Losing 3-0 to the now league leaders is nothing to feel overly ashamed of. Yet there are plenty of questions for Jaap Stam to ponder after watching his side lose twice in five days. Here are a few of the issues we’ve picked out.
January's Signings Have So Far Failed To Sparkle
A couple of weeks ago, we caught up with how our new January signings had been getting on, with the overall message being one of wait and see. Eleven days later and the situation hasn't exactly improved much... or Mutch.
He's the only one that's managed regular game time but just as a Palace fan warned us, it's quite hard to figure out what he's actually good at. Scores of 6, 6, 5 & 4 in our Player Ratings don't paint a massively positive picture so far.
Jordon's strike at Ipswich remains the only goal from our five new boys, a total outweighed by the number of them who currently find themselves in the treatment room, Tiago Ilori and Reece Oxford.
Adrian Popa has been given small chances to show what he can do, but in 37 minutes so far he's notched a rather underwhelming 14 touches of the ball, no assists, no key passes and no goals.
Lewis Grabban has been used in confusing fashion by Stam. After a lively debut at Ipswich alongside Kermorgant, he next saw action as a midfielder against Barnsley before being placed up top on his own against Brentford and finally the middle of a front three against Huddersfield.
It's hard enough coming into a new club with limited match practise, but it's got to be even harder for Grabban to try to learn, adapt and thrive in a variety of ever changing roles. According to WhoScored.com, our Bournemouth loanee has averaged 0.4 shots per game so far, compared to 2.3 and 3.3 in his past two Championship campaigns. Simply put, he's not getting the service, either due to problems in the midfield, or his own positioning. Either way, it's a waste of his talents.
You have to wonder whether these signings have given Stam too much choice right now, causing him to tinker where it may not be necessary. Yet it's very early days and none of the five newbies should be written off yet.
Our Play-off Rivals Continue To Do Us Favours
While Reading's wobble is cause for some concern, our play-off competitors should help put the bigger picture into perspective. Not only do Reading have to under-perform to give up a top six spot, someone outside the play-off zone needs to put together a fantastic run and few are doing it.
As explored in Promotion Watch, only Fulham seem to be making any real move on the play-offs but even then they've got trips to Newcastle, Derby, Norwich, Sheffield Wednesday before the season's end. Even as few as five wins from our final 12 games would put Reading on 75 points, leaving Fulham having to win eight of their final 13 games to reach 77.
It could certainly happen but the odds aren't favourable. Then again, I thought something similar in 2008....
McCleary's Quiet Week
He's had a fantastic season but Garath McCleary's hitting a little bit of a cold patch at just the wrong time of the season. Deployed on the right of a front three, he was restricted to 31 touches in 61 minutes at Huddersfield and then just 23 in 72 minutes at Brighton.
The quality of the opposition has had a fair bit to do with that lack of action, but for such a high energy performer to be so isolated in two big games is concerning. We need McCleary to be rising to the challenge in these big games and not be stuck chasing shadows. Again, it's not all Garath's fault, I'm sure he's doing as he's told but we need a good response from McCleary against Wolves at the weekend.
Results Haven't Come But We've Been In The Fight
Saturday was a very rare occasion where you could say with no doubt, that our opposition deserved to beat us. Personally I'd argue that our trips to Fulham, Brentford and Wolves back in August have been the only other occasions where you'd say we 100% deserved to end up on the losing side. Much has been made of our defeats to Newcastle, Leeds and Huddersfield but Reading were well on course, or capable of getting results in all three of them, only for key moments to not go our way.
Of course it's those key moments that make all the difference in football but like a plucky boxer, we've done a very good job this season of remaining in fights, even if we do lack the power to finish them comfortably ourselves. That's why I'm not overly concerned with our recent indifferent form. We're not on a slippery slope by any means.
With each game we lose, you like to hope Jaap and the players are learning something. Personally I'd rather be outgunned and beaten away by the top six than suffer painful, annoying defeats against teams we should be beating. The QPR home defeat wrangles me a lot more than Brighton because Albion SHOULD be beating us based on their development and where they are as a club. From top to bottom Reading have been keen to preach that this is just step one in a long-term process and part of that is learning from mistakes and painful defeats.
It's naive to expect instant success. It's taken Chris Hughton until his third season, the same campaign that also saw Brian McDermott and Steve Coppell earn promotion with the club. We all want success right now but we shouldn't expect it and nor should we get too downhearted when we're beaten by the very best, even if we haven't played at our finest.
What matters is earning five or six wins from 12 and then getting the three results that really, really matter....