while former vice-captain Mikele Leigertwood's injuries and poor form mean that he's unlikely to be a long-term leadership candidate, though in the short term his return will help.

Sadly there's a few little problems with many of the other 'leaders' in the group right now that's stopping them from becoming that key rallying presence we've been missing. Whether it's contract/personal problems in their recent past (Pearce, Federici, Pogrebnyak & Guthrie), injury (Roberts), poor form (Gorkss), inexperience (Morrison) or just not the right fit (Le Fondre, McCleary, Gunter) there are precious few who you'd really back to lift the team in troubled times.

Injuries & Bad Luck?

I can't defend capitulations that fans have had to witness at Sheffield Wednesday and Peterborough but it is fair to say that Nigel Adkins has very rarely had his ideal 18 to select.

Alex McCarthy, Stephen Kelly, Wayne Bridge, Danny Williams, Jem Karacan, Mikele Leigertwood, Hal Robson-Kanu, Jobi McAnuff, Royston Drenthe, Billy Sharp and Jason Roberts have all been unavailable for selection at times, with Leigertwood and Roberts not featuring at all and Karacan missing for the season.

That's an injury list that would have utterly crippled many teams in the past. Could you imagine the 106 team if they were forced to roll out a team of Stack, Makin, Dobson, Ingimarsson, Murty, Hunt, Harper, Gunnarsson, Oster, Long & Kitson?

Well that's just about what Nigel Adkins has been dealing with this season and while our backups of 2013 are better than the class of 2006, you still can't easily replace players like Williams, Karacan, Bridge, Drenthe and Roberts.

Let's also take a minute to remember a few slices of bad luck and stupid rash decisions. Guthrie's penalty against Watford, Pog's red against Brighton, Morrison falling over against Blackpool or just the downright calamitous defending at Hillsborough. Reading haven't exactly scored many against the run of the play this season, while long period of good play just haven't yielded the goals we've needed. You can argue that you make your own luck but however it comes, it's not been in abundance at Reading Football Club this season.

There's a lack of smiles right now   - Charles Watts (TTE Podcast Ep11)


Harmony within the squad?

This one is even more subjective but it's hard not to look at the composition of the squad and wonder if it's a team all pulling together and prepared to give that extra 1% that separates the good from the great sides.

As mentioned in the leadership section above, there are little factors that might just be stopping this side from gelling. You've got several older 'McDermott players' coming to the end of their time at the club, alongside some of Brian's other buys that just haven't nailed down a regular place.

Adkins has brought in a few of his own this summer but they've been blighted by injury and inconsistent when on the pitch.

There's also the question of whether last year's relegation has taken its toll on a few of the squad. Players dealt with a change of manager, backroom bust-ups and week after week of dismal performances which is bound to leave a mark. At the same time some younger players have now seen the bright lights of the Premier League and I wouldn't be surprised if one or two had their heads turned and might just believe they're better than the Championship right now, or at least struggling to motivate themselves to muck in on tough trips to places like Barnsley and Burnley.

McCarthy, Kelly, Bridge, Williams, Karacan, Leigertwood, Robson-Kanu, McAnuff, Drenthe, Sharp & roberts have all dealt with injuries.

The beauty of the 106 team was that it was a team made up of players all looking up for the first time. They were untainted by the bright lights of the top division and hadn't suffered the pains of relegation, many were still fairly new to Championship football, having come up with Alan Pardew or signed from lower leagues by Steve Coppell.

Likewise, while Brian McDermott's side had suffered the pain of the play-off final defeat, they were still a young unit slowly moulded over three seasons and crucially mixed with the vital experience of Jason Roberts to push them over the line.

The whole situation with this team was best summed up by Get Reading reporter Charles Watts on last week's Tilehurst End Podcast who said that there seems to be a lack of smiles on the pitch right now.

For whatever reason, Reading don't seem to be enjoying themselves out there and whether that's to do with personal issues, team dynamic, the pressure of being favourites, or the lasting effects of last year's miserable campaign, it doesn't look as if there's anyone to rally them right now.

You could argue that teams like QPR, West Ham and Newcastle have been far more dysfunctional upon relegation, the big difference was that those squads had the quality and were prepared to spend the money needed to add the fresh blood needed to get past teams, harmonious dressing room or not.

The flip side of all that is that any team needs time to gel. The only way players become established, loyal and a bonded unit is to go through the bad and the good together and learn from it. That 106 team also had to go through the Brooker, Owusu, Hughes years before it got to the Doyle, Kitson, Convey and Little dream team.

Adkins_2_medium

(Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)

Selection & Tactics?

