Reading travelled to the Goldsands in relatively poor form, with no wins since 16 September, including five league matches without a win, three of which had seen the Royals concede three goals to Wolves, Brentford and Derby County. Generally the all round performances had not been of a particularly poor standard; instead it was a consistent pattern of poor defensive decision making and subsequent errors costing Reading valuable points. The match at Bournemouth would see the familiar pattern rear its ugly head again, and Reading trail away with their tail firmly between their legs.
Nigel Adkins made two changes to the team that started against Derby, the enforced change seeing Glenn Murray replaced by Nick Blackman which enabled Hal Robson-Kanu to start leading the line, while Jake Taylor was sacrificed for Hope Akpan. While other options were available for the former, for me it is hard to question the logic of bringing in a player who has markedly improved on last season’s showing (Blackman) to one who so consistently flatters to deceive (Pogrebnyak). So a standard 4-4-2 with the protection that I have been a firm advocate of in the shape of Hope Akpan who had featured just once since his quite bizarre and extremely harsh tactical substitution at half time against Wolves (a clean sheet against Wolves).
The Cherries were in decent form themselves having won four of their last five and so the form books would seem to favour a home win, but for long periods of the first half logic simply didn't add up as Reading found themselves on the front foot, forcing errors in the Bournemouth ranks and having a shade better of the first half. Certainly Reading created the better chances, in the opening minutes Chris Gunter was played in the channel by Mackie after a typically surging overlap, although he delayed too long and the resulting attempted cross was blocked for a corner. A couple of minutes later Robson-Kanu found space on the left flank and played a super ball across which his strike partner, Simon Cox, was unable to find a finishing touch for. Bournemouth had their own bright moments although in fairness they only really occurred through defensive lapses from Pearce, Wilson getting clear in the inside right channel after a Pearce slip left him time and space to pick a man on the cutback. Instead he just found space, while another Pearce error, this time from a wayward defensive header after criminally allowing a long high hoof bounce, almost let Ritchie(?) in, Federici called into real action for the first time cleanly punching the ball away to safety. Bournemouth also hit the post when Pugh slightly fortuitously nutmegged Obita and his left foot cross-shot beat Federici from the corner of the box, however by then Reading had already carved the chance of the half as a cutback from the right channel found Mackie unmarked who mishit his shot onto the post. The rebound was played back in and Blackman could only steer the ball over from, I think, an offside position (either that or the linesman was merely signalling for a goal kick). And that was it for the first half, Reading holding their own and Bournemouth looking the more vulnerable team.
The first half pattern seemed to be continuing as Reading continued where they left off, and actually forcing Artur Boruc in the Bournemouth goal into his first meaningful save of the night, a routine claim from Cox. However less than a minute later Reading were behind as Bournemouth worked the left flank. Brett Pitman dropped short to receive the ball which drew Hector with him who, after Pitman half successfully turned him, made the fateful decision to go to ground to win the ball and failed, which in turn left Pitman with a free run to the byline and unchallenged cross. With Reading now short in the middle, a simple cross was placed over Federici to Callum Wilson who headed home with ease. As is typical with Reading at the moment, a decent performance had been ruined by a poor defensive lapse, this time from Hector.
Two minutes later however, a key incident. Boruc took a suicidal goal kick to the edge of the box where the receiving man was immediately pounced upon by Simon Cox. Cox won the ball, leaving the Bournemouth man on his backside and Reading found themselves in a 3-on-2 situation inside the Bournemouth box. Cox hesitated, delayed, played the ball to the onrushing Blackman to his left whose first time shot was desperately blocked. The resulting secondary wave ended with a poor, scuffed shot from Norwood. A clear chance for Reading, and it sums us up at the moment that we can have a 3-on-2 in the opposition box and not end up at least working the opposition keeper. And we were punished in the biggest possible way, as not two minutes after that Callum Wilson dropped short and drew Hector in (pattern?), Hector didn’t win the challenge and was easily spun which left Wilson a clear run at the remaining defence. A simple ball was slotted through to Brett Pitman who guided a cool finish to Federici’s left. 2-0 with 55 minutes gone, and pretty much game over.
