The New Year started in disastrous fashion with the Royals letting slip a two-goal lead against Derby County at the Select Car Leasing Stadium.
With lots of injuries still in the squad, Reading took the lead in the first half through a stunning Junior Hoilett goal; he then doubled our lead early in the second half. Colin Kazim-Richards scored a header after a mistake by Luke Southwood with just four minutes to go, but Curtis Davies scored in stoppage time to share the points.
Reading remain 21st, just three points ahead of Peterborough in 22nd. Manager Veljko Paunovic admitted that the Royals didn’t play their best but put this down to fitness and Covid. Here is what he said after the game, he spoke to the official club website and Berkshire Live.
Paunovic on the draw
“It wasn’t a nice game. And we didn’t play our best football, but given the circumstances, with Covid and most of players playing without a full week of training, I think it was comprehensible that we could concede in the last minutes.
“Some of the players haven’t trained more than a few days at all this week, some players haven’t played a match for nearly a month or more. With injury or Covid, some of them suffered more than others and their physical output had to be conditioned.
“We had to scan some players yesterday because they were still carrying some symptoms and we wanted to be sure that they would be fit to play. But we didn’t have the fitness levels to achieve all three points in the end.
“I am not happy with the result and I am not saying we could and should not have done better with those goals, but I have to praise the team for their hard work even though it is very frustrating that we have dropped two points.
“Until we conceded the first goal, we had the game under control – were looking to get another goal on the counter attack, that’s why we brought on Femi with his pace on that side. And he had an opportunity.
“We tried to manage it in the last 30 minutes. But the first goal hit us very hard. It shouldn’t happen. We needed to realise that it wasn’t the end of the world, we were 2-1 in the lead and not only can we preserve that lead but add to it.
“And we have enough experience on the field to be able to regain our composure at the back. But we were too naïve.
“And it is also a fitness thing – when you are struggling physically, you don’t make the same decisions you would have made if you were fresh.”
Paunovic on moving forward
“I don’t want a rest… we’ve had enough rest. Now we need to turn on. Now.
“We have to recover our basics, train well, eat well, enjoy what we do, appreciate that in difficult times we are all doing one of the best jobs in the world, and we need to come to work and go home with a smile on our faces.
“We have to turn on our best versions of ourselves now. That’s what this club needs.”
Paunovic on letting a two-goal lead slip for a third time this season
“I contribute it to fitness levels. We couldn’t cope with the last minutes of the game. There is a part of the mentality that I didn’t like in this game and in the past but that has been addressed and we’ll keep addressing and looking to improve because we have enough experience and quality to manage those last minutes better.”
Paunovic on Carroll lacking support to help see game off
“We had a great chance with Azeez who we put on to match their pace on that side. It took too long for him to get that chance but he hit the target.
“We also didn’t manage the game well with the ball - it was lack of fitness but that will get better. We still have players who are recovering and dealing with injuries and a lack of training, so we have to start all over again what we did in November.”
Paunovic on Yiadom and Moore’s absence
“They were both injured and in Yiadom’s case, he is leaving for AFCON and he will be assessed there.”
Paunovic on Hoilett’s performance
“He came back in fantastic light but he struggled in the final few minutes. But he did well and I’m very happy for him. I’m also happy for Felipe Araruna who came back after a long, long time.”
Paunovic on Carroll’s contract
“He is eligible to play next week in the FA Cup and we don’t think it will be his last game. We are in talks with his agent and we hope it will be fine.”
Paunovic on if the team lack belief
“We have had an irregular or unusual season, right from pre-season. Given all the circumstances, we have our guys fully committed behind the scenes, and we keep having the right attitude but when you look only at performances it works better or not.
“Beneath what we see from the outside, there is a lot of work and sacrifices made to prepare the team.
“When you have very erratic pre-season with only six or seven senior players, manage pre-season and then get Covid and finish your transfer window basically in November and things finally start to work and reach a certain level but then there’s another Covid outbreak.
“It just tells you how difficult it is to cope with the adversities when they happen.”
Paunovic on ways to resolve the issues
“It’s recovering players from injury, being patient and working, keeping the group and belief together - the only thing I’ll say is we can’t change what’s outside of our control but we can change our performances when the players are back.”
Paunovic on the boos at full time
“That’s what happens in football when you drop points.”