We have lost good players this season, granted, and we would undoubtedly be in a better league position were it not for the injuries to key personnel, but this injury crisis has a lot of silver linings, some obvious and some not so much.
Sure, the injuries give the kids a chance, but this wouldn't be so good if these "kids" didn't so closely fit Nigel Adkins' purported style of play. The injury crisis, and lack of investment until late in the transfer window have presented Adkins with a rare opportunity granted very rarely to modern football managers: a licence to lose.
Now, if we keep losing week in and week out by three goals, then no manager is going to survive that, but consider Adkins' position. When he arrived at the club, he inherited a set of players who were very used to playing a certain style of high tempo, wing-based play - the stuff that got us promoted, but the same stuff that sent us hurtling straight back down again. Adkins was not going to work wonders with that group of players, and we all recognised that it would take some time before "the Adkins way" finally started to filter through.
Last season should have been Adkins' time to remould this squad into his unit of players, and while some definitely stepped up to the plate - Jem Karacan (before his injury), Danny Guthrie and Jordan Obita come to mind - he never really got the investment from the mysterious Anton to bring his vision into reality. He did a decent job last year, and did what any good manager who wants to keep his job should do: he played to the strengths of his playing staff. Wing-play still dominated last year's campaign, with Jobi McAnuff and Garath McCleary often being our most effective attacking outlets. Last season was just a manager doing his job, though, it was not a concerted effort from Adkins to change the way this club goes about its business on the field.
If Adkins had started full-scale experimentation last year then he would have ended up as Brendan Rodgers did: without a job by the time Santa came down the chimney.
This season is different, though. Adkins got some flak for last year's 100 goals stunt, but this season started much more conservatively, with a general consensus forecasting a tough season ahead. Not all fans will like Adkins, I find his media style somewhat awkward and a tad insincere, but most within Royals ranks respect him. With the treatment he received last year, and his determination to stick through it, Adkins has earned himself a deal of respect from the fans. This growth in respect has, perhaps more importantly, earned him a good deal more time to experiment with this team, and perhaps help to mould them into his style of play.
In a lengthy injury list, Adkins also has a strong argument for any game that does not go Reading's way. He has been clever about it, not banging on too much about missing players here and there, and helping to build the confidence of our young players who I do believe he sincerely trusts. In the mind of every Reading fan, though, there is a very convincing narrative that 'everything will be alright once we have McCleary, Karacan, Danny Williams and Stephen Kelly back' (okay maybe not Kelly). We can stomach losses (somewhat) better when we have a convincing excuse in our head as to why things don't seem to be going our way.
Adkins' style of play
All this brings me back to Adkins' style of play. I remember seeing Southampton playing in 2011/12, and then under him in the Premier League in 2012/2013, and drooling at the quality of some of their play. When Adkins took over I was very excited at the prospect of seeing Reading churning out some of the same composed and classy performances that I had seen him produce at Southampton, and while I didn't think it would take quite this long, I'm still sustained by that dream. I now know, though, that we're still not there, and that some serious tinkering still needs to be done if we are to get to that point.
We are in the stage of tinkering. Things aren't going well, but they won't when a team is undergoing a whole change of identity. For me, though, the promised land may just be worth it (let's just stop these 3-0 defeats bringing hell on earth, please).
Adkins needs time, and he is in a position now where he will be given more time to tinker than most other managers in the Football League. So long as he can hide behind the arguments of young blood, loyalty through adversity, and, perhaps most importantly, the length of our injury list, Adkins will survive, and that, as far as I'm concerned, is a good thing for this football club.