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Reading FC 0-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers: Match Report

The Inspector thinks Reading let the league leaders off the hook at the Mad Stad on Saturday.

Reading v West Bromwich Albion - The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

No luck, no goals and no points. The result at the Mad Stad was largely predictable as a big-spending top of the table team took on one in the lower half, which is gradually overcoming an injury crisis (even though it came into the game on the back of two encouraging victories).

Jaap Stam, as he usually does, claimed that Reading played well and deserved at least a point. And from what I've heard many fans seemed to agree with him. But I'm not so sure.

For me, although the Royals played well in patches - and were certainly unfortunate - the performances once again exposed the weaknesses in the team and the tactics. And I believe Stam should take a large chunk of the blame.

First of all I have to make a confession. I was among the disgruntled fans who were convinced that the Dutchman would be out of a job before Christmas. I wouldn't say that I campaigned for his dismissal but I wouldn't have been sorry to see him go. Then a couple of things changed my mind.

Firstly it was pointed out that we could definitely get someone worse, with all the financial and status ramifications that would bring. And then came the turnaround in results against Forest and Derby

Perhaps the club had turned a corner and Stam, whose go-slow possession style has left me - and many others - frustrated was adapting his style to bring better results and more entertaining viewing for the fans. So I came to the Wolves game ready to give the team and the manager another chance. But once I saw the team-sheet my spirits slumped.

Why had Stam changed the team again? Why were Aluko and Edwards on the bench? Why were Beerens and van den Berg keeping them out? Why was Bacuna, so effective in central midfield at Derby switched to a wing-back position? Why was Omar Richards, who apparently had an outstanding starting debut at Derby, not rewarded with another chance?

Of course, I'm not party to players’ injuries, niggles or states of mind, but this footling around with the team, line-up and formation has been part of the Stam management style. It must surely mess with the players heads. And it doesn't seem to work.

Back on the Aluko-Beerens decision. The ex-Fulham man, after an indifferent start to his Royals career, had scored in each of the last two wins and was starting to look like a potentially good signing. Then he's left out. To me that's baffling.

It's equally baffling that van den Berg keeps getting regularly recalled. Too slow to be a Championship midfielder and too error-prone to be trusted at the back his Reading career seems to hang by the thread of the manager's misplaced trust in him.

After John Ruddy had twice almost gifted Reading an early goal by fumbling a long-range John Swift shot against a post and then kicking a clearance against Mo Barrow (only to see the ball bounce wide of the goal) van den Berg's slowness lost a challenge in midfield and allowed Wolves to set up the opening goal - Cavaleiro eventually exploiting a huge hole in the centre of the defence to round Vito Mannone and score with ease.

From then on it was always going to be tough. Reading , as we know, struggle to break down teams who sit deep and park the bus (e.g. Fulham, Hull, Bristol City, Norwich, Middlesbrough). The league table suggests that Wolves are a better team than all those.

Yet strangely as Stam's men dominated the second half and plodded forward in their familiar desperate but largely uninspired way the visitors defence gave them plenty of encouragement with some unconvincing defending, misplacing clearances and passes that set up some surprise opportunities.

With Aluko showing that he should have been on from the start and Barrow proving a lively accomplice Reading lifted the excitement level and threatened an equaliser. But then Ruddy went from Clark Kent to Superman, being transformed from first half clown to second half man-of-the match to keep a clean sheet and preserve the visitors' victory. One point blank save from Barrow was the standout moment of the afternoon.

The fact that Wolves then walked through the Reading defence to add a second through Matt Doherty in the 88th minute underlined the difference between winners and losers. That's why they're top and we're not. The ability to find a way to win - as against making life unnecessarily difficult for yourself.

Reading weren't awful. Just not good enough against a Wolves side oozing talent, who will probably go up. But I just had a feeling that Reading let them off the hook.

My views on Stam have been modified. I think he'll probably stay. And as the season progresses we probably won't be in relegation trouble. There will be good days. But mid-table is the best we can hope for.