A horrible and humiliating defeat against National League North side Kidderminster Harriers saw our FA Cup journey end for another season. After a staggeringly poor performance, here is what Veljko Paunovic had to say after the defeat. He spoke to the official club website and Berkshire Live.
Paunovic on the defeat
“This was a bad experience. An important experience but a bad experience. It is something every player experiences in their career.
“We knew Kidderminster were a well-organised team and had quality in their front four, nothing was unexpected. First half we had control and the lead, but the second half was not good from an inexperienced team. We had the lead but we didn’t do the job.
“It is a horrible night. We need to think about the long term. We are devastated with injuries; we are devastated by the fitness levels of our senior players right now – so we couldn’t risk any more. And still we lost Alen today and of course Felipe who looks to have dislocated his knee.
“We had Danny Drinkwater out there who is still recovering his fitness, we had Andy Rinomhota getting some minutes for the first time in months, Femi who had to get more minutes in to recover his fitness.
“But we had to prioritise the Championship and minimise the risk. We need to recover guys and we couldn’t afford to lose more – which we still did today.
“We are trying to get players back, but January is still going to be very difficult. Every game is going to be really hard. Very challenging. We have to stick together.
“We have the courage and determination to fight forward. We have to recover our form and our shape. Because we believe in the upcoming months when the team is regrouped, when the injured players come back, we will be stronger.
“There is no doubt that this is a difficult moment. We are not ready and fit right now. But we are going to keep doing the best we can with what we have.
“We will regroup with the guys who stayed back in Reading, look to recover those who played 90 minutes today and get ready for Fulham.”
Paunovic on regrets over team selection
“Not at all. We need to think about the long term. We are devastated by injuries, by fitness levels of our players and we can’t risk any more.
“We lost Alen Halilovic which we knew might happen in this type of game. We also lost Felipe Araruna so we must think about what we are doing and our approach.
“The FA Cup is a lovely and interesting competition but we are not in the situation. Don’t think we can risk things, we can’t afford to lose more players like we did.
“The whole season has been like this. We know why we are in this situation and we are working to fix and recover the group and finally complete the team.
“January is still going to be very difficult and challenging for everyone. But if we are capable of not losing more people and recovering those who are injured - Rinomhota, Drinkwater and Azeez were back and Puscas finally scored so they are positives and that was our approach.”
Paunovic on the fans’ frustrations
“We have to prioritise, that’s our approach. The priority is the Championship.”
Paunovic on a message for the fans
“January is going to be tough. We are still not there and in good shape but we have courage and determination to fight forward because in the upcoming months, when the team is regrouped and when the injured players are back, we will be strong.”
Paunovic on if this is his lowest moment as a manager
“It is a difficult moment but I don’t see it that way.”
Paunovic on whether he will still be in charge for Fulham game
“I am working as I will be, definitely. This is football, anything can happen. I always work giving my best and doing the best possible preparation, and then whatever happens, happens. We are going to keep doing what we are doing with what we have.”
Paunovic on experience for youngsters
“It is not the best experience but it’s an experience. This is what every player experiences throughout their career. They did well, especially Camara, he was fantastic.”
Paunovic on if he was surprised by Kidderminster
“I said they were an organised team and have quality in their front four. Nothing was unexpected for me. The team understood the challenge they had.
“They did very well in the first half but when Felipe got injured, it impact our team a lot because of the severity of it and we couldn’t come back.
“That shouldn’t happen but that happens when you have a pretty inexperienced team. These are the opportunities we give to the youngsters.”
Paunovic on getting ready for Tuesday v Fulham
“It’s going to be a difficult one, but we’ll look to regroup with those who stayed in Reading, have some good team bonding with those who played 90 minutes today and with those we expect to be ready for the game. Halilovic is likely to be out, I don’t think it is a long-term injury though.”
Post-match scenes between staff and fans
“We were trying to protect our players. There was a lot of excitement and insults towards us. I’m sorry because I missed shaking hands [with the Kidderminster manager].
“I was very worried for my players’ safety. It was not safe and aggressive. We understand the excitement but the safety of all of us was put in jeopardy.
“Worse things could have happened. It was a challenging situation and we understand the excitement but it wasn’t safe and wasn’t nice what people were saying to our players and our staff - opposition supporters.
“It was just insults which isn’t nice but you don’t know when people will overstep the boundaries.
“I thought the best thing was to run inside but I thought I couldn’t leave my team out there. I went to bring the players inside and tried to tell them not to respond. Dele-Bashiru was insulted and attacked (verbally).
“I don’t want to make a case of it, but it’s not how it should be.”
Paunovic on losing leads
“You can’t compare to Derby on Monday or the team out there. You forget we played with eight senior players and even then they’re just coming back from injuries and recovering from Covid so we are not ready and fit.
“It’s going to be hard - January - so don’t ask me that question again because it’s going to be very hard. Every game will be hard in January until we recover our shape and form.”
Paunovic on if he is the right person to continue
“I do believe, and I believe in myself. You don’t know what I am are capable of and the things we are dealing with which are out of our control.
“We always say we focus on what we can control. We definitely could have been perhaps better in the second half but if you play against an opponent and it’s not an easy task against an experienced team then it puts more challenge on the game we had.”
Paunovic on the Kidderminster goals
“I saw the first goal, the ball went through the legs of Stickland but I didn’t see how it went in the net. We shouldn’t concede that. We had control until the first goal when we were 1-0 up. I thought Rafael did a good job in the first half and did his best as always.”
Paunovic on flares on the pitch
“It wasn’t just our fans. It didn’t help us when we were chasing, but it’s on us. Our fans tried to give us support and boost and they were there in a very good number and we appreciate that. But in the second half we didn’t do a good job.”
Paunovic on receiving a yellow card
“It was about trying to be a man. There is always that challenge when someone in authority when the game needs to be managed better from their side, they just get into unnecessary discussions with whoever. Nothing to comment on.”
Paunovic on Araruna’s injury
“It doesn’t look good. Dislocation. It looked horrible and he was devastated. A few minutes after we conceded a goal and we were forced to make a change.
“The impact the injury had on the young players affected them and we were shut down - not by our opponent but Felipe who was coming back from more than a year out.
“He is very loved and one of the favourites in the changing room so that played a big part.”
Paunovic on having the belief to turn things around
“I will turn this around, and you and I will have a different conversation in a couple of months.”