You don’t need me to tell you just how awful Reading’s thrashing at the hands of Fulham was, but boy was that bad.
In truth, it was the perfect storm. A half-hearted performance from the players, poor tactics from Jose Gomes and a vastly superior opposition went together to create a truly miserable night at the Madesjki Stadium. For those that stayed for the full 90 minutes (good on you), it was pretty torturous, made only slightly less awful by Yakou Meite’s late consolation.
I’m immediately reminded of Gomes’ first match in Berkshire: the 4-1 thrashing by Swansea City on New Year’s Day. Again, a huge gulf in class between Reading and a possession-based side for a 4-1 defeat. But where that was partly excusable - Gomes had only recently come in, new signings hadn’t arrived and the much-needed January exodus hadn’t happened - the excuses are minimal for this one.
The task from the outset was difficult, for sure, but not insurmountable. Reading had to come up with a gameplan to undo a technically accomplished, confident attacking side. That required an effective setup and strong character, but we were badly lacking in both departments.
Yes, John Swift’s first-half dismissal made the task far trickier, but both the lack of discipline for that dismissal and the inept response were inexcusable in themselves. Reading needed to show far more commitment all over the pitch if they were to come away with anything, but were found wanting, and none of the early key moments - the red card or either of the opening goals - seemed to kick the players into life.
As for the tactical setup, it made sense in some ways but was badly undercut by what’s simply described as naivety. Reading went 4-5-1 with a low block (4-3-3 when on the attack, but we rarely had the ball) to counter Fulham’s expected domination of possession.
Reading allowed Fulham almost all the ball for vast spells of the game, with typically little attempt at pressing the visitors in their half. That, combined with the Royals unwisely trying to patiently keep possession at the back in the face of aggressive Fulham pressing, meant we couldn’t get into the contest. Scott Parker’s side dominated with ease.
Sloppy defending at the back from Reading only made Fulham’s job easier. A quarter of an hour in, the away side got in down the left much too easily, and Tom Cairney was granted the freedom of Berkshire on the edge of the box before slotting home into the top corner.
A few minutes later, the Royals went down to ten men. John Swift had already been booked, and rashly lunged in to keep control of the ball but caught a Fulham player. What looked like a reasonable attempt at retaining possession when I saw it in real time was in fact a rash challenge, and a serious lack of discipline from Swift.
Fulham doubled their lead six minutes later - Anthony Knockaert whipping in a pinpoint cross from the right wing for Aleksandar Mitrovic to tuck home from close range. Not long after, it was 3-0, Mitrovic again converting from close range after finding space too easily. The game was dead less than half an hour in.
To their credit, Reading improved after the break - although Fulham had taken their foot off the gas - with the home crowd getting behind them in an attempt to inspire an unlikely comeback. The Royals pressed that bit more aggressively and got the ball forward that bit quicker, even if they didn’t really cause the visitors any problems.
Any improvements were undone on 67 minutes though, when a two-part defensive calamity gifted Fulham a fourth. Liam Moore’s loose backpass let the away side in, Rafael charged out to close down the danger but was caught in no-man’s land, and was chipped by Cairney. 4-0, in pathetic fashion.
From there on in the away side strolled to victory, although Yakou Meite’s long-range consolation was a rare positive note on an otherwise depressing night. The Ivorian checked onto his left foot around 25 yards from goal, centrally, before lashing home into the top corner.
The game leaves Reading firmly on a downwards trajectory. Before now, the Royals had been on poor form - three straight losses before two 1-1 draws - worrying, but nothing too drastic. But responding to that form with a dire defeat such as the 4-1 thrashing by Fulham only makes the worries worse.
How the Royals follow this game up will be vital, but it’s a tricky trip to Bristol City that awaits on Saturday. The outcome of that match could well be a decisive factor in how long Jose Gomes is in a job for.