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Reading 0-3 Wigan - The beginning of the end?

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Reading's official Twitter described this as 'a bad day at the office after 10 minutes of madness'...... I'd really like to just repost that and move on because to recap this game is about as painful a task as I've had to do in the two years that we've been running The Tilehurst End. I'll warn you now that this won't be a pretty recap but hopefully we can try (and at this point I can only promise to try) and retain some perspective as survival wise our prospects on paper haven't diminished too badly.

Steve Bardens

Right, let's get this over with as quickly as possible shall we?

As expected Reading reverted to their recently successful 4-5-1 league formation after going 4-4-2 at Old Trafford in the FA Cup. The surprise moves from the Stoke game came in the selection department with Alex Pearce losing his place to Sean Morrison and Jem Karacan replacing Nick Blackman who didn't make the 18.

I can't say I came into this one expecting a vastly open game and truth be told there was little in it for the first 40 minutes, though Wigan were probably the better of the two sides. The visitors had the better of the early chances with Adam Federici twice saving well whereas Al-Habsi in the Wigan net had little to do except for seeing Kebe slam the side netting and watching headers from Hope Akpan sail wide of the target. The Wigan goalkeeper was also indebtted to Paul Scharner brilliantly clearing Kebe's low cross with Pavel Pogrebnyak just inches away from poking the ball into the net.

The game looked all set to head in to the break at 0-0 but a sustained period of pressure in the final five or six minutes of the half finally got to Reading as Wigan took the lead just a minute before the interval. A corner was swung in from the right hand side and found the head of Maynor Figueroa who didn't make proper contact, leaving the ball to spin into the path of Arouna Kone who chested past a helpless Federici.

Going into the break 1-0 down would have been bad but not the end of the world, after all this is Reading we're talking about, we never win it the easy way. However those victory chances went from low to slim at best less than a minute later when Sean Morrison was caught out in possession, leaving Jean Beausejour to play a terrific pass into the path of Kone who fired the ball past our Australian 'keeper and leave the crowd shellshocked at the break.

It's safe to say things looked pretty bleak at half-time but hope came in the form of Adam Le Fondre who came on to start the second half in place of Hope Akpan. Quite why Akpan was sacrificed instead of an off the pace Leigertwood or the innefectual Karacan I'm not sure but even so, if it got Alfie on the pitch it had to be good right?

No.

Three minutes after the break and difficult became near impossible as Morrison was again left flat footed and Figueroa was able to ghost past the defence and score Wigan's third, sending the couple of hundred Wigan fans in the South Stand wild.

Never mind, we've scored three goals in a half before so this should be..... wait, has the Pog just been sent off?!

Yes our Russian striker decided that being 3-0 down at home wasn't challenging enough, so Pogrebnyak decided a late studs up challenge on Figueroa was a good move to make, and deservedly got sent off. Thankfully Figueroa wasn't seriously hurt but that's the Pog banned for 3 games and with Jason Roberts nowhere near being fit, that throws 4-5-1 firmly out of the window for the foreseeable future.

From there on out it felt like a training game. Brian all but waved the white flag by taking Kebe off though in truth there was no point burning him out any more than we needed too. Hunt came on as did McCleary for Karacan but the changes made close to no difference and only several superb saves from Federici kept our goal difference from taking too much of a beating.

Credit to the referee Phil Dowd who had a pretty decent game and to Wigan's small but loyal group of fans who tried to make as much noise as possible.

Their team obviously made it a lot easier for them to make noise with a ruthless yet attractive display that is once again a testament to Dave Whelan and Roberto Martinez. Wigan might well end up going down but if they do they'll go down playing good football and doing the best with what they've got. If they play like today throughout the run-in then they'll get a good few wins and another great escape can't be ruled out. Caldwell in particular was terrific in the defence and their organisation and discipline was a million miles better than that of their hosts.

Player ratings are up here but I don't want to labour over an utterly ineffective and timid performance that was reminiscent of the early games last season when nobody looked like they knew what they were doing and Reading were floundering at the foot of the Championship.

Brian claimed in his post-match interview on BBC Radio Berkshire that Pearce was dropped due to a bad game at Stoke and Morrison's decent game at Old Trafford. I'm sorry but to drop a man after 1 bad game, especially on the back of helping your side to 14 points in 6 weeks is madness. What's more, it's utterly hypocritical to make that move when Mikele Leigertwood and Jobi McAnuff are able to get away with mistake after mistake and never get the axe.

Perhaps it's slightly easier to sympathise with Danny Guthrie's bust-ups earlier this season if such logic and double standards are being employed by the management.

I don't want to knock Morrison too badly. He did have a decent game at Old Trafford but that's easy to do in a one-off cup game and to throw him into a crunch league game like this was a big, big gamble that's just backfired spectacularly. Morrison may one day be as good if not better than Pearce but right now he doesn't have the leadership and organisational skills of Irish international and that was clearly evident today. Reading average just 0.5 points per game with Pearce out of the side and 1.875 with him in it... do the math.

Elsewhere and again why three defensive minded central midfielders have been picked is up for debate. Certainly neither Nick Blackman nor Jobi McAnuff have excelled in the '10' slot but both would have offered a better attacking outlet and provided more composure on the ball than Karacan and Leigertwood who really struggled to do anything with the ball today. A bit more composure would really have helped eleviate the pressure at the back and its a shame that Danny Guthrie was again unavailable. Both Jem and Ledge put in as hard working a shift as we've come to expect but are either really Premier League quality? To that end why take Akpan off, the one player who actually looks like he might be able to do something with it?!

Finally, Pavel Pogrebnyak, you sir are an idiot of the highest order. You've finally won your place back, finally started to show your worth and then you get yourself sent off and banned for the next three games. Smooth work.

So is this the end of our survival hopes? No, but it's certanly harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Reading gave away three vital points to a key relegation rival, something that doomed them in 2008 and today showed nothing to suggest they've got the stomach for the key relegation battles to come. Pogrebnyak's suspension means that the hard work establishing our 4-5-1 gameplan is now out of the window and with three of our next four coming against Everton, Manchester United and Arsenal, well you'd be a brave man to predict anything from those games.

Thankfully results elsewhere went our way with defeats for QPR and Aston Villa so realistically it's as you were with Reading still just a point away from safety.

Brian got things wrong today, badly, badly wrong but we have to hope it was as the OS described 'a bad day at the office' rather than a sign of things to come. Brian's bounced back before and we can only give him our backing and support in the next 11 games. Letting off steam on the night you lose is one thing but I hope Royals fans will turn out in as many numbers as they can for the run-in because it ain't over till it's over. Even if it is done and dusted, we're giving it as good a go as we can and that's why we'll continue to support the club.

So, go home, kick the fluffy toy version of the cat, have a few ales/ciders/wines/colas, eat some junk food, then try and put this one behind you.

Life's too short and the season's too long to stew over this one result.

Reading: Federici, Kelly, Mariappa, Morrison, Harte, Kebe (Hunt), Akpan (Le Fondre), Karacan (McCleary), Leigertwood, McAnuff, Pogrebnyak.


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