Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? I, like many others I imagine, headed to the SCL today pretty excited. It’s been a weird few weeks as a Reading fan not being able to watch any live football. But today was finally the day we got that back.
Combine that with the classic ‘New Year’ feeling and some important players coming back into the fray, it felt like a good chance to start building some momentum. Well, in classic Reading Football Club style, that didn't happen.
I want to focus on the positives, but I’m afraid the vast majority of this piece will be focusing on yet another capitulation. Despite Junior Hoilett’s best efforts, the big story to come from the game is clearly the last 10 minutes, when we witnessed yet another capitulation.
The afternoon started pretty well. We started on the front foot and looked up for it - showing no signs of a team who have been crippled with Covid-19 in the last few weeks. Andy Carroll was causing problems, we looked good at the back and the crowd was up for it.
Our good first-half performance got its reward when Hoilett curled a beauty into the top corner, and at half time it looked pretty cushty. After the interval, it got even better with the Canadian international hitting his second. Lovely.
However, what followed was far from lovely. Funnily enough, my Dad and I were having a conversation on the way to the game in which he said he couldn’t remember the last game where we could feel comfortable with five or 10 minutes to go (i.e. 3-0 up, passing the ball around the back, never looking like conceding).
I simply replied with “Dad, we could be 3-0 up with three minutes to go and I wouldn’t feel comfortable”. As the clock struck the 85th minute, my dad turned to me and went “nervous?”. “Yep” I said.
As fate would have it, 30 seconds later Derby pulled one back. Luke Southwood has been near-impeccable since he came into the team, but that doesn’t make him void from criticism. He has to do better with the cross, it’s a clear and obvious error from him and he’ll know that.
What followed was as depressing as it was predictable, and sums up the big problem at this club. And it’s been the big problem for quite a while now really. The mentality is just all wrong. It’s weak.
In the past few seasons we’ve managed to scrape through with purple patches. The beginning of last season, the festive period under Mark Bowen and the end of Jose Gomes’ first season for example. All of these runs have papered over a big, big crack.
When the going gets tough, we crumble. That might sound a bit abrupt and blunt, but it’s true. Yes, we’ve shown good signs here and there. But on the whole, over the last few years, we haven’t been able to stand up to the plate.
Too many times I’ve walked away from games thinking “they wanted it more than us”. That is just unacceptable on every single level, especially when you factor in the position we’re in now. On paper we have a team that should easily move away from the bottom three, but talent means nothing when you give away two-goal leads on a consistent basis.
We are not too good to go down. That is the fact of the matter. I’m not sure if the players think they are too good and that they’ll manage to pick up points on sheer quality, but I’m sorry to break it to you lads - that ain’t gonna happen.
You have to fight to stay in this league and you have to show a lot more mental strength than you have done so far this season. We know you can do it, we watched the 3-2 away to Swansea City, the 2-1 at Birmingham City, the win at Fulham. We’ve seen you fight for wins and get them.
But we’ve also seen you crumble under pressure far too many times. Blackpool, Coventry City, QPR, Huddersfield Town, Derby County - the list could go on and on.
I am and always have been Pauno In. But he has to find an answer to this and he needs to do so quickly. He’s as much to blame as the players. The mentality starts at the top and filters down. The management staff and the senior players need to find an answer to his.
A good place to start would be to show the second half. Derby County showed everything that we need to show in the last half of this season to stay up. They kept going and going, and forced us deeper and deeper and got their rewards.
Whereas we continued to invite pressure (again), showed nothing going forward and ultimately got what we deserved. It’s time to show some cojones, lads.