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How To Come Back From A Mauling

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With five games left to play, how can Reading ensure their 7-1 defeat to Norwich City doesn't affect their playoff hopes?

Reading v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Reading fans this week will probably still be numb from the previous weekend's actions. Some may even be pinching themselves, hoping for this horrible nightmare to end.

But it's time to take stock. Aston Villa are coming up next, and will present as much, if not more, of a challenge than Norwich City did. It would be easy to let last weekend's result affect the rest of Reading's season, and it is not impossible for The Royals to lose their playoff place altogether if they have a bad run at the end of this campaign.

"It's not your fault"

Cue a mass of Good Will Hunting imitations. While the mammoth loss is most definitely everyone's fault, the worst (and least productive thing) the team could do is to try and point the finger at each other. There were few, if any, good performances on Saturday, and most of the team will struggle to avoid any blame.

While it would be wrong to suggest the team should forget about this result and move on, they would do more damage by spending this week blaming specific incidents in the match rather than focusing on what they can improve in general.

WhoScored's match ratings against Norwich City
WhoScored's match ratings against Norwich City

This was one of the toughest games to analyse this season, as the statistics don't particularly single out any player as being demonstrably worse than the others. The team must move on as one, and, in that respect, they are all to blame.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

It's times like these where the term "complacency" is bandied around. With Reading sitting in fifth place (having just beaten fellow promotion-pushers Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United) and on a three-match winning streak, did the players take their foot of the gas?

It's a fair question. While there are only a few players in the team who have been steadily consistent during this season (the likes of Ali Al Habsi, Paul McShane, Liam Moore and Yann Kermorgant), even the ones who played against Norwich City failed to rise up to the challenge and play to the level we have already seen this campaign. Perhaps a large swap in the starting eleven would light some fires?

Reading FC's starting eleven against Norwich City
Reading FC's starting eleven against Norwich City

Injuries haven't helped Jaap Stam's selections, and neither has the fact that the loan signings in January (Lewis Grabban, Jordon Mutch and Reece Oxford) are all still yet to prove why they are worth having in the team. The introduction of Tennai Watson on Saturday hopefully told those in the first team that Stam isn't beyond bringing in an inexperienced head to give it a try. While it is unlikely we will see eleven new players on Saturday against Villa, it would be nice for people like Adrian Popa, Tennai Watson, Joseph Mendes and, if he is fit, Deniss Rakels to have the opportunity to push for a place in the team.

Go For Broke

Speed has never been part of Jaap Stam’s tactics. While Steve Clarke seemed keen for his team to be ahead before most fans had taken their seats, the ‘Dutch Royals’ prefer to pass the ball around, wait for their opponents to lose their patience (or fall asleep) and then press forward to score.

While Aston Villa wouldn’t be a sensible team to try a new tactic against, Reading’s final four games are with teams placed 19th and below in the table. This could be a good opportunity to get a winning streak at the end of the season, and perhaps show some attacking intent. It would be less for the team, and more for the fans, as the Norwich fiasco wouldn’t seem quite as bad if Reading can put several goals past their lower-table opponents.

Reading haven’t been known this season for high-scoring games (their best results in the league have been 3-0 wins against Burton Albion and Wigan Athletic; coincidentally, two of their four final opponents) but if they made the change, they might bring some good spirit back to the club ahead of what is certain to be a tough playoff campaign.

Make A Ridiculously Rash Decision And Sack The Gaffer

It's a drastic, unthinkable and ridiculous option, I know, but one worth mentioning. Reading fans have recent recollections of Nigel Adkins' departure from Berkshire, coming straight after a similar scoreline, 6-1 to Birmingham City. It's true that the club are in a much better position currently then they were under him at the time (16th and ten points from a playoff place), but 'cricket scorelines' tend to create a longer-lasting memory to the fans and, more significantly, the owners.

It won't help matters that the club is potentially weeks away from finally confirming the change of ownership of Reading FC to Chinese siblings Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li, and new owners can often prefer to change the script midway through the play without warning. Gary Rowett's abrupt departure from Birmingham City last December is proof of this, with The Blues then just one place away from the top six.

It's unlikely that Jaap Stam would depart immediately, with five games to go and still with a chance of achieving promotion this season. But, if he isn't happy with the new owners during the summer, he will surely not find it hard to attract interest from other English teams who will have noticed what he has achieved with The Royals this season. 7-1 to Norwich City could, in that case, become his epitaph.