Where oh where do I start with this one?
Seriously, I’m sat here on the train home, and I’ve got little to no idea on what to make of that defeat. What was a lifeless match for 70 minutes briefly looked like a cheeky snatch and grab, before reverting to the depressing norm that, in truth, we were probably all expecting would happen.
I’ve seen the performance described as ‘awful’ on social media, which I don’t think was quite the case. For me, ‘awful’ is when your team can’t cope with the opposition - they’re run ragged, get knocked for five or six, and go home with their tail between their legs.
A better word would be ‘lifeless’, which Dictionary.com describes thusly:
“Without animation, liveliness, or spirit; dull; colorless; torpid.”
In a nutshell, that was Reading for the first 70 minutes at The Den.
Jaap Stam got his team so, so wrong. For whatever reason, he doesn’t trust Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, so the Icelander was once again confined to the bench. As a result, Reading lacked any kind of focal point or outlet for most of the game.
That, however, wasn’t the only problem. The gaffer seemed to have chosen a 5-2-3 formation which, in other away games, could have been absolutely fine. Two hard-working central midfielders protected the back five, leaving three pacey forwards to attack on the break.
The issue is, of course, that this was completely the wrong set-up for an away game that Reading should have being going all-out to win. Picking seven outfield non-creative players was overkill. By setting up to avoid defeat, Stam ultimately sealed that fate.
Signs of life
And yet, for ten minutes or so, it actually... worked. In the spell shortly before and after Dave Edwards’ maiden goal for the club, the system looked surprisingly workable. When the confidence was there, and Reading knocked the ball about with a bit more purpose and swagger, it looked like they might create some chances.
Don’t get me wrong, we were hardly Barcelona, but the improvement was noticeable.
That spell started, interestingly, before the introduction of Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, so the problem was certainly more one of confidence than the lack of a striker.
Just when I was thinking Reading might be on the brink of pulling off one of the jammiest robberies of all time...
Reading let themselves down with poor defending
For me, this is the most frustrating part of Jaap Stam’s management. We’ve known for at least a year now that Reading struggle to defend - even at our best last season, we were still capable of leaking silly goals.
That a formerly world class centre half seems to have put little effort into tightening things up at the back over the last twelve months is bordlerline criminal. Naturally, the two strikes that won the match for Millwall bore the hallmarks of Conceded Goals Of Reading Past.
For the first, weak defending from a set piece saw George Savile head home far too easily. And, for the second, Reading switch off for the rebound - it’s a fine defensive header from Liam Moore (if I remember correctly) to initially clear the danger, but no-one is alive to the danger of the loose ball.
So, did Reading deserve to lose?
It’s debatable. I tweeted after the game that Reading were unlucky not to come away from The Den with a point, which I stand by. The Royals had a stonewall penalty turned down in the dying moments which, had it been converted, would have restored parity to a match that neither side deserved to win.
Of course, football is a game of fine margins, and quite simply Reading aren’t getting on the right side of them at the moment. That’s best attributed to a mixture of things like poor tactics, low morale and the lack of a decent centre forward, and all of those things did for Jaap Stam’s side on Tuesday night.
We go again on Saturday evening when Norwich City, and the Sky Sports cameras, come to town.
Looking forward to it?