If I could sum up that performance in one word, it would probably be ‘meh’.
After the highs of the last three results, tonight was a bit frustrating, wasn’t it? Reading never really got going, and Derby looked right up for it - as you would expect, considering their current predicament.
It wasn’t a disastrous performance - God, I’ve seen Reading play 10x worse than that and come away with a result - but it was one that showed just how stretched these players are at the moment.
We’ve seen some magical football in the three wins running up to tonight’s game, with Swift, Halilovic and Ovie at the heart of it (surprise, surprise). However, none of that attacking trio managed to replicate the final third prowess that we have gotten used to seeing.
Everything up until the last third was decent, in my opinion. Although Derby were probably the better of the teams in the opening 45, I don’t remember them having a real clear-cut chance. Their goal will be a disappointment, of course. But, apart from Rahman maybe being stronger for the cross coming in, I don’t think we could've done a huge amount about it.
Drinkwater looked to pick up where he left off on Saturday, too. You can tell that this guy is going to be the hub of the team when he’s fit and available. And you can also tell there’s some Premier League quality in there, too.
However, as soon as we got into some promising positions, the final touch, pass or shot was just not there for the entire 90 minutes. And after being a bit more angry straight at the full time whistle, as I write this lying in bed, I think I’m okay with that.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just going to be one of those seasons. Especially until we start getting the likes of Joao, Meite, Moore, Morrison, Holmes and McIntyre back in the team. Oh, and Rinomhota. Oh, and Araruna. Anyone else I’ve missed?
The squad is really stretched at the moment, and tonight just happened to be that one game too far for them. Just look at our bench tonight. Pauno had to resort to bringing on a teenager who played a full 90 minutes 48 hours ago, simply because Halilovic looked like he was going to pass out with exhaustion.
Pauno has built up a bit of a reputation for being, shall we say, picky with his substitutions. It’s something he’s been rightly criticised for in the past. But honestly, at the moment, I think he’s stuck between a massive rock and a really hard place.
It’s clear to see we need players back, and we need them back pronto. Only then do I think we’ll be able start building some proper momentum. We’ll have more games like tonight in the meantime, but we'll also have more games like the preceding three, too. Of that I have no doubt.
We’ve seen what this team can be capable of when their on-song, and it’s glorious to watch. This team can produce the kind of football that belongs at the top of this league. But, unfortunately, we’ll have to be patient this year. I know, I had being patient with football too. I want wins just as much as the next guy or girl, but we have to appreciate some times, we’ll have an off day.
Let’s be fair, this wasn’t an off-day that you can put in the same category as some of the losses earlier in the season. I didn’t see anything wrong with the attitude or the fight, tonight. I just saw 11 players who looked out on their feet. Which is frustrating, but understandable.
And I hate myself for saying this, I really, really do. But, again, the international break should do us the world of good. It’ll allow the likes of Swift, Ejaria, Yiadom, Laurent etc the chance to get some rest - which Pauno just can’t give them right now. And, hopefully, it might give some of those players on the injury table a bit of time to get back to fitness.
My overriding emotion really is, ‘oh well’. And not in the apathetic, couldn’t-care-less way that I felt under Clement for example. But more of a ‘hey, these games happen, and it will all be forgotten about if we beat Cardiff on Saturday’. Which I know is probably really boring of me.
We’ve got 36 games left in the season, and it’s going to be a season where the club needs us behind them, whether we lose, draw or win. There are going to be rocks and obstacles in the way, and the players don’t deserve us to overreact to a game like the game we saw tonight. Patience is a virtue.