Oh the joy of the first day of the season. The optimism, the sun is shining, an immaculate pitch, the opportunity to see new players and most importantly no previous game to be disappointed about.
It doesn’t take too long for reality to bite. There was the quick realisation that the new away kit is actually worse in person than it looks in photos and seeing that once again Reading have managed to get to the end of pre-season with an injury crisis.
There was a time when pre-season was supposed to be about building up players fitness. These days Reading seem to take the opposite approach and, despite having all the modern science they could want, as a result had to start the first game with almost a team’s worth of unavailable players. Some injuries are down to bad luck, but when a team has more than five crocked players, questions have to be raised about what they’re doing in training.
So Reading entered the season at a disadvantage and with just six subs on the bench. Of those, half had never played a minute of senior football.
Those who started looked like they hadn’t either. QPR began at full pace and Connor Washington should have done better when Tiago Ilori carelessly gave the ball away. Three corners quickly followed before the game had even reached five minutes.
From the team sheet you would have expected Reading to be lined up in a 4-3-3 formation and it did look initially like Reading were playing four at the back. George Evans and Liam Kelly sat in front of the defence and new signing Jón Daði Böðvarsson was leading the line, but where the remaining three players were playing was a mystery.
Pelle Clement and John Swift were floating all over the pitch, whilst Adrian Popa was dropping very deep for a winger. It always worrying when you can’t work out what formation your team is playing.
It showed, as QPR started at full throttle and always looked dangerous on the attack. Reading showed the occasional nice touches and did create some half chances themselves, in what was turning out to be an exciting end-to-end game.
On 22 minutes the key moment in the game arrived. Luke Freeman turned Ilori inside out and the Portuguese defender’s teammates went missing. Wingback Pawel Wszolek eventually put a far-post cross over which was headed home by Washington.
It was a good goal from Rangers’ perspective, but the Reading defence won’t want to watch it again. Ilori was embarrassed and three or four other players were caught ball watching.
The goal signalled a collapse. Clement, Evans, Kelly, Popa and Swift all went missing. Tyler Blackett was having one of those games where he doesn’t look like he knows what position he’s supposed to be playing.
Ilori was the worst of all. Normally such a calm, classy defender he turned into a liability. All over the place, weak and giving the impression that the last thing he wanted to do was defend.
Rangers should have been out of sight at the break. The game’s standout player Massimo Luongo hit the post with the Reading defence at sixes and sevens.
Soon after Washington somehow managed to hit the top tier with a pathetic effort from a one-v-one when he was excellent played in by Kelly. Reading’s Kelly.
The Royals were feeble and it started to dawn on me that they were actually supposed to be playing three at the back. Chris Gunter spent more time at right back than centre back. Blackett was too deep to be a wingback and Popa too high.
Evans and Kelly were overwhelmed by QPR’s three central midfielders and it was a mystery what Clement was supposed to be bringing to the team. The only man who could held his head high was Böðvarsson who looked a useful player. Tall with a decent pace and strength, but it was his skill on the ball that caught the eye. He could be a useful acquisition.
If Reading fans hoped half time might change things they were soon disappointed as their defence remained missing. Amazingly though Reading should have drawn level when QPR’s own questionable defence dallied.
Modou Barrow, only just on for his debut, stole the ball but Böðvarsson’s pass was too short. Barrow still managed to create a chance and only a smart save from Alex Smithies stopped Böðvarsson getting a debut goal.
Minutes later it was game over. On the counter attack Luongo was virtually allowed to walk into Reading’s six yard box. By the time the hapless Ilori tried to stop the danger it was too late.
A shirt pull and the referee ended his torment with a red card and a penalty. Even worse the impressive Böðvarsson was injured in the build up and Washington scored from the spot. After that the game went into testimonial mode.
Reading’s feeble performance was certainly concerning. If QPR had taken their chances they could have won by at least four goals.
Once again Jaap Stam and his team showed that when the going gets tough they crumble. They have to start learning lessons from last season that sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and do the dirty work to stay in games.
Ironically the only player who seemed to try and do that was Jamie Mackie. The former Royals loanee was the only player with Reading connections who realised the value of slowing the pace of the game down by committing niggling fouls and getting into the opposition’s faces. How he took so long to get a yellow card was a mystery and Reading missed an opportunity to use his stupidness to grab a hold of the game.
Despite this disheartening afternoon it would be silly to get too worried. This team showed last season that they can quickly bounce back from horror displays. However, if they are to have a good season they need to learn quickly to do it within games.
QPR (3-5-2): Smithies; Perch, Onuoha, Lynch; Wszolek, Scowen, Luongo, Freeman, Bidwell (Robinson 87); Mackie (N'Gbakoto 83), Washington (Sylla 81). Subs not used: Furlong, Ingram, Borysiuk, Smith.
Reading (formation unknown): Mannone; Gunter, Moore, Ilori, Popa, Kelly, Evans, Blackett, Swift (Mendes 82), Clement (Barrow 52), Böðvarsson (Richards 59). Subs not used: Jaakkola, Rinomhota, Smith.
Referee: Scott Duncan