With 63 on the clock Bournemouth ended the game as a contest with the simplest of set pieces, Matt Ritchie’s corner guided home skilfully on the volley by an unmarked Pitman. Reading did have a huge penalty shout a few minutes later when the ball was clearly scooped back by the hand of a Bournemouth defender, who promptly fell on the ball. The resulting melee led to the bizarre decision to award Bournemouth a free kick, a decision which left Chris Gunter in particular fuming.
With the game now up, and Reading dejected, Bournemouth had two further glorious opportunities to add further humiliation, Federici keeping the score down single-handedly with two point black reaction saves from unmarked Pitman and Pugh, with Tekilo Rantie also had an unfavourable 1-on-1 saved in his brief 5 minute cameo.
Credit must go to the Reading contingent throughout the second half as the noise level was maintained even in the aftermath of the goals. I’m usually the first to criticise Reading’s following but they deserve credit this evening for not getting on the player’s backs in the face of such adversity, instead maintaining a consistent and constant rendition of "Since I was young..." Fair play to those that took part, now maintain it on Saturday.
Looking at this match tactically, Adkins had it pretty much right. The team selection cannot be faulted, the manner in which we went about our business for 50 minutes at least suggested we would be worthy of a point but such is the fragility of Reading’s confidence at the moment that one goal is enough to really hit us hard and we simply don’t look like recovering. Inexplicable defensive errors have cost us again, and I’m not sure the manager can realistically be taking even 50% of the blame for individual decisions. Having said that, Adkins does have a habit of shooting himself in the foot by trying to be too clever, and also for consistently sending teams out that leave defence and goalkeeper exposed. If you keep doing the latter, the amount of exposure those defenders will have ends up in errors being made. Tonight was exactly one of those nights. The number of times a simple ball was played through our midfield to either Pitman or Wilson in acres of space bin between the defensive and midfield lines from their own back line was astonishing. Generally this has shown itself in a ball-playing midfield, without brute enforcement we look more vulnerable but even with Akpan in the side today we looked like being opened up.
It is also worth noting that the spirit shown in the rearguard action against Ipswich and the quality of performance against Wigan, Sheffield Wednesday and, in part, against Millwall has deserted us pretty quickly. Adkins needs to get this team back to basics as the confidence has been shot from them and for that, he must shoulder the majority of the blame. Conceding 12 goals in 5 games is not going to do any team any good.
In terms of the evening itself, my last point is to pick on one player in particular who should be thoroughly ashamed of himself. Stand up Pavel Pogrebnyak. Your 10 minute cameo at the end was so shameful that your lack of heart, fight and spirit was there for all to see. You simply had no interest in being out on that pitch. No effort to redeem some pride for the shirt you adorn, no desire to make some small amends for ultimately a poor night’s work. If that’s the attitude then get out of our club.
As for the form book, questions are now being seriously asked about Nigel Adkins’s future as Reading manager. In my opinion this is laughable as I am of the firm opinion that he cannot be judged 100% until he has been given the resources to build his own squad of players, and therefore his team. In a similar manner to Brendan Rodgers’s tenure, Adkins took on a team of players that was built around attritional, direct football that lacked finesse , although admittedly Coppell’s squad had markedly more finesse than McDermott’s and until now he has been, by hook or by crook, getting semi-ok results. He has been seriously hamstrung by the financial and ownership situation, and also by injuries this season and last. I can’t speak for the latter other than to say that I am sure the clb have looked at the injury situation and assessed exactly what they can do to alleviate the possibility of it happening again, while the former is totally out of Adkins control. In fact, to his credit, there are many managers who would have walked.
He may not be universally liked at this club, but I remember this feeling devouring the club around 10 years ago in the first seasons of Coppell’s tenure. Coppell, it must be said, had three 3-0 defeats in a row ain December 03 and went 13 games without a win between December 04 and March 05 before he got it so right just a few months later. I’m in no way suggesting Adkins will be anywhere near as successful as Coppell turned out to be, but those two simple facts just give a little perspective on the matter I think. And at this moment in time, the worst thing that can happen to such a young squad is for the crowd to turn on the manager and performances. Get behind the team, get behind the manager, trust his judgement going forward because I for one am confident results will come once he is given a competitive budget. Whether that confidence is misplaced remains to be seen...