A loss which bookended a frantic six days that contained a win, a draw and this defeat against QPR. On the surface of it, the performance and result were a disappointment. This fixture would always be a tough ask with QPR themselves flying high, but this was a game too far for some.
Yet if the whole week is put into context, a win at home against a side that we should be beating, taking a very much deserved point against Norwich City too; four points from nine is something we would only have dream of last season so we have to be sanguine about that.
Not for the first time, Reading started the game on the back foot. The trouble is that that was where they stayed for the majority of the first half. In one of the rare moments we produced any kind of fluency, a penalty was won by Lucas Joao. The foul seemed dubious to the naked eye but it was one of those penalties that was caused by an unfortunate foul as opposed to a clumsy challenge – who’d do such a thing?!
If Lady Luck had shone upon us for the penalty the Uncle Karma popped up to restore the balance quickly when Nesta Guinness-Walker didn’t get close enough to Kakay to prevent the cross for Lyndon Bloody Dykes to score. Whether there’s blame to be attached to Tom Holmes for also not getting tight to his man is up for debate; it was a very avoidable goal to concede, one we have conceded many, many times before.
The first half was littered with stray passes - passes that were never on in the first place, aimless hoofs up to the front two and a distinct lack of width. Guinness-Walker was our best chance of creating any crosses, but we were actually more dangerous from throw-ins!
If there’s still one aspect of play that we can improve hugely upon it is having the awareness to slow the game down, get feet on the ball, take the time to settle and create some passages of play. Time after time we would win a challenge but then have no thought of what to do next. The ball would ping off a foot or head without any control and QPR could start again. Maybe it was tiredness or bad tactics, but we simply had to improve on this headless-chicken approach.
The second half, however, was brighter. After a bit of a bollocking from Ince, no doubt, we took the game to QPR. Our pressing was good, the defence was higher, the midfield three decided to get involved finally. We looked tighter, solid, the passing was much improved… and then it stopped. Whether that was down to the changes, tiredness, QPR themselves mixing things up, or elements of them all, we stopped doing the good things and started to panic.
The recidivist Reading traits of old reappeared and the most sloppy, mind-numbing, avoidable of penalties cost us a point. Why Mamadou Loum didn’t decide to shepherd his man to the by-line instead of challenging side on will be a mystery, but the penalty was totally avoidable. We were never going to get back into the game after that, we just didn’t have the momentum.
As disappointing as the result was, we do have to consider the mitigating factors. Three games in six days for this squad is too much. It’s a lot for any team, but we don’t have the depth to cope. As a result, we may have lost Sam Hutchinson for a period of time as he trudged off with possible calf or hamstring injury. Ince tried to shuffle the pack with Junior Hoilett and Tom Ince on the bench. That does make sense as it is better to have the fitness to return at home for games that we have improved chances of winning.
But we missed Ince’s energy and ability to close down. Paradoxically, despite having a small squad we still have players who haven’t had the minutes in their legs, like Ovie Ejaria, so whilst he’s very much welcome after his return from injury, we’ve rarely played with him so where does he fit?
All in all, two steps forward, one back. Results and performances like these are always going to happen with so few options available, but the manner that we played and the giveaway penalty does irk.
It is a progress of sorts but it was a night where we couldn’t muster the same sheer bloody-mindedness and savvy performances than we have of late. The players now have eight days off to reflect, recharge and put this refuse of a result in the bin.