For me, the most depressing aspect of Reading’s dire 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Swansea City is just how ruddy unsurprising it feels. Even at the start of a new year - a golden chance for a fresh start if ever there was one - this team always find a way to let us down.
That this game could come on the back of a particularly encouraging performance at QPR, just three days ago, only compounds our misery. Reading have already shown they’re capable of putting in a shift and playing good football under Jose Gomes, so why did the mini-rise collapse so suddenly, and so spectacularly?
Speaking after the full-time whistle, the new manager claimed his team is “scared” of playing in front of its own supporters, although he made sure to keep the blame on the team, emphasising that the fans are there to help. Whatever the truth of that reasoning - the players certainly did seem petrified during the game - the fact that this side is so mentally weak is as worrying as it is unsurprising.
We've had games like this before, just not usually with the same brutal result.
For all our faults this season, and indeed last season, we've typically been edged out by a goal or two rather than been hammered - for me an important distinction. This game, on the other hand, was a rout. Reading were comfortably swept aside in the first half by a Swansea side that barely broke a sweat in putting us to the sword.
Gomes was spot on in calling the opening 45 minutes a "Christmas gift" to the away side; a perfect summary of the shambolic defending that saw Graham Potter’s side go into the break 3-0 up. Oli McBurnie opened the scoring after just two minutes, rising highest to guide home a header into the far, before Connor Roberts and Mike van der Hoorn tripled the lead on the half-hour and 45 minute marks respectively.
Reading recovered in the second half, helped by Swansea demonstrating some Christmas spirit and showing the home side some mercy, but not before the visitors made it 4-0 from the penalty spot. Andy Yiadom was adjudged to have fouled Wayne Routledge in the area, and Oli McBurnie converted from the spot.
From there on in, the match devolved into a quiet, tepid affair. Reading saw most of the ball for the rest of the game, but unsurprisingly lacked the heart to mount any concerted attempt at a comeback. Swansea on the other hand were content with their four-goal haul.
real only highlight of the encounter came on 77 minutes. Callum Harriott, making his first appearance in any senior football in over two years, collected Danny Loader’s pass before firing the ball beyond the ‘keeper. That moment was a long-time coming for a player who’s largely been confined to the treatment room in the last 24 months.
The game was painful, but at least Jose Gomes will have learned plenty about just how awful his side can be. As I noted on this week’s post-mortem podcast, the silver lining of this particularly dark cloud is that at least this performance and result came at the start of January, when the scale of the task will become starkly clear to the manager, and Reading hopefully have enough time to react.
Of course, that’s all for nothing if Reading don’t - or can’t - react. A January clear-out and spending spree are vital if this club is to give itself the best possible chance of being in the Championship next season. Jose Gomes and Nigel Howe have a huge job on their hands to make both happen.
Good luck to them.