The most frustrating capitulations are the ones that feel entirely avoidable.
Reading’s 3-2 loss to Blackpool was entirely that - a capitulation - and a painful one at that. The first-half performance left plenty to be desired in its lack of attacking quality, but the 2-0 lead it produced should have set the ultimate result in concrete. This Reading side has proven itself capable of intelligently seeing out a lead when it’s not playing well; tonight should have been more of the same.
Dropping off so dramatically from that standard - one clearly and recently demonstrated in 1-0 wins over Middlesbrough, Cardiff City and Barnsley - is what really stings for me. I expected so much more from Reading, 2-0 up at home to Blackpool. They let themselves down as much as they disappointed and angered those in the stands.
Something’s worth getting out of the way before I go any further. Blackpool played really well tonight. They don’t have the individual quality Reading can muster - which was at times evident - but they were an impressively positive, energetic side that refused to believe it was beaten, and ultimately deserved the three points.
While that was a key factor in the result, it can’t be an excuse. Reading were in a strong enough position to see that 2-0 lead out and should have done so against any team in the division, let alone a mid-table one. In the face of that challenge though, the Royals had no answers. Tactically, psychologically and individually, the hosts withered in a dire second-half display, seemingly accepting the collapse before it had even officially started.
Reading can’t claim they weren’t warned.
The first half was one of ruthless finishing of chances and staying steadfast defensively, more than anything more substantial. The Royals created two clear sights of goal and converted each opportunity: Scott Dann nodded in John Swift’s inswinging free kick before Tom Dele-Bashiru lashed home from close range after the ball had been won high up.
Down the other end, Blackpool fired a few warning shots across Reading’s bow. Luke Southwood was called into action a couple of times, most notably completing a double save including a close-range stop, while Liam Moore’s last-ditch sliding challenge spared the Royals’ blushes.
Those chances capped off a bright 45 minutes from the visitors. Well organised, they restricted Reading well and were keen to cause problems; one counter attack in which five players were immediately committed forwards demonstrated their desire to get at Reading.
Despite that, it was Reading who had a clear-cut chance to score first after the break. George Puscas finally got the chance: slipped in behind by John Swift he only had the goalie to beat, but couldn’t do so. It was the quality open-play opportunity he’s been waiting for. Needing him to take the one chance created for him all evening says plenty about the poverty of supply he again had, but it’s still one he should be gobbling up.
While it would be a stretch to call that miss a turning point given the wider collapse, it was as good as Reading’s second half got. From then on, the Royals were barely in the game as a creative force - dropping too deep, inviting too much pressure, lacking any notion on how to turn the situation around.
At least one goal for the visitors looked inevitable, and Blackpool duly obliged. First for Owen Dale to lash in a volley after a corner on 69 minutes, then for Jerry Yates to complete a brace on 73 and 85 minutes: heading home from a cross and then converting a penalty, although Southwood got a hand to the spot kick.
Collapsed accomplished, clusterf*ck complete.
I'm not one to boo, myself, but some did do so at full time, and I don't particularly blame them. This was a remarkably sh*te second-half performance: almost entirely devoid of game management and attacking intent.
It was a world away from what we've come to expect from this side, and that's exactly what Pauno must emphasise to his players in the post-mortem. "This isn't you, guys. You're so much better than this. Act like it, starting on Saturday at Blackburn."