One area that Nigel Adkins does have control over is team selection and tactics.

While injuries, financial constraints and general ineligibility have all restricted him, he still has had options for every eleven he's selected this season. The worrying thing has been just how many different systems, formations and players we've seen used as Adkins seeks to find the winning formula.

We've seen 4-4-2, the 4-4-2 diamond, the 4-3-3, the 4-5-1 and all manner of minor tweaks in between. This isn't the Brian McDermott or Steve Coppell eras when you know it was going to be 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1 nine times out of ten, now you just have no idea what system is going to be used.

Likewise the players in the team have been chopped and changed so often it's easy to see why players may be out of form of frustrated behind the scenes.

We've seen five wingers in and out of the side like yo-yo's, a striking rotation that's included Alfie on his own, Blackman on his own, Alfie & Pog, Blackman & Alfie, Robson-Kanu & Pog and yeah those magical three minutes from Billy Sharp at Barnsley.

On the other hand Adkins has had hardly any maneuverability with his stuttering back four. Wayne Bridge is his only natural left-back while the only real cover for Pearce and Morrison has been the woefully out of form Kaspars Gorkss, Chris Baird might be an option but he's currently needed in the middle.

Like with our formation, we've rarely been able to predict a starting lineup and as Kevin Dillon pointed out during his co-commentary on BBC Radio Berkshire, a consistent selection was one of the key foundations behind the success of previous Reading sides.

In fact, if any manager knows the benefits of a settled side it's Nigel Adkins himself, just look at these stats behind his past promotions.

In fairness we won't know if Nigel does have a long-term plan until this horrific injury crisis eases but when that time comes it would be great to go into a game knowing at least 8 or 9 names on the team sheet.

Expectations & Ownership

One of the problems this season from a fan's perspective has been the mismanagement of expectations and the failure to deliver on some of the sound bites we've heard from those associated with the football club.

The club have made significant strides behind the scenes under TSI's ownership, with a new training ground, upgraded academy and new business links, but there's been a disappointing gap between transfer talk spouted by Anton Zingarevich this summer, his pre-season ambitions and what we've actually seen produced.

"We need to strengthen with five players so we need to spend money, but it’s all about getting the right quality in." -Anton Zingarevich (June 12)

The additions of players such as Drenthe, Williams and Bridge were all good captures early in the window but the stark failure to address a lack of depth in key positions before the window shut  some six weeks later looks a bit worrying and seems to be a recurring pattern under the TSI ownership.

The lack of back-up in key positions such as left-back, centre-back and up front seem glaring oversights now and ones that could cost us promotion. Signing another glamorous winger like Drenthe is all well and good, but committing high wages to flair players when you've got an abundance of other wingers does seem like it might backfire in the long-term.

The signings of Chris Baird and Billy Sharp are a step in the right direction to address these problems but there's still some big long-term areas that need looking at and with Nick Hammond's recent admission that we're not in the same league as some of the other big clubs in the Championship,  it doesn't look as if they'll be any quick fix, at least until some players are moved on.

So is it time to panic?

Perhaps as fans it's time for us to re-adjust our expectation levels and look at the long game for this football club.

We knew the Adkins project wasn't going to be complete overnight and with the power of some other Championship teams it may just be that Reading don't have the financial muscle nor the momentum/spirit to compete at the very top before Christmas. Adkins has consistently said that we're just trying to stay in the race until March and right now we're in line with that target. We're not as strong as some teams that have dominated to bounce back or storm the league but we're also not in the same calamitous shape that has seen teams like Blackburn, Bradford, Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry totally fall apart after relegation.

While the football club have done a pretty poor job of managing expectations so far, maybe it's just time to accept that talk from those directly connected with the club is always going to be deliberately positive and spun in such a way that it's best ignoring it to get a rational perspective of what's really going on.

The growing mystery surrounding Anton Zingarevich's intentions are sadly only clouding these issues further. If Anton is on the way out, or if his financial commitments are set to change,  then this is about as good a go as we should expect with our resources. However, if he's still trying to really drive the club forward then there's plenty more he needs to do in the short term to improve our promotion prospects and rally the fanbase.

To round this off on a positive note it's worth remembering that we're fifth in the table even despite the countless issues that I've outlined above. If we can be a play-off calibre side playing this badly then if one or two things click into place who is to say it can't be the first half of 2012 all over again? That's clearly Nigel's goal right now and so perhaps as fans it's best to just get on board and enjoy the ride.... as painful as that could well be.

So what do you think? What's holding Reading back right now and is it a blip or a growing decay? Let us know your thoughts below.