1. A weak case for the defence...
It's been well-documented in recent weeks so I'll get the obvious point about Saturday's game out the way - our defending of late has not been up to scratch and desperately needs to improve. Some of it is generally slack defending, but in other (too many) cases, we're gifting the opposition soft goals out of effectively nothing. A key asset of any promotion-hunting team is to be solid at the back, nick a goal at the other end and grind out a win or score draw - I can't see us doing that at the moment... although the Middlesbrough game begs to differ with me. The Brian McDermott Championship-winning side of 2011/12 was built on being well-drilled and defensively solid. In that campaign, we wouldn't score many goals in each game and as a result we didn't see Reading dominating games and battering opposition. But crucially, we were very tough to score against, and therefore very tough to beat. With just four clean sheets in the league this season, I don't see us replicating that kind of stubbornness.
2. Goal drought away from home
On the flipside, Reading's strikers have far from found their feet away from home either. So far this season, we've scored just four goals in our six away games. Two of those came in the opening day's exciting 2-2 draw up at Wigan, one secured all three points at Middlesbrough, and the final goal was ultimately just a consolation in Saturday's 3-1 defeat at Brentford (we also secured another point at Elland Road last week thanks to a goalless draw). In contrast to that, the Royals have netted eleven times at the Madejski this term. What I think this is down to is the lack of pace available to Nigel Adkins in his attack. Last season, Reading's away form was notoriously good - without it, we would have never got near the top six - Garath McCleary was a key cog in that side, and the ability to hit teams hard on the counter was a key weapon in our arsenal. This season however, Reading's play has been built on intelligent use of the ball to a greater extent - something that seems to suit unlocking defences at home (that sit back away from home), but not playing in someone else's back yard. With that in mind, the following news couldn't be better...
3. Hammond makes First Contract
Friday's news that the aforementioned Garath McCleary had signed a new deal with the club was not only a major success for Nigel Adkins, but it was also a major coup for our new owners, being able to Thai down a key player to a new deal. With so many players in their prime now in the last year of their contracts, it's imperative that the club now acts quickly to secure their futures so that we're not sweating over the long term availability of half our team in the final few months of the season.
4. Nigel spins the wheel of team selection
Saturday's team selection was bizarre to say the least. The absences of both Jake Taylor and Jamie Mackie were odd enough - although neither have had the best of seasons, leaving both out was unexpected. However, the dropping of Simon Cox is something that I can't fathom, unless there was some thinking behind fatigue or fitness which we haven't been kept in the loop on. As an isolated example, the presumed thinking on Nigel Adkins' part that a team with Ryan Edwards and Hal Robson-Kanu in it (neither have played a major part this season) could beat a tenacious Brentford side at Griffin Park is naïve at best. However, we've been here before - the game at home to Wolves a week before saw Hope Akpan being replaced by Danny Guthrie at half time - a move that effectively ceded control of the midfield to the visitors (fellow Tilehurst Ender Jonny covered the issue in much more depth here). To me, this suggests that the manager is trying to overthink things tactically. For me, it's a simple matter of finding a system that works best and sticking with it (although I would hardly claim a professional level of tactical awareness). Nigel Adkins may have plots and tricks up his sleeve, but are they damaging our ability to win matches?
5. A sharp decline for the Pog
Considering that he was our second-top scorer last season, it must be quite worrying for Pavel ‘Big Russian' Pogrebnyak that he is now so much out of the picture. Twelve goals last season was a respectable return for someone frozen out of the picture the previous season and, with a fairly even spread of goals coming in important games home and away, I'd argue that he had a better scoring season last year than Adam Le Fondre. That being said, it is now looking like the Pog is less and less in Nigel Adkins' plans for the future. The arrival of Glenn Murray on loan has shunted him well off his perch, and he doesn't even seem to be seen as an option from the bench. A well-taken lob against Newport County in the League Cup is his only contribution so far, so I have to wonder how much he'll be involved in the rest of the season. An injury to Glenn Murray naturally puts him back in the first team, but with the Palace man very much the favourite, how many opportunities is Big Pav likely to get?