An utter capitulation
As awful as the defeat was for Reading on Saturday, the two sides were pretty evenly matched for most of the game. If anything, the Royals probably had the better of the play for the first 70 minutes or so, with a string of glorious chances going begging. Jon Dadi Bodvarsson failed to convert a Modou Barrow cross in the first half, before Sone Aluko and John Swift spurned straightforward close-range efforts in the second. Had any of those players kept their cool at those key moments, we could now be talking about a very different result.
Instead, one goal - from particularly awful defending - turned the game on its head. Martyn Waghorn had acres of space in the box to receive the ball, turn and shoot, Reading’s defenders seemingly oblivious to the threat. From then on in, the Royals’ confidence collapsed to dreadful extent. Spence, Sears then Connolly seized on dire defending from the home side to first extent Town’s lead before turning it into a rout.
Had Bodvarsson, Aluko or Swift converted a chance, that all could have been avoided.
Paul Clement’s midfield gamble doesn’t pay dividends
What struck me about the manager’s team selection against Ipswich was just how bold it was. Typically, whether under Stam or Clement, Reading have played three in the middle of the park, usually one defensive player with two pushed higher up. However, Clement tore up the rulebook by removing his defensive midfielder entirely to fit in another striker - out went 4-3-3, in came 4-4-2.
Firstly, that was a huge sign of Clement’s lack of faith in his defensive midfielders. Dave Edwards and Joey van den Berg have both filled that role in recent weeks but, after sub-par performances, both were consigned to the bench. Similarly, the apparently out of favour George Evans and rookie Andy Rinomhota (the latter on the bench) were unused. Clement had so little trust in any of those options that he preferred to both name a team without any of them, and then not introduce any as a sub.
Secondly, that gamble to play 4-4-2 didn’t pay off at all. Liam Kelly and John Swift are fine central midfielders when played as they should be, but, with no anchorman behind them, both looked lost and ineffective. Swift in particular put in an error prone performance, the hallmark of a man shot on confidence.
Striking it (un)lucky
Reading made up for their relative lack of central midfielders on Saturday by utilising a whole host of forwards. Yann Kermorgant and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson started the game in a strike partnership, whilst Chris Martin and Sam Smith were both introduced late on in the game.
It’s striking (pun intended) that the Royals looked so devoid of creativity in the final third despite having plenty of options up top. Bodvarsson has been one of Reading’s better performers this campaign, Martin and Kermorgant are experienced frontmen despite poor seasons, and Sam Smith offers youthful positivity.
How ironic that, having gone through spells of the season with too few strikers and too many, Reading have looked equally awful going forwards in both cases.
A lap of dishonour
Did Reading’s players deserve to get any kind of recognition after the full time whistle? Probably not, but that didn’t stop a few hundred fans scattered around the stadium from hanging back to pay their... erm... respects.
Luckily for the squad, those fans who were angry enough to boo had long gone by the time the lap of ‘honour’ started. The full time whistle had brought with it a hail of abuse from the stands, before the players trudged off to get what must have been the mother of all b*llockings from Paul Clement.
An age later - during which time the remaining supporters had clapped the ball boys and groundsman - the Reading players emerged for probably the most depressing parade in the Madejski Stadium’s two-decade history.
I don’t really know why I bothered staying. Was it masochism or a random sense of loyalty? I can’t always tell the two apart nowadays.
How do we put this right on Sunday?
As ill-fitting as it is, I’d like to end this on a vaguely optimistic note - what can Reading do to turn their fortunes around and get something out of Sunday’s match? It looks a tall order to say the least, but stranger things have happened - as the Royals proved on the last day of the 2014/15 season, we’re more than capable of spoiling a party.
Changes are a must. Kermorgant, Aluko and Swift immediately spring to mind as players whose places are on the line, although Clement may react so strongly as to alter almost his entire XI. Coming in, academy products Andy Rinomhota and Sam Smith - both named on the bench against Ipswich - will fancy their chances of starts in South Wales. Elsewhere, don’t rule out recalls for the likes of Pelle Clement, Leandro Bacuna or Chris Martin.
What would you change for Sunday? Give the Ipswich team another chance? Play the kids? Let us know in the comments or yell at us on Twitter @TheTilehurstEnd.