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5 Things: Fulham (Away)

Analysis from an away defeat at Craven Cottage.

Fulham v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Another red card

Leandro Bacuna’s 93rd minute straight red card for a reckless challenge on Fulham wonderkid Ryan Sessegnon was the third game in four that Reading have seen a player sent off since Paul Clement took over from Jaap Stam. This was the first that was a straight red card but it did continue the trend of all the sending offs being stupid and completely avoidable.

Bacuna’s challenge was rash and completely unnecessary considering that it was in the middle of the park and in injury time at the end of the match. I’m not quite sure why the Royals keep getting red cards ever since Clement has come in but it is a worrying trend because they are already missing enough players to injury let alone suspension.

It also marked the third consecutive game at Craven Cottage which has seen a Royals player get sent off with Bacuna following in the footsteps of Paul McShane and Danny Williams. The former Aston Villa man’s dismissal also means that Reading still have more red cards than shots on target under Paul Clement.

Other results go in Reading’s favour

Of the other relegation candidates that played on Tuesday, only Sunderland picked up points (albeit only one) in a 1-1 draw with Norwich with the other four teams that Reading are fighting relegation with all losing as well.

Birmingham were beaten 3-1 by Bristol City, Burton thrashed 5-0 by a typically ‘positive’ Nigel Adkins managed Hull side, Barnsley defeated 1-0 by Ipswich in Mick McCarthy’s last game in charge of the Tractor Boys, and Bolton comfortably bettered by surprise promotion chasers Millwall.

It was always going to be difficult for Reading to get anything from a game against arguably the most in-form team in the league in Fulham so it is good for the Royals that their closest relegation rivals all struggled as well but relying on other teams to help you out is a dangerous position to be in for Reading.

Where’s the attack?

As I mentioned earlier, the Royals still have had more red cards than shots on target since Paul Clement took over as boss from Jaap Stam and that is very worrying for Reading fans. Last season, they relied heavily on forward Yann Kermorgant for goals with the Frenchman the only player to hit double figures and his 18 league strikes double that of second highest scorer Garath McCleary who scored nine.

All in all, Kermorgant was responsible for nearly 38 percent of Reading’s Championship goals last season and one of the team’s biggest problems this season and one of the reasons they are in the relegation battle is the inability to find someone to replace his goals. Only Modou Barrow and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson have more than five league goals this season and even then they have still scored less goals combined than the Frenchman did.

In fact, Barrow, Bodvarsson and Liam Kelly are the only players in this Reading side to have scored more goals than other teams have, with ‘own goals’ the joint fourth highest scorer for Reading this season. Virtually everyone predicted that we would be lacking goals this season and those predictions have certainly been proven correct. It does make you wonder where these all-important goals will come from in the dying embers of the season.

Atmosphere

In recent home fixtures there has been a much improved atmosphere amongst Royals fans and that has translated into results for Paul Clement’s side with his first two home games since taking charge resulting in wins.

Now, that improvement in atmosphere has made it to an away fixture with over 1,000 Reading fans making the midweek trip to Craven Cottage to cheer on their side and although their support could not help the players get a good result, it did result in a much better performance, one Clement called Reading’s ‘best performance’ in his short time at the club.

The boss also took time to praise the fans after the game, saying: “They were really good and you could still hear them even though the home fans had clappers. They were brilliant and it’s so important they turn out in numbers and with passion and enthusiasm on Saturday to help the players.”

Next two fixtures are make or break

Reading have four fixtures left in this campaign and I would argue that their next two games are the most important of the lot. The Royals face fellow strugglers Sunderland at home on Saturday and then a Sheffield Wednesday side that are just two places above them the week after.

They are games which are certainly more than winnable for the Berkshire club and I think it is safe to say that should they pick up a full six points from those fixtures that they will be playing Championship football once again next season. However, their penultimate fixture could also come into play should they fail to win both their next two games and that too is inherently winnable for Reading as they are set to play a manager-less Ipswich at home.

The final game of the season is away against third-place Cardiff City who look as though they will still have it all to play for and as a result the Royals desperately need to secure their survival before that game because if they go to Wales needing a result then they will be in deep trouble.