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View From The Dolan: Unhappy New Year

Ben’s take as Reading kick off 2022 with a performance and result reminiscent of what we saw in 2021.

PA Images via Getty Images

Firstly, a very happy new year to you all. I hope you had a decent festive period and have enjoyed a good start to 2022.

Secondly, I didn’t go to the game. I say that now because this won’t be a “usual” Dolan column (some of you will probably be thankful of that). The reason for my absence was that I had managed to dodge the Covid bullet throughout Christmas and, because of my line of work, I have fairly stringent testing requirements to adhere to, so didn’t want to risk picking up anything by attending the game before my first week back. Regardless of your view on Covid, that’s the line I have to walk at the moment, sadly. The fact the game was on Sky made the decision much easier too.

So, how do I unpick our first game of ‘22? I mean, for me the match was a symptom of a bigger problem, which I’ll come to later.

I had no issues with the team selection. I tweeted before the game that the players coming back in had to make a difference, which to a large extent, they did. My sweet Canadian Prince with both goals for us was the obvious highlight, but his overall play - taking players on, making spaces and crossing the ball into the danger area - was a source of optimism, particularly in the first half.

We settled into the game well, no doubt about that, but Derby looked better on the ball and more composed, more confident of making things happen. Our goal came out of the blue and something we didn’t deserve (probably) but to go in at 1-0 at HT was a bonus.

The switch to big Filly A for Ashcroft made sense (and I thought both players were decent by the way) and defensively, we were strong, organised and not phased by a confident, threatening Derby side. To get the second was a real luxury and it should have been over as a contest.

Reading v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

We all know the end result and we know how the goals were conceded. My main issues (on the game) are these:

1. The balls up to Carroll maybe (key word) worked for, what, the first half? But beyond that, nothing was going to happen. Derby worked that out, as all accomplished professional players should. In my view, he should have gone off in the second half, maybe even as the first sub. Now I’m not slating him here: he can do what he can do and he’s had great success at that over the years. The attacking threat should have been changed early, probably early in the second period if not before.

2. Midfield. Dreadful. No protection for a stalwart pairing of Dann/Holmes, who as a side note should continue in those positions (and yeah, Tom should have put pressure on Davies for the second goal, but overall was OK). Those two have been made to look like idiots in this game because of a lack of foundation in the middle. I didn’t see anyone put in some serious tackles in that part of the pitch or control the play enough to take the pressure off the defence for a sustained period of time.

3. Steve Coppell always said that being 2-0 was the worst score line in football because teams didn’t know if they should push for a third (leaving themselves open) or sit back (asking for/inviting pressure). If you are going to sit back like we did (like we do, actually) then do the bloody basics. Make your tackles, stop the crosses at source by pushing your man further out wide, set up a solid base to protect the defence and leave an option open for the (albeit unlikely) breakaway. Don’t leave gaping holes, stick 11 men behind the ball, play ‘kick and chase’ and just wait for the opposition to score a goal. We didn’t control possession, we didn’t work them as much as we should have and at a time when we needed some extra pace up front, we didn’t get it early enough.

In isolation, a point is OK. But the manner of the result is once again a huge concern. We’ve done it, what, three times now at home this season? At home. Let that sink in. Teams now know that even if they go behind at The Whitley Bowl, they will have enough time, space and desire to get back into the game and probably win it.

The bigger problem I alluded to earlier? Contracts. Some of those players are an absolute shell of the players they were last year. No coincidence that a lot of those players are out of contract and probably won’t be staying beyond the summer of this year. Chuck in a hefty sprinkling of loanees and you have a bunch of players that, come what may, will be fine regardless. All that adds up to what we are seeing now: lack of desire, lack of consistent leadership and lack of interest. And if that isn’t the intended outcome or feeling of this group, then remind me never to play any sort of card game involving huge amounts of money with them.

I was going to stay off Twitter in the aftermath of the game but then I had a little look. I can see fans turning on Pauno quicker than my daughter changing her mind on breakfast cereals (which is quick, trust me). And the sad thing is, I can’t blame them, I can’t argue with them and I can’t challenge the negativity. Because what they are saying, most of them, is true.

I can’t even tell you where I stand now. That result has got to me, I won’t lie. And the reason for that is because it’s all of our own doing, as with pretty much everything else this season and it’s really starting to piss me off.

Until next time. Probably.