1.) We have shown glimpses of potential, but not a full ninety minutes
Two 3-0 defeats in a row now for Nigel Adkins' Royals, but at half-time of each match it hasn't really looked like going that way. Sure, we were 2-0 down at home to Derby at the end of the first 45, but I couldn't really understand how we were losing, as we had decent possession and a fair few shots on goal.
Roll on Bournemouth on Tuesday, and we're looking relatively comfortable at half-time, though admittedly without piling on the pressure to open the scoring - hitting the post the closest we came to taking the lead. Yet both matches result in 3-0 defeats - after the second half at the Goldsands, I can say we were lucky it stayed 3-0, but I felt we deserved more from the home fixture with the Rams; that scoreline flattered them.
The home match with ten man Fulham aside, I can't remember a complete ninety minute performance from this Reading side since the tail-end of last season. Whether it's concentration, tactics or fitness, this Reading side just cannot sustain performances for a full ninety. In fact, the last two 3-0 losses have started with extremely positive vibes from the Royals, before capuitulations as the game progresses.
2.) What happens at half-time?
You probably already know that the Royals have the joint second worst defence in the Championship, having conceded 23 goals in 13 games (Huddersfield and Bolton have also conceded 23, whilst Fulham have conceded 25).
Seven of those goals (30%) have been conceded in the ten minutes immediately following half time. Against Bournemouth, Callum Wilson and Brett Pitman scored to put the Cherries into a two-nil lead. At home to Wolves, James Henry and Lee Evans fired home to reverse a 1-0 half-time deficit. Mark Beevers completed a comeback for Millwall in the 54th minute after the Royals had been two-nil up (though Reading won 3-2 in the end). And up at Forest, Michail Antonio and Matty Fryatt scored a quickfire double to put the game beyond Reading after leading 1-0 at half time.
It's concerning for me that for whatever reason, be it concentration or simply tactical adjustments from the opposition, it seems to take the Royals a while to get going again. Nearly a third of our goals conceded coming in a ten minute spell is something beyond coincidence, especially one immediately after the managers have had a chance to sit down with their players and make larger tactical adjustments, rather than shouts from the touchline.
In fact, two of those goals can be put down to Adkins' own tinkering, as he brought on Danny Guthrie for Hope Akpan at half-time at home to Wolves and we conceded twice almost instantly. So clearly Adkins is aware that opposition managers have a hold on Reading by half-time, and can make adjustments to beat us. The challenge now is to hold firm. For the record (numbers below) we've conceded just two in the next twenty-five minute period, and then five from the 79th minute onwards, so it's clear that there's a problem in the first ten minutes and the last ten minutes of the second half.
Goals Conceded (Championship) - Time Distribution
3.) Defensive frailties were responsible for all our goals
The highlights of the game are now online if you'd like an early Hallowe'en scare, and watching back all of the Cherries' goals, you can't say that any of them are particularly thanks to exceptional play from the home side; rather, defensive mistakes are directly responsible for all three. Michael Hector is caught far too far up field for the first, the same player loses the ball high up the pitch to Wilson for the second, and the third is criminal defending all round, but Obita loses Pitman to VOLLEY from a corner.
Far too many mistakes are coming from this back four, and it would be easy to scapegoat one or two players as the reasons for the defensive demise, but let's not forget that defending is a team game, and the back four is only meant as the last line of defence before the goalkeeper. Go deeper, and think: is there a reason Hector is so far forward on a striker? With Pitman and Wilson getting the ball in between the back four and the midfield, perhaps Hector has to come and challenge, else they get a free run at the frail defensive line?
I'm not trying to defend any of this back four and I'm certainly not trying to mitigate Hector's mistakes, as he has done similar in recent matches. But ultimately the buck must stop with them as this team is leaking goals all over the place. However, football is a team game, not only in attack but in defence - tactically, something must be going wrong. Especially (as I wrote above) when the Royals looked relatively comfortable going into half-time, only to throw the match away in ten minutes after the break.
4.) Lack of leaders
Who in the current Reading side would you want to lead your team at work?
Sure, they probably do an entirely different job to you, but leadership qualities are similar in any line of work: supportive, commanding, perhaps inspirational. I can't identify any player in that side who will stand up in the face of adversity and bring the team out of this mire they currently find themselves in.
Adam Federici was far and away the best Royals player on the pitch on Tuesday night, and he had strong words after the match, but is a goalkeeper a player you look to for inspiration? By definition, if he is playing well, the rest of the team isn't.
This team isn't too inexperienced - sure, players like Hector, Obita and Akpan haven't had too much experience at this level, but the others? Federici, Pearce, Gunter, Mackie, Cox, Murray, Robson-Kanu - all have significant playing time in this league and in some cases a higher one. Yet none of those players particularly make you confident that they can deliver a rousing talk in the huddle, or pick players up when they make a mistake.
As Dan said in his excellent piece yesterday, and as I said on the podcast we recorded before the Bournemouth match, Royals fans need some perspective. In the last twelve seasons, the lowest Reading have finished in the hierarchy of English football is 29th (9th in the second tier). A remarkable achievement and consistency which many teams floating between the top two divisions would love to replicate.
The game isn't won on paper (cliché alert) but the raw statistics would have predicted these last two results. Derby County hadn't lost in eight and hadn't conceded in their last two before they came to town and grabbed a 3-0 win. Bournemouth's only defeat in their last five before Tuesday night had come at Derby and they had won their last two at home to nil. Meanwhile, Reading hadn't won in four before Derby, and obviously that number grew to five before Bournemouth.
I just don't think Reading fans can go into every game expecting a win, as I'm sure has been the case in previous seasons. Many expected this to be a rebuilding season and yet the results are going against us and we're disappointed to be where we are, with the performances we're getting. I can understand those frustrations, but, as much as it saddens me to say it, we aren't a top side any more, and expectations should be lowered to reflect that.
The injury list will clear up eventually (hopefully) and there's a lot of expectation that Danny Williams, Jem Karacan and Garath McCleary will solve all our woes. That's pressure, and if we don't pick up then questions will be asked and rightfully so.
There's also a sense that our current form can be mitigated by the loss of those three players, yet we started the season in decent form with even less players. If results don't pick up, and if there doesn't seem to be any progress, then we can start to question things behind the scenes with regards to the management team. But Adkins' players that he brought in were all nominated for our Player Of The Month poll for September - clearly he is getting what he wants from his players.
It's hard to stomach that we probably won't challenge this year, after such sustained success, but it's the reality that we have lived above for the past twelve seasons.