After a couple of bad results against Brentford and Millwall, the game on Tuesday against Bristol City lifted the mood in the fanbase and surely would’ve lifted the mood among the players and staff too. But it all came crashing back down to earth against Neil Warnock’s Boro.
Every man and his dog know how Neil Warnock teams play, especially away from home. But I guess today’s performance and result showed it’s one thing knowing it and another thing stopping it.
Middlesborough came with a game plan, a structure and a way of playing, and give credit to them they passed all of those things with flying colours. A classic Warnock goal from a set piece plus a very good finish from Bola got them two up, and when you’re a team that’s only won five points all season when conceding the first goal, the last team you want to go behind to is Middlesborough.
Right, enough about them, let’s talk about Reading.
I’ve followed up a hell of a lot of a statements about this team this season with either “and that’s what good teams do” or “that’s what play-off teams do”. But five points all season after conceding the first goal in a game is exactly what play-off teams don’t do.
How our matches go depend far too heavily on who gets the first goal. If we get the first goal, nine times out of 10 - or 14 times out of 17 to be more precise - we win that game. But if we concede that first goal, we find it very, very hard to come back and get anything from games.
Luckily for us, we’ve scored the first goal in a game 17 times. Of course by luckily I mean completely deservedly because we 100% deserve to be in the position we currently are. And I may be being really harsh on this team here, but when you’ve seen just how good this team can be, it frustrates when they dip below that level - and they dipped well, well below that level today.
I don't think Middlesbrough were that particularly good, Neil Warnock teams have never been an absolute joy to watch - but they are exactly the kind of team we’ve tended to struggle against this season.
The likes of Boro, Stoke City, Millwall and Preston North End - who don’t play incredible football but work tirelessly, look to frustrate and do a job on you, which all four have done to us twice each this season.
We have to find a way of combating this and, as of yet, Pauno has struggled to do that. Again, luckily for us we have played all four of the aforementioned Championship rivals twice already - but other teams will cotton on to this as it’s the best way to get a good result against us.
This season I as a fan have got a lot, lot better at not overreacting to defeats - and I hope this doesn’t sound like an overreaction, because I’m not. But inconsistency in this league can be the death of you, we haven't had back to back league wins since October. Again, that’s not what play-off teams do.
The gap is closing between the teams just outside the play-offs and the play-offs - not so long ago everyone was saying that the top six was done and dusted, but nothing is ever done and dusted in the Championship until it’s mathematically impossible.
This team is wonderful, it’s special, it’s a joy to watch. They deserve to be in the play-offs and they have enough quality to finish in the play-offs at a minimum, but now is not the stage of the season Pauno will want want to have a blip or a run of games without results - because this league will eat us up.
Back on to today more specifically, it was just one of those days - and I have to be honest, by the middle of the second half, the players looked absolutely knackered. Football is a more tiring game when you’re losing but the players legs seemed to go, and the heads followed.
Middlesbrough saw the game out with considerable ease in the end, we didn’t have any any answer to a very well-organised, typical Neil Warnock team. Joao looked isolated, Ejaria looked leggy, Olise was off it and the midfield looked lost all afternoon.
Pauno said after the Millwall game last weekend that we can’t think it’s the end of the world when we concede a goal, but that’s exactly what happened again today. Like I said before, as a fan watching Reading play is like a waiting game until the first goal goes in and then you can either relax a little bit or the tension begins to rise.
We have to bounce back on Tuesday, and we then have to build on that bounce back. At this point in the season, with the teams below us closing in fast it’s no good winning a game and then drawing or losing a couple and then winning a couple again.
If we go on another run of four or five wins, we can all but secure our play-off spot. It’s up to the players. But this kind of performance and result cannot become a regular occurrence now.
I apologise if this match report is negative and sounds like a bit of a rant, but I want so much more from and for this team than what we saw today, because we’ve seen they can do it.