If ever there was a potential banana skin to slip on then this game would have been it. On paper at least, it had all the hallmarks of that potentiality.
- Steve Bruce sacked – tick
- New-manager bounce – tick
- John Swift returning to haunt – tick
- Yet more disruption to the squad – tick
What transpired wasn’t too much of a surprise, all things considered, but alas, we can’t blame Swift for curling in a beautiful 25-yarder as he never got a single kick, let alone a free one. We only have ourselves to blame (with a side dish of the referee) for this defeat. What was left was a feeling that the wind that has generally been in our favour this season, has now been sucked out of our sails. Too early to panic? Maybe. But the downward spiralling might be difficult to stop in the short term.
Once again, we started slowly. Once again, we let the opposition get an upper hand instead of taking it to the opposition. Once again, it was a gift of a goal to concede for the opener. Considering that our main mantra this season has been to get ahead, dig in, see the game out, when that is almost impossible to achieve when the intent is not there from the outset it is difficult to see how we are to get ahead in games.
We plodded along until West Brom got the opener after Nesta Guinness-Walker failed to deal with a routine cross-field ball letting Matt Phillips in to score. Only then did we start to fight, but that’s where the other issues in the side started to cause concern.
Due to our limited options made even fewer by the loss of Ovie Ejaria, which was a precautionary measure, and not viral, unlike Ince Snr and Joe Lumley, we were stuck with a set-up that never really got going.
Due to the slow start, we drifted into being too defensive. The wing-backs of Guinness-Walker and Junior Hoilett couldn’t stretch the opposition enough higher up the field, this left Andy Carroll and Lucas Joao fairly isolated. In turn, the runs from midfield did not supplement the front two either. One flicked the ball to (sometimes) the other but nobody else was close to pick up the second ball from either out wide or from midfield.
Carroll and Joao are wildly different as players, but not different enough to make a difference. Neither are quick enough to get beyond defenders and without support from anywhere they had had a difficult task to retain the ball without assistance. All in all, quite disjointed and makeshift in feel. They may be all we have at the moment, but the shape has to change so at least we can retain the ball better.
Very rarely does or should the referee, Tim Robinson in this case, get a mention in these missives, but both sets of fans concurred that this was a shocker of a show from the man in black.
This is not to say we lost because of the referee; we certainly did not, but the standard shown was simply not good enough. Players conceded free kicks or got booked when other offences worse than that were neither given as fouls or even carded. Players (mostly ours) dove for penalties, one was booked, one not. Sometimes play-on was given only to be hauled back within a couple of seconds – what’s the point?! Other times no advantage was given when the ball was in free play.
It almost seemed as if what the previous decision was, the referee would then do the opposite for largely the next very similar offence. Fouls given when none were made and no decision made when a clear infraction was spotted for either side. A truly maddening spectacle from the official. He’s not alone in that accusation, plenty of Championship referees have been utter bobbins too, but this did seem rather acute on this occasion.
With another two games hot on the heels of this defeat, Reading don’t have long to dust themselves down before we go again in South Wales to visit Swansea and back at home against Bristol City. Whether we can freshen up the team enough to get a result away from home seems a very tough ask. Even after a week off after the annoying defeat to QPR the players looked tired, still.
That break (and previous breaks before that) have not put enough back into the legs of most players that have played the majority of this season. Indeed, Tom Ince, who was rested against QPR but did appear in the second half of that game, had his least effective game of the season here.
His energy was missing and so was his continual gesticulations to his team. Not to say that he didn’t try hard, he most certainly did, but it wasn’t the same Tom that we’ve grown to love of late. And, in a way, he encapsulates how we are right now. We’ve done remarkably well so far but everyone seems to be running on empty, mentally and physically, regardless of how the flow of games appear.
One suspects that the wind beneath our wings won’t recover against the Swans but hopefully we can take flight again against the Robins. Hopefully, we’ll have a ref that we won’t all be giving the bird.